Is ‘Little Data’ the Key to Making Loyalty Programs Work?
Many of us belong to a lot of loyalty programs, but I doubt many give a hoot about loyalty cards or accounts. Ninety-eight percent of us (my guesstimate) prefer to receive special treatment and offers from retailers and other companies we deal with as a matter of course, without having to remember numbers, log-ins, PINs and passwords. The problem is that many companies that consumers interact with are large chains that want to automate as many functions as possible, to return the best ROI to shareholders or owners. With so many employees and customers, it’s not practical for interactions to be on a true one-to-one basis anymore.
Since we can’t go back to the days of "Cheers" where "everybody knows your name," how can large retailers and service companies be as efficient as possible yet deliver personalized service that connects with customers on a human level? At last week’s Loyalty Expo, a presentation by Phil Rubin, CEO of rDialogue and BrainTrust member, and Maggie Lang, director of loyalty & relationship management for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, addressed some of those issues.
The presenters spotlighted Kimpton, a chain of luxury boutique hotels that is a regular on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. The chain has the best customer satisfaction (93+ percent) and emotional attachment scores (89+ percent) of any hotel company operating in the U.S. They do it by marrying their loyalty program with a mission of genuinely caring for guests and employees, allowing associates to get creative and embedding a dash of fun into everything they do.
Kimpton has a free loyalty program called "InTouch" which enables the chain to cater to their guests’ preferences and offer them reward stays. After 15 eligible stays or 45 eligible nights in a calendar year, members can join the "Inner Circle." Additional benefits include a favorite snack upon arrival, complimentary upgrades when available, a free chef’s treat at the restaurant, a VIP reservation line — even "access to the CEO," according to the company’s website. All guests get a free cup of coffee in the morning and can attend a free reception in the evening.
Ms. Lang said Kimpton’s mission is to be the best loved boutique hotel company and focuses on providing care and comfort for guests, rather than viewing them on a transactional basis. Kimpton zeroes in on "little data" and singular experiences, using data to inform strategies, while giving associates the power to get creative in connecting with guests. Associates often surprise guests with small gifts sent to rooms, upgrades, and personal amenities.
The payout for Kimpton comes in terms of true loyalty, positive feedback on social media and "guests for life." The company believes that rather than automating everything to the point that each action by a customer is entered into the system and triggers a reward according to cumulative behaviors, maybe it’s better to mix in a little (or a lot) of "surprise and delight," allow your employees to get creative, and do some things on a one-to-one basis. It may not deliver instant ROI, but provides long-term benefits.
- Kimpton InTouch: Frequently Asked Questions – Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
- Inner Circle – Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
- America’s Most Inspiring CEOs – Esquire
- Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants – Facebook
Can mainstream retailers adopt Kimpton’s approach to “surprise and delight” customers? Are there pitfalls in treating each customer uniquely, as opposed to taking a more generalized approach?