8. STAY OUT IN FRONT OF SOCIAL MEDIA
For Kimpton, relating to the customer means skirting big media to concentrate on PR and to have more of a web and social media presence. The company considers social media the one great equalizer.
“People just don’t trust traditional advertising,” Depatie says. “So we’re never going to be the perfect brand for that. We feel more strongly that people want to share their experiences, and social media fits right in line with that.”
Last year, Kimpton made significant investments to completely overhaul its digital presence, with a sharpened focus on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook; a revamped website; and a blog titled Life Is Suite, which features lively Kimpton news, travel, style, and wellness tips, a celebration of food and drink, and lots of video content, all reinforcing the Kimpton lifestyle.
“We’re extending the relationship with our guests beyond their average 2.1-night length of stay,” says SVP Marketing Kathleen Reidenbach. “What we want to do is keep the Kimpton experience going. For example, a blog entry and accompanying video might be a recipe for one of our bartender’s signature drinks. We’re trying to once again put a smile on our customers’ faces. Does it inspire them? Does it make them want to serve drinks?”
9. LEVERAGE DIGITAL TOOLS FOR NEW BUSINESS
The new website is a responsive design, able to format to any computer or mobile device. In addition to Kimpton’s consumer mobile app, a Kimpton Instant Meetings iPad sales app was introduced earlier this year, designed to help groups book their entire meetings and events schedules via that portal. “We’re finding that we’re stealing more and more of the group market share,” Reidenbach says. “Attitudes are changing. Our customers are busy. They want to be able to accomplish more using mobile devices. And groups are looking for something different, be it a pleasant-looking boardroom with comfortable furniture, great food, or a rooftop bar for a retreat. Our service and spaces are inspiring, and our digital presence reflects that. It represents a digital lobby for our guests.” The idea of putting a smile on one’s face is the attitude that keeps Kimpton’s digital services cutting edge but within the company’s comfort zone. “We’re a breath of fresh air,” Reidenbach adds.
Kimpton employs a social media listening desk and review management team, which monitors the online networking spheres, watching for tweets and posts mentioning Kimpton and responding to them accordingly. “We learned of a wedding anniversary stay at Hotel Monaco, which one of our customers had mentioned on social media,” Reidenbach notes. “When they arrived, they were surprised when they were greeted with a champagne reception.”
Birthdays, celebratory occasions, and even difficult times offer opportunities for the employees to do a little extra and delight their guests. “It’s simply giving more karma, keeping the spirit of Kimpton going. It’s a real gift to be able to do that,” she says. When a review pops up on TripAdvisor or elsewhere, the team can respond to the reviewer in real time. “We want to be able to attend to any issues right away. Fortunately, there aren’t many bad reviews,” she says.
10. STICK WITH WHAT’S WORKING
The brand continues to accumulate “best of” accolades from publications across the travel and food media spectrum. Last year, J.D. Power and Associates rated Kimpton the “Highest Ranking Brand in Upper Upscale Category” for North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction. “Research indicates that 50 percent of consumers already know the brand they want when they’re shopping for a hotel,” Reidenbach says. “But if you can put a smile on customers’ faces, then they’re more willing to share their experience.” If there’s any playbook entry to be invoked, this one would be a major indicator of how Kimpton intends to tip the balance. “In terms of customer care and satisfaction, we have no choice but to be the best that we can possibly be,” Depatie says.
All this suggests that Kimpton is in a good spot with no signs of slowing down. “We’re on the right path at the right time,” DeFrino says. “We’re seeing new customers coming over to us from the big brands.” It helps that Kimpton can offer big brand customers a reason they already understand, like a reward program. But the company is banking on the premise that what’s going to resonate with customers is the Kimpton experience. “The whole essence of the boutique travelers is that they’re not inherently loyal,” he adds. “They’re not really looking for rewards points but are out to try something different, so we’re on the balls of our heels all the time to try to be unique while keeping the same core, fundamental elements that distinguish us.”
The success of that trick will ultimately hinge on executing and performing at that high level, while at the same time creating fun, unique concepts in all these different markets, DeFrino says. “We’re striving to be an approachable place to stay, where customers can become great friends with the people who work here. We’re channeling that energy of what Bill Kimpton always wanted.”
As long as Kimpton follows its formula, sans smoke and mirrors, the future looks bright. “Our culture enables everyone to feel like they have to give their best,” Depatie says. “But as CEO, I always have to ask myself, ‘How do I keep the magic going?’”