Kathleen Reidenbach eats, sleeps, and breathes customer experience: As chief commercial officer for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, it's in her job description. But there are worse jobs than tooling around Amsterdam looking for inspiration for your company's new boutique property, and Kathleen loves her work. She's been with Kimpton for more than 15 years, playing key roles in the business, spanning from revenue management to marketing.
I invited Kathleen to Marketing Smarts to discuss how the hospitality industry has evolved, and how a 36-year-old brand continuously reinvents itself to stay competitive. Under her leadership, Kimpton's 60+ hotels and 80+ restaurants around the world are thriving, thanks to a strong global brand, smart revenue strategies, savvy marketing, and a committment to extraordinary customer experience.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
We're marketers, but we're also consumers; use that inside knowledge to your advantage (05:52): "We spend a lot of time looking at challenges and tackling them from a very holistic perspective to have the most impactful outcome. The other side of it is, I try to be extremely reflective, whether I'm standing in line at Target or going to the grocery store and watching myself buy everything off the end of the aisles or looking at how I'm getting upsold in the shopping experience. I'm really conscious of how all these different touchpoints in my own life as a consumer affect my buying decisions and [I take] that into account when devleoping [Kimpton's] strategy, whether that's from a B2B perspective on the sales side, all the way through to brand development and digital on the consumer side."
Know what key characteristics define your brand, then live up to those qualities in every aspect of your business (07:48): "We have spent a lot of time studying over the last several years, reading reviews and feedback, and sitting in focus groups and just understanding who we are as a brand and how we differentiate ourselves in the market....
"Our guests tell us that we provide two things: 'We know that Kimpton's always going to be consistent,' they tell us, and yet we're also always going to be unique. That is this very delicate balance...and to most it would probably make you want to throw your head against the wall thinking 'how am I supposed to deliver consistency and unique at the same time?'
"We try to...make sure [to maintain] the common elements of Kimpton. There's a spirit to Kimpton. There's a style, there's always going to be great design, and a delight. There's always going to be these little elements in the experience...whether it's little owl hooks under the bar for you to put your purse, or whether it's the artwork, or a really amazing light fixture, or it's just the way that you feel or the warm smile that you get when you're checking in at the front desk."
If you want to hire personable employees, try getting a bit more personal during the interview (12:59): "One [interview question] I like to ask how people's family would describe them. You always see this big smile come across their face and you'll hear 'well, I'm the middle child, so at work I'm this way, but at home I generally just fall into keeping the peace,' and you just get a little bit more background on them and where they're coming from. Usually it opens up a little bit more about what they love to do, and how their family interacts with them. So that's one I get a kick out of and it loosens things up."
If you want to cultivate brand loyalty, personalize the customer experience (13:48): "We've got our loyalty program where members are able to sign up and provide us with information like 'if you're weren't working, you'd be....' We create open-ended questions in the sign-up form and get insights into their favorite snacks, favorite treats, things like that. The information we gather at that point helps us to create more personal experiences.
"Then there's the offline and online information that we garner. Proactively, a number of our guests are highly engaged with us on social media. They might say 'super excited, celebrating my anniversary at the Eventi in New York next week,' and we monitor for that. They're telling us something...so it helps us to create that experience in a more special and personal way. We might have a card signed by all of our employees wishing them a happy anniversary. Our chef might come up with some cool special treat for them or our bartender might...do a special cocktail.
"We really are ears and eyes open for any type of information that might come at us through traditional and nontraditional ways. And we really empower our call center agents as well to help pick up on any cues and put those notes in the reservation so we can make that experience special and personal.
Kathleen and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.