Using mobile and big data to accommodate customer needs – an interview with Hotels.com CTO Thierry Bedos

By Danny Palmer
22 Aug 2014 View Comments
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Offering travellers more than 240,000 choices of accommodation across the globe, Hotels.com has millions of users and a large digital footprint. For the booking website's CTO, Thierry Bedos, ensuring customer satisfaction is the number one target.

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"My primary role is to deliver the retail experience to consumers on mobile and desktop sites," he told Computing, before going on to explain how a key part of that is "making sure the experience between the mobile device and the desktop is joined up". Regular Hotels.com users may begin looking for accommodation on mobile, before confirming the booking on desktop, he said.

"You shouldn't have to start from scratch; we should try to continue the experience where you left it," Bedos explained, describing Hotels.com's "mobile journey" as something that is becoming increasingly important.

If the figure of 35 million mobile application downloads is anything to go by, the mobile-first strategy is certainly achieving some success. Bedos explained how Hotels.com is basing this strategy on the changes in behaviour of customers.

"We see more people shifting from traditional desktops to tablet devices, people doing last-minute booking on mobile devices," he said. "Mobile is very key in our strategy and everything we do revolves around making the mobile experience seamless for customers."

To provide that seamless experience, responsive design is at the core of Hotels.com's customer-facing services, which means the website "can adapt to different form factors of devices". 

To ensure a smooth user experience, Hotels.com developers are encouraged to test their work on as many devices as possible, with all of them having access to a wide selection of smartphones and tablets to use for assessments.

"We've got a library of devices which are available for all our employees to borrow. There's even a lab, where we've got a whole bunch of devices. This is a place where designers and developers can go and you've got tablets and mobile phones available there to try out or see how a new design works," said Bedos, adding: "A change can't be commissioned until it's been tested on an actual device."

This development for a wide variety of devices isn't done blind. Hotels.com analyses data about its users in order to determine which devices are being used.

"This isn't industry data, this is our own data," Bedos explained. "We are witnessing hundreds of different form factors used by people accessing the site."

But determining which devices are used to access the site is only a small part of how Hotels.com is harnessing the power of analytics, with big data tools deployed to provide personalised experiences and recommendations to individual users.

"We collect as much data as possible to understand our customers' behaviour and we try to attach behaviours to a particular profile. The main goal isn't to track what users are doing, it's to better understand the need for that particular customer," Bedos told Computing, going on to give an example of a regular luxury hotel booker.

"We collect your browsing behaviour and understand some of your preferences. If you always filter by five-star hotels there's no point us showing you one- or two-star hotels.

"We're trying to build a model around what are the likely options that'll make a customer buy and what is the best hotel for a particular customer," he said. "We get all that data, establish trends around your browsing experience, try to segment those trends then apply algorithms to select the best hotel."

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