Why Hilton Had Me Captivated Until Good-Bye.

September 1, 2016

I have been a Hilton HHonors Rewards member for several years now and was just recently notified that I earned Gold status. It has taken me so long to earn this elevated status because it is not that I am so much brand loyal, but rather place more of an importance on price and location when it comes to selecting a hotel. Granted, I do have a list of “acceptable” hotel brands that are always part of my consideration set when exploring options for both business and leisure travel. These tend to be the usual suspects — Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood. Note: I am a Rewards member for each of these brands because they make it so easy to join and earn points. However, these Rewards programs are not enough to make me brand loyal. It’s plain and simple, the brand that best delivers against my core requirements will get my business and, in return, I will accrue points, albeit slowly.

Sure my elevation to Hilton HHonors Gold status has brought with it a few “nice to have” perks. “Nice to have” means just that; they may or may not be memorable and are not considered important enough to trump price and location over brand loyalty. However, my Hilton brand experience has been brought to an entirely new level when I recently downloaded the Hilton app.

This app has changed my life (when it comes to travel) and has increased my affinity for the Hilton brand. How? Simply put, it has made the user experience across the hotel segment of my customer journey memorable and even delightful. Across my entire customer journey (well, almost my entire journey) from property selection to registration and from pre-check-in, check-in and throughout the duration of my stay, Hilton has delighted and even surprised me on occasion. Unbeknownst to me, Hilton was the first hospitality company to enable room selection and customization via its mobile and web-based floor plans.

As a registered guest, I received a “Welcome to Hilton” message via both e-mail and the app one day or so prior to my arrival. This “welcome” then prompted me to select a room of my choice. Mind you that Hilton had already pre-selected a room for me based on my personal profile, and that room selection was perfect I might add. However, I was given the option to switch and even upgrade my room (for additional $’s) from the hotel floor plan, if desired. This is similar to the process of selecting seats on an airplane. I have to say that this was pretty impressive for a hotel chain.

But wait, there’s more. I was then asked if I would like to select from an extensive list of amenities and have these items waiting for me in my room upon arrival. This included snacks, beverages and/or toiletry items such as shampoo, toothpaste, etc. just in case I did not want the hassle of traveling with these items since many fall within strict FAA regulations at airport check-in.

Hilton's digital key app

Then the ultimate delight in my user experience happened when the app prompted me to sign up for the Hilton Digital Key program. Apparently, Hilton announced that guests will be able to use their smartphone as their room key in a majority of hotel rooms by the end of 2016, but I must have missed this announcement and was pleasantly surprised to learn more about this user experience through the Hilton app. Signing up for and activating the Digital Key is easy; you simply use the app to confirm your arrival date and indicate an expected time of arrival. The Digital Key is then activated via your smartphone once your room is ready upon the date of your arrival. Once my digital key was activated, I followed the prompts, holding my phone in front of my room entry device and the phone unlocked the door. Throughout most of my entire journey, I did not come in contact with one Hilton employee except for the parking lot attendant. Don't worry; I am sure that this interaction will soon be alleviated as well with self-driving and self-parking cars.

This customer experience has certainly helped to elevate the Hilton brand for me with Hilton brand loyalty now top-of-mind. The personalization of the Hilton brand experience starting with the ability to select my own room and ensure that certain amenities are waiting for me upon arrival along with the innovative Digital Key technology all make the Hilton brand experience more personal, delightful, memorable and, most importantly, convenient. It is no wonder that Hilton ranks # 44 in Tenet’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands 2016. In fact, Hilton’s ranking improved six points versus its #50 ranking in 2015. I am sure that innovation, disruption and the entire customer experience have contributed to this brand’s improved ranking. Other than Marriott, which ranks #81, there were no other hotel chains in Tenet’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands Report. So Hilton must be doing something right to strengthen the power of its brand.

With such a positive customer experience, you may be wondering why the title of my blog is Why Hilton had me captivated until good-bye. The one area where my customer experience did not come full circle was when it was time for me to checkout, which was quite early in the morning I might add. Upon leaving my hotel room, I opened the Hilton app and kept looking for the checkout option, searching under various topics, but found nothing related to checking out. I finally had to go to the front desk where I was told that this feature does not yet exist. I am not sure if the app checkout capability was not available for this particular location or if it has not been implemented in general. But what started as a delightful customer experience ended somewhat on a disappointing note. If I had known that I had to go to the front desk to checkout, I would have checked out the old-fashioned way – via my television. This actually would have been better than finding out that I did not have the ability to checkout via the app, which had become my trusted personal assistant throughout my entire business travel.

Remember, when it comes to creating a memorable brand experience, every touchpoint throughout the customer journey is crucial. As we recently wrote about in our latest Take 5 series, mapping the journey across touchpoints is one of the many ways marketers can visualize the entire customer experience, and use it to effectively address shortcomings and seize new opportunities to foster customer loyalty.

Have you had any recent customer experiences that have changed your brand perception even prompting you to consider becoming brand loyal as a result of that experience?

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