An Interview with Hilton Hotels' Jim Vonderheide

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Nov. 20, 2006
You Can Get to Know Your Guest: An Interview With Hilton Hotels' Jim VonDerheide Bob Thompson
Jim, I know you've got quite an extensive background in what we now call customer relationship management. Could you tell us a little bit about that background and what it is you're currently doing at Hilton? Jim VonDerheide

My career pretty much started as a database marketer. I think as technology progressed over the years, database marketing sort of evolved into response marketing in the 800-number era and then into interactive marketing in the web-based era. I think as those channels start to integrate, we have a relationship that needs to span across the entire set of interactions we have with our customers. I've kind of been standing strategically in between marketing and technology, trying to make sure that those interactions make more and more sense in terms of a continuity market. Bob Thompson

What are your responsibilities at Hilton today?
Jim VonDerheide
My responsibilities revolve around the interactions that take place with our guests, irrespective of what channel those interactions are taking place in. So, if there is something that we've known about a customer or that a customer has asked us to remember about their preferences or their choices, I'm responsible for making sure that we act on those correctly and get them delivered in the correct experience. Bob Thompson

How long has this position been in place there?
Jim VonDerheide
It's been in place for about three years. We originally started some of our efforts in, I think, what would be a typical approach of a matrix operation that pulled in an operations person, a marketing person and a technology person to determine how we could be more integrated in the way we dealt with our guests. And at that point, actually, it was just recognition of our guests. Bob Thompson

And today, where does your job report into? Is it in the marketing function or IT or somewhere else? Jim VonDerheide
It's in an area that we refer to more as an integrated services area. You know, as a franchising organization with a corporate office, what we do is we try to create services that can be better delivered from a national organization than it can at any of our local hotels. Bob Thompson

Let's talk a little bit about Hilton and the business environment you're in. I noticed from the Hilton web site that Hilton's actually a collection of a number of different brands. Jim VonDerheide

That's correct.
Bob Thompson
As I read it, 2700 or so hotels worldwide and nearly 450,000 rooms that are under the Hilton brand, brands like—in addition to Hilton—Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn. So in that type of environment, have you drawn any conclusions about what really determines whether a customer's going to be loyal to Hilton or to that specific brand? Choice

Jim VonDerheide
I think it ends up being, again, a guest's choice. We have guests that we know are loyal to one of our brands or to a few of our brands. We have a high percentage of our guests who are loyal to the family of brands and will choose to stay with us, irrespective of which one of the brands it is. And what we try to do is cater to each one of those choices that a guest makes. Obviously, it's to our advantage if we can get guests to be multi-branded, but we certainly understand that there are certain customer promises that, for example, an Embassy Suites would make that will not be replicated in any of our other brands. Similarly, there are customer promises made by the Hilton brand that won't be replicated in any of the other brands. So, you know, our job is to really make sure that that expectation is understood in terms of what the brand promise is and to also make sure that the family brand promises, irrespective of what brand you're staying at, what Hilton brings to its family. Bob Thompson

What is that exactly? Let's talk about Hilton as the macro brand....
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