ORLANDO – Maggie Lang, Senior Director Loyalty and Relationship Marketing, Kimpton Hotels & Resorts, didn’t want to reference any charts, graphs, or any other statistic. She wanted to talk about how her company loves to surprise and delight its customers during her Thursday session, “Connecting Data and Relationship Marketing to Drive Emotional Loyalty.”

“Our mission statement has love in it,” Lang told attendees at the 6th annual Loyalty Expo. “That’s powerful when you talk about loyalty. We focus on that long-term loyalty.  We’ve grown so organically. What I’m trying to do with our brand is focus on little data, focus on little things to inform strategies, use it to inform 1-1 strategies, and not to inform intent. Our intent is to be best loved. No data can do that. I admit the Big Data thing doesn’t seem personal to me. Use data as a supporting factor.”

Phil Rubin, CEO and founder of rDialogue, said using data to differentiate customer segmentations presents a “huge opportunity. Loyalty programs were created to identify best customers. Use data to pay attention to customers and differentiate experiences.”

With so much talk about Big Data, Rubin said little data is easier to focus on and might even mean more to customers.

“Little data used judiciously and used for planning is about us as human beings and what we’re trying to deliver for them,” he said. “We’re all trying to figure this out. Take little bits of data and applied correctly they do amazing things to customers.”

Rubin shared a story about flying cross country from San Francisco to Atlanta on Delta – an airline he uses exclusively – and he had to sit in a middle seat. The next day he received an email from Delta apologizing for placing a high value customer in a middle seat.

“We realize you were in a center seat and that wasn’t good,” the email read. “Think about what was required for them to trigger this – a seat number, a very simple data point.

Rubin said brands have to make customers “feel like we care. Paying attention to customers is key so you don’t have to rely on points. It has to get beyond economics and get to an emotive experience.”

Meanwhile, Lang thinks surprising and delighting customers goes a long way to obtaining their loyalty. And it’s something that should be done internally as well.

“If you don’t demonstrate surprise and delight internally, how will they know how to do it externally?” Lang asked.

Lang shared a story about a woman who called the customer service desk and said she was coming to stay at the hotel because she was having cancer treatments. The woman told us one thing on her bucket list of things to do was to go whale watching.

When the woman arrived at the hotel, she found a stuffed whale on her bed, which she took with her during surgery.

“The woman was comforted by the fact that the company cared to take the time to listen,” Lang said. “As a service company, when someone has a bad experience it really upsets us. Customer feedback really matters in making the experience better. What customers really want is for you to really listen.”

Social media can be very tough for a brand or very powerful, Lang said.

“We hear and listen to what people are saying about us,” she said. “Sometimes as marketers, we just think about percentages and dollars. There actually is return in listening and doing something about it.”

To prevent surprise and delight from becoming a customer expectation, Lang said that’s where transparency comes into play.

“It’s our spirit to delight you, but we can’t always delight you,” she said. “Manage expectations, but keep it fresh. I believe customer experience drives loyalty. People are loyal to brands because of how brands make them feel, not because of points.”

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