Executive Q&A: Kimpton Hotels Wins Over Guests with Personalization

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Maggie Lang, senior director of consumer marketing and engagement, discusses the hotelier's unified approach to customer data to better serve guests.
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Winning hotel guests takes more than free Wi-Fi and a spa package. Like its competitors, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants is looking for opportunities to give its accommodations an edge over the competition. Known for its boutique hotels, Kimpton Hotels operates more than 60 hotels and restaurants across 30 cities in the U.S. and strives to provide guests with personalized experiences.

Maggie Lang, senior director of consumer marketing and engagement, spoke with 1to1 Media about the company's efforts to leverage its customer data, its mobile strategy, and also offered suggestions about why the travel industry is slow to adopt new technology.

1to1 Media: What problems are you trying to solve when it comes to serving your guests?

Maggie Lang: The problem with many companies is they don't spend enough time treating their guests as individuals. I have different preferences when I'm traveling for work versus when I'm travelling with my kids. And the question we're thinking of is 'how do we leverage our CRM data to make sure we don't forget that personalized touch?' We have more than one hundred integration points with our customers and we partnered with Salesforce's ExactTarget Marketing Cloud two and a half months ago to help us get more organized and better connected with our customers.

Can you share an example of how you're connecting with your customers?

ML: One of the things we're doing is providing more personalized services. For example, if you're a loyalty member checking in and the front desk agent sees you have a puppy with you whose name is Jack, the agent might collaborate with his or her colleagues through Chatter, and the next day, you'll find a gift bag in your room with treats addressed to Jack. That's an example of a hotel that knows you. We're taking down real-time information and acting on it.

How do you measure the ROI behind personalized services like that?

ML: Our mission is to be the best-loved hotel company and we want to surprise and delight as many of our customers as possible, but we also measure everything we do. When we send gift baskets to guests we can see what effect it has. Did the customer come back? Are they referring us to friends? If I compare members who received more personalized services, I can see whether there's an increase in spend. We do A/B testing, marketing automation-all the optimization techniques that other marketers are using.

What is your mobile strategy?

ML: We haven't launched our mobile app yet. Each channel should serve you way the way you want it to function, and since mobile has become a very personal channel, our vision is that the app will allow you to customize your stay without waiting for an agent. We're not there yet though. The travel industry in general is a slow adapter to innovation.

What factors prevent the travel industry from moving faster in adopting advanced technology?

ML: The travel industry operates on a very lean margin and many hotels and airlines are still using legacy systems. What often happens is companies just keep adding features as they need them, but they end up with this huge dinosaur of a system. With a few exceptions, like Virgin Airlines, many companies in the travel industry are also averse to risk. The operation comes first and then maybe some experimentation.

It's not necessarily a bad thing to watch other industries and learn from them. Take Kimpton, for example, we're working on becoming more agile and moving into the cloud and doing more things like gamification offers, through which other companies have seen success. The travel industry may be slow [to adopt new technologies], but once we nail them, they provide a better experience for guests.

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