Your customer is a person, not a user. Such basic observations were a central theme at Connections 2014, where over 8,000 marketers descended to hear about consumer engagement. Showcased in this conference is the new Journey Builder software which allows the marketer to walk with the customer at each step in the experience. Of all the sessions and discussions going on throughout the conference, one theme is central; the role of marketer is to serve the customer. Maggie Lang, Senior Director for Kimpton Hotels has the task of making sure that such service is assured. Before Kimpton, she worked with United Airlines for six years and managed the rebranding effort between United and Continental.
What is an important trend you've observed during your time as a marketer?
"Everything is intrinsically linked. So many companies do reputation management online but then forgot the personal experience found with the personal interaction with the customer. If you go into a hotel and have a bad experience, then post on TripAdvisory.com, there is no amount of marketing I can do to make you disregard that experience. The offline and the online are linked so closely that a company which ignores one or the other is doing themselves an injustice. Brands cannot be arrogant. They have to listen to what the customer is saying and respond. In their response, it's their responsibility to find a solution for the problem they caused with their customer. If you, as a brand, don't respond or engage with them, then that's just another opportunity that's lost."
In the world of Big Data and customer, where is the disconnect between the gathering of information and the application of data for the betterment of the customer?
"One of the first things that every brand has to remember is that personalization is not simply getting a first name/last name. It begins with having a true love for the customer and making sure that their entire experience is outstanding. With Chatter/Journey Builder, we are able to collect information that's given by the customer and treat them as an individual, rather than as a customer. What it begins with, however, is having the right intention. Its that intention that becomes the disconnect. Many marketers prioritize information linked to age, income, and other demographics, but those don't address who you are as a person. You have to use those small pieces of information as stepping stones into the larger story of each person, and then embrace that story. The application of the data has to begin with the customer and end with the customer."
How do you get the needed information about the customer?
"We only use information that the person has provided to us, and then only use we only ask information that makes them feel more warmly welcome next time welcome. Everything is based around making their stay more enjoyable. One of the ways we do this is by being transparent about what we do with the information, and with how we respond to complaints. We do our best to take ownership of the experience so that we can find a solution."
How does serving the customer translate to social media?
"Twitter and Pinterest offer another real-time component to the customer experience. Facebook is what I call a "post component", given most people post there after something has happened. If someone has a bad experience and shares it socially, we pick up on the tweet and address it personally if they are still with us, or digitally if they are not. Either way, we purse the customer as any friend would, and do everything we can solve the problem. One of the basic challenges with this is that there is so much information shared on social that it's impossible to efficiently engage within that realm without some technological assistance."
What prompted you to pursue a career in marketing within the hospitality industry?
"I love seeing the experience take place in real-time. Despite what some may say, surprise and delight are scalable. It doesn't take a large investment from a company to surprise and surpass a person's expectation. Simply saying, 'We heard you', is enough to make a personal connection. Again, this has to be followed by action, but it shows an active consideration that they will remember."
Tell me about the merger between United and Continental. As the manager of the marketing behind that project, what was one of the biggest takeaways from the experience?
"Being a marketer for an airline is good growing experience because it forces you to face perception extremes. People either love or hate their experience. Rarely is there a middle ground. For the merger, we took the rich histories of both airlines and found the common themes between each, capitalizing on both rather than on one or the other. This made for a stronger union that enhanced both airlines, both internally and externally.
What advice do you have to those new marketers considering the hospitality industry?
"Learn all you can about every possible marketing channel. Get into the habit of taking ownership of things that go wrong so that you can use it as an opportunity to make things right. The customer will report what happened regardless, so deal with the issue and make it right. Remember to serve the customer. That's your mission, your guiding light, and your end goal."
This interview begins a series dedicated to the interviews and experiences had at Connections 2014. In marketing, it's no longer about tricking, persuading, or influencing the customer. Marketing is about serving the customer. Special thanks to Maggie Lang for this interview.