Many moons ago — in what feels like a former life really — I took a press trip to the Kimpton Gray Hotel. If you’re not familiar, it’s a high-end boutique-style hotel brand (owned by IHG) that sits in a historic, opulent landmark building in “the Loop” downtown Chicago. On the website, the Kimpton Gray Hotel is self-described as a perfectly bespoke suit from London’s Savile Row: beautiful, bold, and with no detail out of place. My review at the time? It earned an 8.5/10, which was pretty much a perfect score, given that my job was to literally pick the place apart in regards to traveling with kids.
I believe this stay was a turning point for me… part of my evolution from an eager traveler to one with a rather discerning taste. I also quickly learned that Kimpton Gray set the bar too high. And not just because of the central location and proximity to all the attractions, the Georgia Gray marble-clad interior, the vintage elevator signs that said “This Car Up”, nor the European-style soaking tubs (although I LOVED those) that made it great. This hotel stay set the bar high because of the people who worked there and the level of personalized service they provided me. Very few other hotel stays — and there have been countless, trust me — have been able to live up to the white-glove service I received at Kimpton Gray. This stay solidified my belief that the experience we receive can outshine our feelings about tangible products; I really realized that the service a brand delivers is its one true differentiator.
Here are some of the unexpected extras I encountered, to name a few:
- Staff asked the names, ages, and preferences of my family members before our arrival
- I was greeted on a first-name basis as though I was a special guest at check-in
- The lobby felt like an oasis with fresh flowers, cucumber-infused water, and the perfect playlist gently streaming overhead
- Welcome gifts for my young children were waiting in the room for us; while this is part of the Kimpton Kids program, I am certain they did much more than what was standard
- Text messages from the front desk ensured we were satisfied throughout our stay
- Forgotten items (like toothpaste or a handheld steamer) were delivered to my room free of charge for use during my entire stay
- The same gentleman cared for us during our entire stay, offered restaurant recommendations, gave us directions to the train, and even made an appearance at the door to see if he could offer any other assistance — we felt like we had a trusted friend looking out for us
Going above and beyond to make your customers happy does wonders. Small, thoughtful additions throughout our stay continually delighted and surprised us, too. Staff at the Kimpton Gray did both. Between the friendliest doormen, cupcakes for my kids, and a hand-written welcome note, I was in hotel heaven. The biggest differentiating factor is that the entire Kimpton Gray team paid attention to what mattered to ME. Not every guest had children in tow. In fact, I was one of the only toting a double stroller around. By paying attention to that, they quickly identified what mattered to me as a customer: my kids. If you keep my kids happy, you keep my business forever. And, WOW, they nailed it.
Would you guess which hotel brand I try to book whenever possible now? Yup, a Kimpton, and it’s all because of the two nights we stayed at the Gray. Two nights was all it took. I was a rewards member in no time.
The key to customer loyalty is a WOW customer experience.
Brands have to keep that momentum, though, because nowadays we judge a business by comparing it to all the other experiences we’ve had. My mental dilemma isn’t IHG vs Marriott as a traveler in 2021. It’s Kimpton vs. Upscale AirBnB vs. Boutique Hotel vs. Bed and Breakfast vs. VRBO and so on. Like I said in the beginning, I have yet to encounter another stay that even comes close to rivaling the Gray.
Currently five nights into an eight-night hotel stay, it’s fallen short of all my expectations. Too many important components of a memorable customer experience (CX) have been cut short as of late: room service, lunch hours in the restaurant, housekeeping only on the third day, a stocked mini-bar, in-room coffee makers, the kids program… Shall I go on? People literally come to hotels for the services and amenities, yet there seem to be none. Reasonably adapted services are one thing. No services are another. They failed to deliver on what’s important to me, and that’s keeping my kids happy and entertained in a hotel room for an extended period.
The manager confided in me and somewhat apologized by saying, “I hear what my customers are saying. I hear what they want and what they feel is missing. Many things were scaled back last year, understandably so, but people have expected most things to return. Guests expect the kind of experience we advertise on our website when they book a room.”
But here we are. We show up and we feel let down over and over again. My hotel review was already written across my face. And if the marketing collateral or website copy doesn’t actually reflect what will happen in real life, then the brand is doing more than just one thing wrong. But I’ll save that discussion for another time. Right now I’m wondering why so many businesses seem to be failing in CX when, regardless of whether it’s in-person or over the phone, the principles that guide effortless CX remain the same. Yet too many organizations aren’t getting customer service basics right, and they definitely aren’t delighting guests with unexpected extras. Brad Cleveland walks leaders through five things all companies should be able to do for customers in CEOWORLD Magazine:
- Don’t make me wait.
- Make it easy for me to find help.
- Provide knowledgeable and friendly staff.
- Create customer-friendly policies and processes.
- Know who I am.
A WOW customer experience requires the power to fix what’s broken.
Creating a winning CX all boils down to the power we give our people to actually make it happen. The staff at the Kimpton Gray acted like owners and fostered a customer-first culture; they were passionate about their jobs, acted with authority, and were clearly vested in seeing their guests happy. They utilized SMS to check in on their guests periodically and they actually responded immediately (duh, but seriously). Real humans, too. They had the trust and the training to make decisions, and the power and support to find ways to delight and surprise us. So why can’t this other hotel manager make our stay incredible? Is he disengaged, lacks the authority, doesn’t have the tools to enable it, or all of the above?
Customer experiences are formed by a myriad of factors: peoples’ past experiences, their expectations, your marketing, your promises, and the level of service you actually provide. Make sure you can deliver a stellar CX every time, and you’ll have our loyalty forever. Take it from the Gray.