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How Hilton Worldwide Built an Award-Winning Guest Experience Program

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Not bronze, nor silver, but GOLD!

I’m here at Gartner’s 360 Customer Summit in wonderfully sunny (and heavily air-conditioned) Orlando, Florida, celebrating Hilton Worldwide, Gold winner of Gartner and 1to1 Media’s CRM Excellence Award in the category of Customer Analytics. Out of over 70 applications, Hilton Worldwide was awarded GOLD status with 5 others — quite a prestigious honor among the companies that are delivering some of the best customer experiences in the world.

Looking across the gold winners on the panel, I found myself wondering… what separates an award-winning program from the pack? And even among the winners, what differentiates the Golds from the Bronzes? Well, as Kelly McManus, head of Hilton Worldwide’s Guest Experience program, explained during the award panel: “It’s not just about the gathering customer data and insights, it’s about taking action on those insights. It’s what you do with the data that matters.” And, I might add, it’s about the results associated with these actions.
So what’s the secret sauce behind Hilton Worldwide’s program’s success? I was struck by three remarkable components of their program: 1) Frontline empowerment through customer data, 2) An insights-driven Guest Experience team, and 3) Connecting action to business results. Each of these elements helped HWW know where to prioritize actions – big and small.

1) Frontline Empowerment and Engagement

At every single Hilton Worldwide property — and there are over 4,000 — the day starts by logging in to Medallia, reviewing the previous day’s customer feedback and data, and taking action on the insights. These actions can include fixing an operational gap, calling back a troubled guest, celebrating an employee’s success, or even planning a larger improvement initiative. With over 54,000 users actively logging into the Medallia system, Hilton Worldwide has remarkably high engagement with customer data. The Hilton Worldwide team encourages its properties to get to know their customers by slicing and dicing the data at their fingertips. Through this accessibility to customer analytics and data, property management is empowered to make it right for their customers, resolve issues quickly, and continually make operational changes to make business better on-site.

2) Insights-Driven Guest Experience team

Collecting over 3 million guest surveys per year, Hilton Worldwide’s Guest Experience program is massive. At such large volumes, feedback becomes meaningful only through HWW’s ability to parse and act on it. Hilton Worldwide’s award-winning Guest Experience team does just this – it scours customer feedback and metrics to unearth the “Why’s” and “How’s” behind customer loyalty. With the goal of measurably improving experiences, loyalty, and return stays, the team tests and rolls out data-supported initiatives and best practices across all brands.
For example, in testing the effectiveness of HWW’s issue-resolution process, the team confirmed that guest issues massively impact loyalty, as do the actions employees take to resolve those issues. In fact, when compared to guests who reported that HWW met their expectations during the issue-resolution process, guests whose expectations were exceeded scored 51.8 points higher on NPS. Based on these key findings, among others, the team instituted a program called “Make It Right,” which is designed to empower frontline employees to take ownership of resolving guest problems and proactively looking for ways to meet unanticipated guest needs.

3) Connecting action to business results

In addition to taking action on insights, Hilton Worldwide has the results to back up their efforts. In a recent joint study with the Medallia Insights team, Hilton Worldwide found that over a three-year period:

  • Promoters spent on average 58% more than detractors at a specific HWW brand — and 21% more across all brands.
  • Promoters also returned more frequently (over three times as often) and stayed more nights

HWW also confirmed the “stickiness” of its HHonors loyalty program. If HHonors members have a negative stay experience at one brand, their net spending with HWW may decrease, but they’ll actually start spending more with sister brands – in order to stay within the HWW system.

Congratulations, Hilton Worldwide and Kelly McManus for this well-deserved honor of guest experience excellence!