Thursday, May 16, 2013

LIve from FOCI 2013 - Relationship Matters: Is Being Too Connected a Disadvantage


Eric Lucan, of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, led a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of social connectivity for the hospitality industry. Kimpton employees have been empowered in the same way that employees at the Ritz Carlton chain have: Delight the customer – it is your budget and in your power.

To help attendees think about the differences across rewards or loyalty programs, Eric lined up the attributes of membership programs versus guest initiatives. Under a membership program, guests are considered to be part of a program in which they accumulate points in a tier-based manner that is based on their transactions.  The result of a well-managed membership program is loyalists. 

Kimpton takes a guest initiative tack toward rewarding their loyal customers.  Kimpton is focused on ensuring that guests feel like part of a family, and makes a point of noting and responding to their preferences in order to capitalize on opportunities to delight customers.  Kimpton emphasizes the relational aspects of their guests’ business, and desires to engender trust in customers.  The result of Kimpton’s orientation to guests is evangelists.

On their website, Kimpton encourages guests to respond to several open-ended questions that reveal more about them – most notably, the prompt: “If I wasn’t working, I’d be…”

Kimpton hotels are in the boutique category, with each hotel having a distinct personality.  The hotels average about 250 rooms, and each hotel determines how it will build trust and delight customers, as there isn’t a set budget across the chain for these customer relationship efforts.  Kimpton has grown to about 60 hotels, nearly doubling over the past years, and they are determined to grow.  Kimpton is even more determined to sustain their customer relationship building through the personalized service and compelling outreach to guests that is their trademark.

As Kimpton taps in more to social media, it is conscious of the need to ensure that social listening does not become creepy.  Kimpton believes that maintaining the human component in their transactions, listening to the reward program, and will keep them close to customers. Being careful to hang onto the culture that Kimpton has developed means that Kimpton can continue to grow but still keep doing what makes them special. 

Connectivity can mean that the humans are taken out of the transaction. Automation and Smartphones could eliminate what makes the hotel stay special. As a result hospitality may be becoming less hospitable.  But at Kimpton, guests will continue to say, "You had me at 'Welcome'".

Gigi DeVault writes a market research column for About.com
Market Research Guide
http://marketresearch.about.com/

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