The Value of Trust Through Privacy

Privacy is a very big deal in the hotel business, so elemental to the customer experience that every hotel room comes equipped with a card to hang on the doorknob asking for more of it. Service is expected to be welcoming but discreet.

For Tim Harvey, chief information officer at Hilton Hotels Corp., the same view extends to information privacy.

Many companies regard customer information privacy in terms of cost and compliance, at best, and at worst as something to be sold to the highest bidder.

Harvey, who’s been with the $3.8 billion, Beverly Hills-based hotelier since 1999, sees it as a positive value to the business he supports. “Privacy is a core requirement, a part of our philosophy,” he says. “We think privacy is an advantage in the marketplace.”

Like many companies, Hilton collects plenty of personal information from its customers and uses it to market its eight hotel brands through loyalty programs, promotions and the like. But the company is careful to allow customers at its more than 2,200 hotels to opt out of its identity-based campaigns.

The payoff goes beyond customer satisfaction to improved data quality and more successful marketing, says Harvey.

“The more they trust you, the better the information you can get from them, and thus the more they opt in to programs,” he adds.

“Good privacy policy provides an advantage in customer service—it’s one of the things a customer trusts us to do beyond providing secure accommodations. Consumer trust is the basis of our business. Most of our brands achieve market-share premiums—more occupancy at higher rates than the local market competitive set—and we believe customer trust in our brands accounts for those premiums.”

The concept of trust as a business opportunity, and information privacy as a key element in establishing trust, fits comfortably into Hilton’s corporate culture.

“Guest service is paramount in the hospitality industry, and we are constantly aware of the business value of maintaining these relationships, as we develop and use technology,” Harvey says.

The same understanding prevails in other businesses where customer trust is essential, including financial-services companies such as Bank of America Corp. (which, in its marketing materials, assures customers that it exceeds regulatory standards on data privacy), and at firms such as Intel Corp. that do a high volume of online sales.

Next Page: Connecting the dots between information privacy and profits.

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