Imag­ine arriv­ing at the Bel­la­gio in Las Vegas. A friendly bell­man smiles and rushes to take your bags. The front desk clerk wel­comes you by name and hands you keys to a pool­side suite. In your room a wel­come packet is wait­ing for you, sug­gest­ing activ­i­ties tai­lored to your inter­ests. Dur­ing din­ner the som­me­lier rec­om­mends a new vin­tage the staff is sure you’ll love. They all remem­bered and you feel like a rock star.

Can you pic­ture it? Although few of us have stayed at a 5-diamond prop­erty, we all can imag­ine what that expe­ri­ence would be like. Per­son­al­iza­tion is the hall­mark of lux­ury in travel and entertainment.

In fact, per­son­al­iza­tion is listed as one of the top cri­te­ria when AAA grants a 5-diamond rating:

  “Ulti­mate lux­ury, sophis­ti­ca­tion and com­fort with extra­or­di­nary phys­i­cal attrib­utes, metic­u­lous per­son­al­ized ser­vice and impec­ca­ble stan­dard of excellence.”

The five-diamond rat­ing is a pretty cov­eted dis­tinc­tion. Of the mil­lions of hotels, only 97 hotels world­wide have met the dis­cern­ing stan­dards to become 5-diamond hotels: high-end accom­mo­da­tions, excel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice, exten­sive facil­i­ties, and of course, a high level of personalization.

We are now being offered this per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence online every­day as more brands lever­age ana­lyt­ics and tar­get con­tent based on what they know about their cus­tomers and prospects. For all this effort, in some cases we are less than delighted. In fact, when it is unex­pected it can make the most sophis­ti­cated con­sumer weary. Why?

Lux­ury of Choice

When you go to a high-end hotel, you expect the peo­ple there to know your name. You expect them to remem­ber your pref­er­ences and use that knowl­edge to cre­ate an expe­ri­ence. You may won­der how it was all orches­trated, but really you just enjoy the added con­ve­nience, com­fort, and lux­ury of being catered to.

Con­trast that with a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence online. You may be read­ing an arti­cle online and notice the ads are spot on. There is inter­est, hes­i­ta­tion, and a fleet­ing thought … “That’s right! I meant to buy mom’s birth­day gift when the phone rang. Bet­ter do it now to avoid rush ship­ping. Wait. Did they know I aban­doned my shop­ping cart on another website?”

What’s the dif­fer­ence? Con­sumers stay­ing at a lux­ury hotel look for­ward to being catered to. They expect it. It was a choice and they enjoy every minute of it. Con­sumers online aren’t entirely used to being catered to and when it is unex­pected it can feel awk­ward. Strik­ing the right bal­ance between per­son­al­iz­ing an expe­ri­ence and avoid­ing the creepi­ness fac­tor is some­times referred to as the “spot-on” approach.

When you think about it, why wouldn’t you want some­one to remem­ber you and your pref­er­ences? Why wouldn’t you want that expe­ri­ence, regard­less of whether it’s in per­son or online? Most cus­tomers are happy with that per­son­al­iza­tion, as long as they under­stand it and why it’s being done. It’s really about the lux­ury of choice.

Marriott’s Spirit to Serve

High-end brands under­stand that not all con­sumers focus on price point. Many pre­fer an expe­ri­ence catered to their inter­ests and pref­er­ences over a generic one. They will choose it and share addi­tional infor­ma­tion about them­selves to help things along.

For exam­ple, Marriott’s industry-leading per­son­al­ized ser­vice pro­gram, includes call­ing prior to the guest’s arrival to check on pref­er­ences, email­ing sug­ges­tions to help with trip plan­ning, and rec­og­niz­ing guest pref­er­ences at check-in. The com­pany believes that per­son­al­iza­tion is a vital part of their success:

Per­son­al­ized ser­vice is crit­i­cal to deliv­er­ing a high-quality guest expe­ri­ence,” said Amy McPher­son, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, sales and mar­ket­ing, Mar­riott Inter­na­tional, Inc.  “Marriott’s Spirit To Serve Our Guest approach makes the cus­tomer feel rec­og­nized and spe­cial from the very beginning.”

This seems to be work­ing rea­son­ably well, as Marriott’s cur­rent cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion index score is one of the high­est scores in the hos­pi­tal­ity indus­try. That means that more than 8 out of 10 of Marriott’s cus­tomers are extremely sat­is­fied with their expe­ri­ence with the brand.

Cus­tomers appre­ci­ate com­pa­nies using infor­ma­tion to give them a per­son­al­ized in-person expe­ri­ence. I, for one, hap­pily checked off my pref­er­ence for feather pil­lows last time I stayed at Mar­riott. When cus­tomers feel like they have a choice in the col­lec­tion and use of that data, they feel less awk­ward and tend to hes­i­tate less.

So how can brands repro­duce this delight with per­son­al­iza­tion online?

Mum’s the Word

In most cases, con­sumers are more con­cerned with dis­cre­tion than pri­vacy. They are weary of how com­pa­nies may use the data they col­lect. Hav­ing a brand use data to improve the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence on its own site is wel­comed. I’d argue it is expected. No one wants to fill out a form every time they make a repeat pur­chase. Receive spam from a third-party ven­dor after a pur­chase? Not so much.

That is why it is impor­tant to have a trans­par­ent pri­vacy pol­icy that assures cus­tomers of what you are going to do with the infor­ma­tion you col­lect. That pri­vacy pol­icy will explain exactly what types of infor­ma­tion you will col­lect and how you will use that information.

Sixty-seven per­cent of busi­nesses that imple­ment some per­son­al­iza­tion pro­gram for their cus­tomers see a much higher reten­tion rate (around 60 per­cent) than those that don’t attempt to per­son­al­ize their cus­tomers’ expe­ri­ence. In many cases, cus­tomers will even will­ingly share their data if they know it will result in a bet­ter shop­ping experience.

Cus­tomers want the high-end VIP treat­ment, and the use of data to per­son­al­ize the customer’s expe­ri­ence makes that pos­si­ble. And they want the lux­ury of choice. Trans­parency and options on use of per­sonal infor­ma­tion allow them to develop trust in the brands they choose. And with trust comes the free­dom to enjoy hav­ing your name and pref­er­ences remem­bered every time you login online or walk into a 5-diamond hotel.

This post was pre­vi­ously pub­lished on the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing blog, June 17, 2014.