Marriott Can Rest Easy With Five Customer Strategy Principles

Customer Experience
Customer Experience

When asked, "Who inspires you?" executives will offer answers ranging from "their mother" to "Albert Einstein."

For Stephan Chase, vice president of customer knowledge at Marriott International, Jim Collins became his inspiration nine years ago when he saw the author and motivational business speaker present at a conference in San Francisco. Based on Collins' message (great organizations preserve their core and continuously innovate), Chase has developed five principles which he applies to Marriott International's customer value strategy. He shared them at last week's SAS Global Forum in Washington, D.C. They include:

  1. Deliver meaningful offers and treatments at all touchpoints. Marriott sends relevant communications through direct mail and email based on visitor feedback and their behaviors at the hotels. He says that the hospitality industry affords his staff the ability to personalize treatments and to provide one-to-one conversations. "A lot of companies exist in the virtual space and the delivery is something they outsource," he says. "In our case the customer is staying at the hotel and they have friends at the front desk. It's harder to implement it at economic times like this, but if you take care of the associates and you take care of the customers, they will come back."
  2. Build tools and processes to create better decision-making and knowledge capture. Chase says that over the past five years, Marriott has completely revamped how the organization thinks about leveraging technology. By bringing in tools including campaign management, database solutions, and analytics from SAS, Marriott properties can capture and analyze customer information, as well as predict which customers are likely to return. "Customers'...treatment on the property is proven to matter," he says. But without the processes in place, companies can't deliver treatment consistently or capture the results. "How you treat them on the property is clearly linked to retention and good analytical business," he adds.
  3. Quantify the impact of the customer strategy. 1to1 Magazine has highlighted the efforts of companies like FedEx and Canada Post that tie customer satisfaction to employee behavior. We can add Marriott to the short list of companies that effectively link the results of customer satisfaction surveys to actual employee behavior. The metric proves the relevancy of scoring 9 and 10 on satisfaction surveys, and gives Marriott a window into fixing the problems that correlate to low customer satisfaction scores. As a result, managers' bonus structures are based on those scores. "I think we're one of the few companies that have tied overall satisfaction and return behavior," Chase says.
  4. Channel resources to high-value customers. Chase says his mission in the organization is to help Marriott identify high-value customers. Therefore the resources and training have to be there at every property to ensure that these high-value customers are receiving relevant and high-touch treatments. But it's also about having the solutions in place to help determine the most valuable customers. "It's easy to understand [customers'] historical value, but it's harder to understand their potential value," he says.
  5. Create an enjoyable work atmosphere. Finding talented people and getting them to produce at their full potential requires a great deal of freedom, according to Chase. And that is exactly the model he advocates at Marriott International. This kind of atmosphere, he says, fosters the sharing of ideas and personal development. "Allowing them to develop their skills is essential," he says. For example, one of Chase's employees has an appetite for data visualization, so he gives him full reign over analyzing all the visual representations of people's travel plans. The employee is happy and thriving as a result. "You have to give a high-achieving, intellectually curious human being something they particularly find meaningful," he says.

Going forward, Chase says he will work to enhance these five principles. Some projects in the works include capturing data across more touchpoints, like the contact center, increasing the level of predictive modeling to determine high-value customers, and diagnosing particular areas of pain on the service side for customers and suggesting solutions to those issues.