Marriott CEO says “hang with us;” many are asking “why?”

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Marriott CEO says “hang with us;” many are asking “why?”

Really, this is Marriott’s idea of providing an excellent customer experience? Fail! Mergers aren’t easy, but they don’t have to inconvenience customers.

In full disclosure, I am more of a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) kinda guy for various reasons. Or at least I was. Or maybe I still am? Oh, I don’t know. I was giving it some time, but the Marriott merger with SPG has been about as smooth as sandpaper.  

As an SPG’er, I racked up points more than with Marriott. I like the hotel amenities better, and the customer service gave me few complaints. When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? So when I first heard about the merger…or acquisition…or whatever it’s being called in the next promotional email I get, I was apprehensive. As a frequent business traveler and semi-frequent personal traveler, it is important to me that the hotel I’m staying at has great customer service, provides a comfortable and clean sleeping environment, offers me both business and personal amenities and services I find useful, and provides rewards that I would use in the future. Until recently I always found this more at SPG than at Marriott.

After just under two years to really prepare, when the new Marriott/SPG unveiling took place, the world saw…an error message. No, literally.

And people weren’t thrilled, including me. It lead to articles written here and here by dissatisfied customers. 

This was August 18th. I’ve worked on enough technology implementations to know that most go-lives have at least some hiccups, so I was willing to cut Marriott a bit of slack. This is part of the reason why for the month of August I was earning my Hilton points, and they have great promos, like triple points. Though, as I did have an upcoming reservation at a Westin, I was curious and concerned if it was still booked and accessible. Since SPG and Marriott are supposedly now one integrated brand and platform under the Marriott name, I logged into the new Marriott app.

Nope. No reservation!

I thought part of the outcome of the acquisition and loyalty merger was to have one website. One app. One set of promotional emails. A consistent brand experience. It appears not. I received 2 redundant emails, one from Marriott and one from SPG, telling me I need to combine my already linked accounts into one for a new loyalty number. (Confusing and more work for the customer.) But, I followed the instructions. I even had to spend extra time logging into my corporate travel sites and partner apps to update my new loyalty number.

In fact, I was informed I would be further inconvenienced, and I as the customer would have to double check that my data imports over accurately. Really, this is Marriott’s idea of providing an excellent customer experience? Fail! Now I’m sure they did a lot of work in the backend, but from a customer perspective, it appeared more and more as if they were not ready with the processes and technology required to go-live with the loyalty points merger.

As my reservation was a bit further in the future, I once again gave Marriott the benefit of the doubt and waited a few more weeks to check back. In September I logged in again. My Marriott history was there, but, still no SPG info and still no reservation. Now my customer experience was getting worse and I was beginning to lose my patience. And, as a business transformation and technology change professional, I was really starting to question how this loyalty merger was being managed and implemented.

On September 22nd, more than 30 days after the combined loyalty points merge went live, I went to check in to my hotel in New York City. (An SPG reservation now managed by Marriott.) When I checked into my hotel the reservation STILL wasn’t loading correctly online or via the app and I received several error messages.

Sorry Marriott and Arne Sorenson (CEO), but why should I hang with you when your new program and processes already added extra work and inconvenience for me?

Being the biggest does not necessarily mean being the best. Options exist for frustrated customers to go elsewhere. And as a business traveler, I rack up rewards points and promos I can use for business and personal travel at many different brands.

As a change agent who specializes in technology change and adoption, I have to say my first impression is not very good. And you know what they say about first impressions, right? As I wrote when the merger first occurred, there are some lessons learned from previous large mergers and acquisitions to which Marriott could’ve leveraged. But, it appears they didn’t bother.

Marriott clearly missed the boat on a few items. Let me outline them here:

Technology Adoption

Sorenson was at the Skift Global Forum recently and he referred to the August 18th glitches as “…like watching sausage being made…”. I hate to break it to you, but customers don’t really care how the sausage is being made. Or, some might be interested; however, those customers don’t expect to be inconvenienced. You know, like when someone is trying to check into their hotel. Your customers want the technology to function and the processes they have to follow to be easy and make sense. Without user adoption technology is just wasted money. Marriott should have identified and addressed implementation challenges better and planned for mitigations BEFORE they went live and created a very public poor customer experience.

There is only one way to go with your communication

Part of my job is to develop and deliver communication strategy. The communication from Marriott looked more like a middle school essay submission than it did a communication from a Fortune 100 company. It’s choppy, it’s confusing, it’s long, it promises what they can’t deliver and it ends with a poorly timed self-written and somewhat egocentric compliment about their “endless inspiration.”  The customer focused communication strategy for the loyalty merger was not well timed nor well executed. Sure, they sent numerous emails leading up to go-live, however, in addition to the messaging issues, none were transparent about possible bumps and glitches customers could expect and what to do about those. It takes more than a communication strategy to achieve desired outcomes – it takes transparent, clear, concise, timely and targeted messaging for strategy and change to gain commitment and adoption. That didn’t happen.

Listen to your new customers

At a public event Sorenson said “And suddenly, all around me, people are debating the loyalty program. It is the greatest thing in the world. You cannot buy that kind of attention from customers. They were debating it because they cared about the way the program worked for them.” If that’s how you want to interpret that, sure! Uh, more like they were complaining and debating about why they have concerns about the new loyalty program. I have a different take on the debates around your loyalty program. It’s skimpy. Skimpy compared to what SPG offered. All of the new updates to the hotel tiers and amount of points needed are confusing, and depending on your loyalty status you often lose out. Marriott, you can’t expect SPG loyal customers to all of a sudden love you when you haven’t given us anything to love you for yet. You need to listen to SPG customers and understand what they look for in brand, service and loyalty programs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Marriott is now dealing with a hotel strike in 8 US cities. So, Arne, if you’re reading this, it’s time to take off the Marriott shaded glasses and see the loyalty program merger for what it is…a disorganized, poorly planned “endless inspiration” that has created more work for less benefit. No, thanks. As much as I love my heavenly beds and products at the Westin, I’ll go with the better promos, less confusing processes, functional technology, transparent communication, and consistent service levels that I get at the competition.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – a Leadership Effectiveness & Change Management firm.  He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business.

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