customer centric sales“How did we make you feel? That’s what really matters.” This was the focus of my recent online interview with Steve Pinetti, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. Kimpton has achieved outstanding customer satisfaction scores surpassed several luxury hotel companies including Loews Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels and Mandarin Oriental, and airlines including JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, according to Market Metrix Hospitality Index. He explained: “On the hotel side it’s not about whether the bed was comfortable, whether the staff was friendly, or the internet connection was fast. Those are things that need to be in place. What we track in surveys is how we made our customers feel. We’re conscious about every moment: are we really connecting with customers and aware of what they’re feeling and wanting? This feeling connection is a huge part of our culture.

“Every one of our customers and prospects is being contacted by other suppliers, so even if we’ve got the best product, the message may not be able to get through that noise. Sales people tend to be in a rush to do a feature dump rather than connect with the individual on an emotional, non-business level. So before we call a customer, we do some research and check the Internet or their administrator to see what their priorities are. We find connections between our causes and our customers’ causes, such as environmental stewardship or dress for success for women re-entering the workforce, AIDS, or a variety of other interest areas. We’ll randomly send customers things, saying: It’s not your birthday, we just appreciate doing business with you. What we send is based on research about what the individual customer likes, such as a bottle of wine, or tickets to a game.

“The cultural immersion of a new employee is highly focused on this emotional connection. It includes body language and always using the customer’s name. We encourage our employees to be themselves and let their personality shine. And we stand behind them and let them do what they need to do, to immediately react in the moment when a customer needs something, and to make things more pleasant for the customer. The interaction is not scripted; we strive for a pleasant interaction, with a lot of surprise and delight. Supervisors and managers have another layer of training on how to be a leader. Technical expertise may bring employees to a managerial role, but emotional awareness will allow them to flourish in this company.

“Most of the time the people from the home office are in the field, visiting with employees and customers. The President and the SVP-Sales & Marketing make a 2-hour presentation each year at each of the company’s locations, with an additional hour dedicated to employees’ questions. Then they have a casual visit with customers.

“When we find from surveys or other sources that there’s an opportunity to improve, we put out a call to some of our customers, representing a variety of generations, and ask them to come meet with us and tell us what to do: Have you experienced this? What would you like to see as a solution? What else is needed?

“There was a lot of pressure to do a miles-and-points program, but we don’t want people doing business with us because of credits, but rather, because they love doing business with us. Let’s take the high road and do some one-to-one marketing. The Kimpton In-Touch program identifies what each customer likes, such as the drapes open or closed when they arrive, a bowl of fruit, Rolling Stones magazine — and we individualize each room; it makes people feel terrific. More than 60% of our first-time guests are coming from word-of-mouth referral, compared to about 20% norm in our industry; 3 in 5 are coming to us from the big miles-and-points providers.

“We are very big on sharing success stories and best practices. We have lots of ideas posted on our Intranet site for each job role. It’s important to document what works really well.”

Thanks, Steve, for these great examples of customer-centric sales, marketing, service and operations. It would be wonderful to see more companies adopting many of these customer-centric best practices to make customers feel great!

Customer Centric Sales & Marketing at Kimpton

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