Speaker Spotlight: Maggie Lang

Kimpton delight starts with culture

Lots of organizations profess a commitment to customer experience, but few brands go to such fanatical lengths as Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants to surprise and delight guests. Even four-legged, furry guests are treated like VIPs!

Maggie Lang, Kimpton’s Senior Director of Consumer Marketing and Engagement, says delight is part of something much larger than a campaign, or even a strategy. “It’s having a life-sized cutout of Channing Tatum waiting for you in your hotel room, just because you happened to tweet your love for the guy. It’s a good luck card signed by every hotel employee when you check in for a big interview the next day. And sometimes, it’s getting a great bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir sent to your house when you post a great snap from wine hour on Instagram.”

No wonder Kimpton inspires such passionate love and loyalty!

At Delight 2016 Maggie will talk about how culture is paramount to delivering on a brand promise of delight. We talked with her about what that means for Kimpton and how the organization maintains its uniquely personalized experience even as it grows.

Creating personalized experiences at scale

Carmen: One of the things people love about Kimpton is that the experience is so personalized. How do you do that at scale?

Maggie: If you just look at our growth over the past 5 to 10 years, it’s been pretty amazing. Yet the intention with which we do things has not changed. Everyone in our senior leadership team, from our CEO on down, is evangelizing that perspective through the organization. That is a critical differentiator because everything we do, the whole culture of delighting and of personalizing, wasn’t born in an office. It originated in a hotel, by hotel employees, based on who we hired. Everything from wine hour to personalized welcome amenities to the yoga mats in every room to our love of pets—they started with our employees. From Bill Kimpton’s dog Chianti running around in the first Kimpton to a concierge realizing that a “welcome back” is much better when your favorite snacks are waiting in your room.

From that perspective it’s just an organic part of who we are, and our employees created this culture. It wasn’t a top-down, centralized, pushed-out approach. As we grow we fiercely guard each hotel’s local culture and unique identity, yet make sure to prioritize that universal Kimpton spirit of delight. As we open up new hotels the very first thing we train on is culture. You just have to start with that intention and not get overwhelmed by thinking, “We have 30 new hotels opening up. How do we scale delight?” You start with one hotel; the right leaders on the ground hiring the right people. You can very quickly find out if you are talking to someone who is genuinely wanting to make people happy. Then it just cascades outward from there.

Carmen: What role does organizational culture play in delivering on your brand promise and delight?

Maggie: In addition to creating unique Karma experiences for our members, we also have what we call Kimpton Moments, where general managers of hotels can nominate employees who have created incredibly special moments for our guests. Everybody in the organization applauds, rewards and recognizes employees who’ve gone above and beyond. We cherish those moments and celebrate them.

Our entire Kimpton family knows that spreading joy and creating human, heartfelt connection is the right thing to do. Every Kimpton employee is fully empowered to do just that, in whatever unique, creative way works for them. You can be delighted differently from one hotel to the next to the next to the next, because each employee does it their own way. In one hotel it may mean that the bellman jumps in his car and personally drives your passport to the airport because you forgot it in the room. In another hotel it may mean that there is a treasure hunt waiting in the room when you are traveling with your child. You just never know, and that’s part of the fun. We aim to please, and everyone gets in on the action—from the home office to the field. We collaborate to spread smiles and connection.

Kimpton crew at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia

Kimpton staff at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia (Photo: Kimpton Facebook Timeline)

Discovering the details that matter

Carmen: How do you go about discovering and documenting the kind of details that enable you to have that high-touch, very personal experience?

Maggie: It really starts with listening from the heart. We train our folks to listen from the heart and take any little piece of information that we can learn about somebody to really go the extra mile. People don’t expect that. If you call and say, “We’re coming in for a wedding,” or “We’re coming in for an anniversary,” those are fairly easy because you are giving us that information. It’s when we pick up on information, just in conversation, that makes those really magical moments. It shows that we listen.

For example, recently a bellman greeted a guest arriving with his golden retriever and found out that the dog’s name was Milo. He could have gone on about his day and not done anything, but he went into our CRM and updated the guest’s profile accordingly, noting Milo’s name.

A few months later the member was tweeting that he really enjoyed traveling to Kimptons with his golden retriever because we’re so pet friendly. Our social care listening desk went in, looked up his profile and saw Milo’s name. They responded saying, “We love it when you bring Milo.” Our member loved that we knew Milo’s name and personalized his response. Why not? When you listen from the heart and treat people as uniquely as they are, small gestures make a big difference. Every Kimpton employee listens for these small things. We like paying attention.

Keeping it human

Carmen: So many aspects of the hotel experience are becoming automated. How do you maintain a human touch, even if you’re taking advantage of more automated technology?

Maggie: Yes, it’s true, there are cool, little robots roaming around some hotels acting as concierges and if that works for their brand and guest, great! Each brand should do what makes sense for them. We are a very high-touch brand and while we appreciate technology as an enabler, we don’t ever want it to replace the human touch.

Social care is a great example. Many of our customers want customer service in the social channels. They may want to tweet us if they have a problem. Many of them don’t want to pick up the phone and call. We were among the early pioneers in using social listening technology, but we do not lean on technology alone to solve problems. Social CRM is helpful in understanding the entire relationship with our guests, but we never use it to auto-tweet responses or do anything in bot-like fashion. Who doesn’t dislike that? “Thank you for your tweet. Please call 1-800-….” It completely negates what the customer wants to do, which is to get personalized help in that particular channel. If we need to take if offline, we do, but we never use technology to auto-anything.

Carmen: How do you look at of role technology and using technology to enable the moments that matter?

Maggie: I look at technology as the enabler, not the end all and be all. I think sometimes we buy the newest and shiniest tools or tech, and we think that will solve our problem. It won’t. Just like in our personal life, where apps used in the right way can make our life so much easier, technology can help us. But you still have to have the relationship with people and they with you. Our CRM enables our employees to continue this beautiful relationship building. That’s really how I view technology. If it’s used well, built well, with the right intention, it can be incredibly powerful for scale. That said, the employees behind the technology make all the difference, including how they use it.

Swimming upstream

Carmen: I love your bio, which says you don’t believe in business as usual: “Let’s shake things up, be disruptors, change champions, beloved brands and upstream swimmers.” But this is a lot easier said than done. How do you do this in your organization? How do you get started?

Maggie: I came from some very large brands that were significant in size and stature, but really what I was looking for was that somewhat smaller brand that mirrored my passion for authentic connection and genuine conversation. When I came to Kimpton, that culture was already established and it felt like coming home. It was a really natural, lovely transition. It’s interesting when we see and study brands that people love working for. There is usually a great alignment between employees’ personal values and the company’s. I sought Kimpton out because I knew it was a very special place to be, one that would welcome upstream swimmers and people with diverse opinions. It has not disappointed.

From a career advice perspective, I always tell people to really seek out those brands that emulate the values that you yourself have, because you’ll thrive. It’s always about how much personal passion you bring into the picture for change. How willing are you to take risks? How willing are you to stand behind your conviction that we can be different?

Then you also need to bring in a sound business case behind it, so that it’s rooted in business sense and not just you standing up there beating the drum for change. I always come in armed with data and research for why change or evolution might be needed. Having come from very large organizations where I also managed to bring about change, I have to add that having the right leadership is absolutely crucial to success. The right leadership team not only supports innovation, but welcomes and encourages it.

About Maggie Lang

Maggie Lang is a highly effective and contagious thought leader and change agent, with marketing experience from Fortune 500 brands like Walgreens and United Airlines. For the past five years she has called Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants home, where she led the popular boutique hotel chain’s efforts to innovate in travel loyalty by developing and launching Kimpton Karma Rewards, a unique program that recognizes and rewards relationships, beyond just transactions. “I don’t believe in business as usual,” Maggie says. “Let’s shake things up. Let’s be disruptors, change champions, beloved brands and upstream swimmers. Let’s think, advocate for and BE different.”