As lead analyst on the recently released Social Customer Engagement Index from Social Media Today, one of the key findings was that 81% of the 1,200 people surveyed said their companies social customer service strategy was aligned with the company’s overall social strategy. And it’s this alignment of social, culture and strategy that is helping companies create better customer experiences in hopes of extending relationships they have with them.
Maggie Lang, Senior Director of Guest Marketing for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, shared with me how the boutique hotel chain is taking a strategic, unified approach to customer experience development to take on the big hotel chains in the battle for the modern day traveler. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full interview click on the audio player below. And to get a free copy of the 2014 Social Customer Engagement Index you can click on this registration link.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Maggie Lang: I’ve been at Kimpton’s for two years now and responsible for a variety of areas including loyalty, the loyalty program, direct marketing, social media strategy as well as our member and guest customer service. Prior to joining Kimpton, my passion for the travel industry actually arose when I was with United Airlines for six years.
Small Business Trends: Can you tell us more about Kimpton?
Maggie Lang: Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants is a little over 30 years old now and it was started by Bill Kimpton. He travelled throughout Europe and discovered boutique hotels and fell in love with the boutique hotel experience. He was the first to bring it to the United States.
He started in San Francisco in one hotel. We’re experiencing record growth right now and just hit over 60 hotels throughout the country, with our first international expansion announced last year.
Small Business Trends: What kind of expectations do your customers have for Kimpton and how different are the expectations for a boutique hotel compared to the bigger known brands?
Maggie Lang: What’s really neat is that we’re actually competing with some of these really large global brands, but we put customer service first and foremost. We’re near obsessed with customer service. From everybody who knows Kimpton and loves Kimpton, what we hear consistently is how much they love our customer experience. Such as the general manager being out at wine hour. Every night at five o’clock we serve complimentary wine in our lobbies or there will be pet greetings.
We accept pets of every size for no additional fee.
Our general managers and our people are out there – engaging. They’re hanging out with our guests. They are forming really personal relationships. I honestly think that that is part of what sets us apart.
Small Business Trends: What is your company’s most effective engagement channel from a service or experience perspective?
Maggie Lang: We look at it depending on the life cycle of where our guests and numbers fall in their travel cycle. I often see that while you’re in your travel cycle, so as you’re travelling, Twitter tends to be a more real time way to connect with us. You’re either checking in on Foursquare or maybe you want to give a shout-out on Twitter. It’s a faster, more real time channel. God forbid, if something went wrong, you might just tell us about it on Twitter and have a very real-time response . We definitely pride ourselves on our response time on twitter. We listen all the time.
Facebook is a much larger channel because that’s where they’ll go to maybe get a sense of the brand. They want to see visuals more. They want to look at pictures. They want to see who we are as they’re researching brands. But what I think is so unique to us is I think we’re beyond fortunate to enjoy this kind of a relationship. Once they’re done travelling and maybe they’re in their off-travel cycle – they actually hang out with us on Facebook.
They enjoy looking, whether it’s our dog community or just our wine hour, our recipes. We post things from our chefs in our restaurants. We’re actually a lifestyle brand that is a part of their life even when they’re not staying with us or dining with us, which I think is just really, really unique.
Then Instagram and Pinterest are emerging channels for us. But I will say Instagram is probably also another one of those that’s relevant while you’re in the travel cycle because you might’ve gotten to your hotel room and there was a great bottle of wine and some snacks and something fun waiting for you.
Small Business Trends: You mentioned that you’re really focused on the speed of the response. Can you give us some ideas of how quickly you are able to respond?
Maggie Lang: If it’s during business hours when we have many eyes on, we make it a habit of responding within an hour. If it’s during off hours, our social media listening agents make it a point of responding very quickly. I think it’s extremely rare for a guest to post something and then have three hours go by without a response from us.
Small Business Trends: It sounds like you have a very rich in-hotel experience. How do you go about creating that kind of online experience that helps get folks in there?
Maggie Lang: We don’t just offer a hotel stay. We don’t just offer a meal. We offer an experience – and we offer a lifestyle brand. When you’re looking for yoga tips or you’re looking for design ideas, we have Ava Bradley who’s our SVP of design. She offers design tips on our blog. Emily Wines, our master sommelier, offers wine tips for when you’re hosting a dinner party, parings, etc.
We don’t want to stop with just saying, ‘Okay, you stayed with us and you dined with us. Thank you. Goodbye.’ We want to continue providing tips and form a relationship so that when you are thinking about travelling again, we would be your natural choice because we’re friends.
Small Business Trends: How are you able to measure the impact of your social initiatives?
Maggie Lang: It’s interesting because I think metrics come into play in different ways. There’s revenue driven metrics obviously. We have holistic tracking from our website to close the loop to see if the social channels drive sales. We have all of the traditional KPI’s that you can think of with pretty advanced analytics.
When it comes to social in particular, our main focus there is customer service and customer engagement. That’s really where we look at things that don’t all tie into revenue. But if I have to look at the specific metrics in that channel, I’m going to look at content. We react real time to that.
We also look at depth of engagement as opposed to breadth of engagement. An example of that would be we don’t necessarily obsess about how many friends or followers we have. What we do obsess over is how often the friends and followers we have engage with us.
If you think about it, it’s traditionally like acquisition and retention. We believe that by deepening the retention, by deepening the relationship, organic growth will come because that’s how we’ve grown our business.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.
Creating an experience is a great way to differentiate from the competition, but it’s a lot of work. Keep it up!
Great interview that reinforces how important social media is to the customer service and experience strategy of a business. And, it just so happens that Kimpton, one of my favorite hotel chains, is the case study. Social media is much more than another channel for us to monitor for customer complaints. For Kimpton, because of social media, the experience can begin before check-in, or continue long after check-out. There is no reason that other companies in virtually any industry can’t do the same.