Being a provider of training in the topic areas of hospitality, sales, and guest service excellence, my eyes are always drawn to any headline with the words “personalized” or “guest hospitality” in it. Seems that just about every day, a new article comes out somewhere featuring these words, yet when I read what follows, it inevitably seems to be about some new tech or AI-powered solution that does not result in guests receiving a genuine sense of personalization.

When you search the definition on Google, the first result reads: “The action of designing or producing something to meet someone's individual requirements” with the sample of usage being “The goal of search personalization is to help the searcher save time.” Therefore, I suppose that the writers of these headlines are technically correct. However, when you look at the root word, for me, this implies that “personalization” can best be done by a person!

Maybe I’m the only one, but the tech-enabled efforts that so many corporations use these days to “personalize” their relationship with me fall short. Am I the only one? Are there any readers out there to get that “warm, fuzzy” feeling when you get a happy birthday text from your doctor’s office or car dealership? Does it make you go “Aw!” when you receive an email that starts with your name? Do texts saying “Thank you for being a valued customer” from a company you just purchased something from truly make you feel valued? For me anyway, the following are some examples of what “personalization” truly is and is not.

A true sense of personalization is NOT:

- Seeing your name on the TV screen when you enter a guest room.

- Receiving a text that says, “Welcome to the hotel, I’m Vicky, your Virtual Concierge.”

- Getting an email that says, “Thank you for being a valued guest, PLEASE do a review for us.”

- Receiving a push message from an app addressing you by name and telling you that the best way to check-in or book a time at the hotel restaurant or spa is to use this app.

- Reading an email addressed to you by name trying to push upgrades and add-ons.

Alternatively, here are examples that truly convey a sense of personalized hospitality and service.

- A front desk clerk who acknowledges you as you pass by the front desk and remembers greeting you earlier in the day.

- A front desk or food server who recommends an add-on “upsell” option that is based on your obvious needs, such as a suite (with an internal door) for a family with young kids or a particular wine that pairs well with the fish dish you just ordered.

- A bartender who remembers your favorite beer or cocktail.

- A housekeeper who sees all the children’s clothing and toys in the room and leaves you extra towels. Or one that notices you use all the decaf K-Cups and none of the others and leaves you extra.

- When anyone wearing a nametag smiles as they approach you in a hallway and greetings you as you pass by.

- When anyone with a nametag breaks the awkward silence of an elevator ride to greet you.

- When any human staff member offers a “local insider’s tip” on something to eat, see, or do during your stay.

- When a hotel associate acknowledges your baby, child, or pet.

- When a front desk colleague truly welcomes you in a personalized way, going beyond a scripted welcome of “Thank you for being a loyalty member” as they hand you a cheap bottle of water.

- When any front of the house colleague asks about your travels, then listens and empathizes with any travel drama you share.

- When a host or hostess says, “Are you ready to be seated?” and not “Just one?”

- When someone comments on the sports team logo on your hat or shirt.

- If you are a female being greeted by another female, when someone offers a sincere compliment regarding an obviously unique piece of jewelry or a handbag or your sweater.

- When someone comments or inquires about your hometown, state, or country.

Now, this is not to say that tech and AI are bad nor that I am the “anti-tech” guy, but a reminder that at the end of the day, it’s your people that truly deliver personalized guest experiences. Hotel leaders, look around at your comp-set. When your “place,” “product,” and “price,” are relatively the same, it truly is your people who make the difference and who create enduring guest loyalty.

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network