How do you differentiate one hotel brand in such an ultra-competitive industry?
By focusing on authentic, heartfelt ideas and initiatives that go way beyond anything your guests ever expect.
This is just one of the insights I learned last year when I chatted with Shirley King who has over 25 years driving engagement and loyalty for Kimpton Hotels and IHG both at home in the USA and internationally.
Listen to hear how her instinctive loyalty mindset helped her create some of the industry’s most iconic programs, as well as some of the ideas she was thinking through for the future to create even greater loyalty in a post-pandemic world.
Speaker 1 (0s):
Welcome to “Let’s Talk Loyalty”, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals.
I’m your host, Paula Thomas and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.
Hello, and welcome to episode 156 of “Let’s Talk Loyalty”, which is a short summary of episode 47 from the summer of 2020, and was my first opportunity to interview someone in the hotel industry as a loyalty professional.
Shirley King joined Kimpton Hotels in a concierge role, straight out of college and then immediately she fell in love with serving and delighting their guests.
She told me a great story of how she used to keep small individual note cards about the top guests that used to come to stay so she could remember exactly what they liked and make sure they had everything they wanted every time they booked.
As you can imagine with such a unique and innate instinct to create customer loyalty, her talents were quickly spotted, and she was promoted to a role in the corporate office with Kimpton Hotels, where she created the Inner Circle Program.
And at the time of our conversation, Shirley had worked for over 25 years for Kimpton hotels, including IHG who had acquired the brand portfolio along the way.
By way of background, Shirley explained the story of Kimpton Hotels, a luxury boutique hotel brand that was founded as a way to help guests feel as safe when they travel as they do when they’re at home.
This insight came from the hotels, founder, Bill Kempton, who realized this was a way to be truly unique compared to the huge hotel brands that were common at the time in the U S in the late 1980s.
Shirley shared that these values of safety and authenticity, of course ensured a heartfelt culture within the company, and have actually proven to be values that have even more relevance in these extraordinary times of the global pandemic, as well as these core values.
There is also a real fun part of the brand with all new staff competing in a hula hoop challenge on their first day, an idea I loved as a way to make staff really feel part of something unique and special.
And I’m guessing that surely took part in lots of those induction days, as she even confessed to having a hula-hoop trophy on her desk in that corporate office.
When I asked Shirley about her favorite loyalty statistic, she used one unique to the hotel industry, which she called “loyalty rev par”, which I understand essentially to be the contribution of loyal customers to the hotels commercial performance.
But then she also mentioned a comprehensive value score, which she created to measure the overall member engagement.
It’s a completely customized statistic, which measures things like whether the member dines in the hotel, whether they engage in the hotels, social channels, and even whether they stay in multiple hotels or just a single property.
This type of analysis she told me helps to measure if they’re actually making their members more sticky way beyond just their basic transactional behavior.
Now, as our conversation happened at the summer of 2020, it was not that surprising to learn that surely at the time was officially furloughed for a number of months, but she was then delighted to share that she had just been invited by again to IHG the parent company of Kimpton hotels to take on a new role as the manager for all IHG global luxury loyalty programs internationally, a great move for her after the impact on her career of the pandemic.
Perhaps my favorite part of our conversation was when Shirley shared the loyalty award, she had won a number of years earlier from Collorqay.
It was for a project that evolved from an already powerful concept where top tier members were invited on an extraordinary once in a lifetime experience and hosted by Kimpton.
For example, they arranged trips in hot air balloon, or sometimes a unique premium tequila tasting experience. But perhaps the most effective thing they did was later to simply arrange calls to these top guests, and they invited the whole leadership team for the hotel to sit together, put the guest on a speaker phone, and then literally tell them how much their business meant to them.
Then they would let the member choose something fantastic they’d love to do which Kimpton would, of course organize.
Shirley confessed this could be a logistical nightmare, but nonetheless, it was hugely impactful and really created that sense of emotional loyalty with the customers.
I think the fact that this was not a scalable idea also seemed to help those members understand how truly they were valued.
In closing, we discussed the three main programs that Shirley has led to date – the Inner Circle, the InTouch, and finally the Kimpton Karma Rewards program, and you can hear details of those program propositions by listening back to the full interview.
It’s episode number 47 on “Let’s Talk Loyalty”.
Beyond that, Shirley shared how one effect of the pandemic was to create almost a blank sheet of paper for the hospitality industry, giving them a new opportunity to create ways to truly wow their guests and exceed expectations.
This means traditional ideas of course, but also new ones, led by artificial intelligence.
So it was super exciting to hear some of the ideas that Shirley has focused on to ensure the ongoing loyalty of her members.
So that’s it for today.
Please do join me again on Thursday this week, when I’m chatting with someone else focused on the loyalty luxury area, Alyssa Callahan, who has recently joined, L’Oreal heading up their loyalty propositions for an incredible portfolio of luxury skincare brands.
Thanks so much for listening to the short summary today guys, it really does mean a lot to me.
I will look forward to talking with you again on Thursday.
This show is sponsored by The Wise Marketer – the world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing news insights and research.
The Wise Marketer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which has already certified over 170 executives in 20 countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals.
For more information, check out the WiseMarketer.com and loyaltyacademy.org.
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