The Customer Insight Strategy of the Dorchester Collection

Interview with the Director, Global Guest Experience & Innovation at Dorchester Collection about customer-centricity and the importance of customer insight, data & analytics within the strategy.

Ana Brant is the Director, Global Guest Experience & Innovation at Dorchester Collection – a luxury brand of "iconic hotels in iconic places". With her 10+ years’ luxury brand experience and leadership, the DC's guest experience index increased by 22 per cent worldwide.

A strategist by trade, Ana starts with the relentless pursuit of disruptive customer insight; validates them with the brand promise to determine fit; then builds the organisational requirements, talent engagement plan and implementation strategy.

Her innovations and awards in customer experience have led to articles in the Harvard Business Review and speaking engagements at Harvard University, SciencesPo, École Hôtelière de Lausanne, The Malcolm Baldrige Awards Forum and the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit.

SEE ALSO: How Luxury Brand the Dorchester Collection Creates a Highly Personalised Experience

In this interview for CX Network, Ana talks about the way customer insight is applied within the Dorchester Collection, the challenges and changes she’s seeing in the industry, and how other CX leaders can leverage customer insight to become more customer-centric.

How do you use customer insight at the Dorchester Collection to enhance the customer experience you’re providing?

The biggest challenge when using insight to enhance customer experience is to make real and conscious distinction between what we feel is important and what the customer thinks is important. To become a customer-centric organisation, companies have to let go of their ego. And that is difficult as in the luxury world where the glamour of the offering or products often bedazzles us, the opportunities to improve often go unrecognised, causing luxury business to miss chances to gain competitive advantage.

Take breakfast for instance; we learned that this is extremely important to our customers, yet our main focus ends up being on dinner experience. The breakfast experience alone won’t earn you a Michelin star. So everyone focuses on dinner. When was the last time you saw a Chef meeting the guests during breakfast?

Can you tell us about the process of gathering customer insight and data at Dorchester Collection?

My motto is, if you have a process, you are out of style. Listening to the customer is a mind-set, not an act or a set of tools. While tools are important, they evolve all the time and unless you seek to find new ways or gathering insight, you are no longer relevant.

In my opinion one of the most valuable and underutilised tools to understand our customers is observations.

We think of “observations” as the action of observing someone to gain information, usually in a traditional way. In hospitality we would relate this statement to observing the customers in a lobby, a restaurant, or observing their arrival process at the front door. Such observations are uncomfortable for many and take long time to gain a valuable.

However, “observations” have come a long way in recent years; we just haven’t connected the dots. This is where I would bring in the technology as an enabler. Technology redefined observations into “the ability to notice significant details”.

For instance, how many “significant details” can you observe through social media? Chances are that your guests are on social media. If they are not, their partners are or their kids or whoever they are travelling with. Travel and food are the most popular subjects on social media. So why limit ourselves to the physical lobbies and restaurants when our clients are inviting us into their digital lobby and restaurant on their Instagram page?

You can take it a step further and use hotel’s geographical location on Instagram to see what other guests are posting.

We launched a great tool by Local Measure which helps us understand our social guest experience. For instance, we can observe what dishes are popular and use customer photos to motivate and inspire chefs to improve its presentation. In one of our hotels we re-launched a cocktail menu and are using social media to track its success. The possibilities are endless.

In the end, only curiosity and human insight can connect digital and physical world, but technology certainly helps!


What have you found to be the biggest challenge when it comes to customer insight, data and analytics within the luxury industry?

Clotaire Rapaille, the author “The Global Code” says: “The code for “smart” is atrophy: the smarter the phone, the dumber the user.” It summarises the root cause of the problem. Let me explain.

As I mentioned, technology is simply an enabler, but not the end goal. Businesses invest countless resources into building state of the art customer insight databases, which end up being used by only a small percentage of the organisation. What they don’t realise is that such databases, even though designed to bring us closer to the customer, are actually taking us further away from humanity. Customers become spreadsheets, market segments and dashboards instead of individuals with different needs at different times. Databases record rational behaviour, without taking into consideration the most important components – the context and empathy.

One way to overcome this challenge is to create a culture of service design by asking context driven, empathetic questions. For instance, let’s say you want to learn more about the family who just returned from an annual vacation at your hotel. You have the context; vacation. Instead of asking your guest directly a typical “how was your vacation” question; I would suggest asking their permission to speak to the one of the children and ask them: “what did you like the most about your vacation?”. The kid responds “the pool”. Now this is where empathy comes in and you follow up with the sub question “why was this pool so cool?”, and the kid tells you “because I was allowed to jump in”.

And voila, you just uncovered that, most likely, the reason parents have chosen your hotel is because their kids like to jump in the pool. What an insight; do we know how many guests do we lose because their kids can’t jump into the pool?

So far I have not had a chance to “meet” a customer insight database that can tell you this.

Where do you see the customer insight, data & analytics market heading in the next 12-18 months?

While the technological enhancements to connect the dots between different insights are getting better and better, I believe the biggest challenge will be to find leadership with interdisciplinary skill set.

For instance, we learned from Metis (the AI tool) about the importance of breakfast. Everyone seemed to have their own definition of perfect eggs or a perfect breakfast. And that was great insight. But now what?

We needed to connect this insight with our world of passionate hoteliers. So that’s exactly what we did. We analysed the internal data to see what items do we sell the most during breakfast, which dishes cause the most complaints (surprise surprise, it was eggs) and how many guests modify their breakfast order. The results of this internal analysis led us to a conclusion that one really doesn’t need a breakfast menu as the majority of the orders are modified. Modified orders, may cause dissatisfaction because Chefs are focused on perfecting the menu items, not off-menu requests.

So here it comes again; we focused on what is traditionally important in the hotel business – having great menus – and the customer is clearly telling us they don’t need one. What a paradigm shift this was.

As a result, we now have a few hotels experimenting with the concept of menu-less breakfast, and the initial feedback is great. It is one thing to gain an insight, but to do something with it is a completely different game.

How can CX leaders leverage customer insight, data & analytics to excel at customer experience?

There is not a silver bullet or a magic formula to this. It really depends on your organisation, how customer- centric (or ego-centric) is it, the potential of human capital, and most importantly what your brand stands for.

However, the key ingredient in any of the above is your employees. Our employees play a remarkable role in creating guest experiences. They are the curators of their individual craftsmanship, and craftsmanship is what defines luxury. We strongly believe, and live by the motto, that the guest experience can never become what the employee experience is already not.

For instance, in our hotels the employee entrance is equally important as the guest entrance. At The Beverly Hills Hotel they went a step further and replicated the hotel’s iconic red carpet with a green and white striped ceiling, step and repeat banner and banana leaf plants at the employee entrance.

At hotel Eden, which is currently undergoing restoration, the plan is to replicate the food and beverage concept of the main restaurant in the staff canteen. Employees give our hotels a personality and soul; without them we only have a building.