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When I was in school during my primary years, I participated in girl scouts. For each new adventure I experienced or skill that I mastered, I was awarded a merit badge. Merit badges provided a way for me to humble brag about my accomplishments without saying a word.
The term merit badging has taken on a new meaning these days or rather, applied in a new context. It has been rebranded by the Millennials as experiences that are unique and provide “highly sharable social media content.” So, when you go through your Instagram feed and see pictures of people on the beach or fabulous plated meals, you now know the official term for that, merit badging.
Historically, Marriott has been able to capitalize on this new merit badging culture through its loyalty program. Some perks of the program include free breakfast, complementary upgraded rooms, and a private exclusive Imagine Dragons concert in Bangkok. Their program has evolved so much from the original vision of what a loyalty program was, to an endless stream of utopian possibilities. But things have taken a sour turn for the worst since the company announced in 2016 its acquisition of the Starwood brand to create the world’s largest hotel chain, Bonvoy.
Bonvoy launched its new loyalty rewards program to its 125 million members. With this launch, Marriot has not been able to maintain the same level of service to its customers. Customer expectations were managed so poorly that once loyal members launched a website, Bonvoyed, to air their grievances and share tips and tricks for navigating the broken system.
I wondered what caused people to be so angry that would drive them to spend their free time creating a site for complaints. Well, I did some digging. Here are the top three lessons that I learned about the Bonvoy rollout from the perspective of the customer that would drive me to do the same thing. Funny thing, all these lessons stem from poor execution (or lack) of quality service management practices and principles and clear metrics that measure customer satisfaction.
Marriott acquired another hotel chain to become the largest in the world. It focused on rebranding itself (because of the name change) instead of ensuring that the basics still worked…like its website. Loyalty program members, for a time, could not go on the website or app to use loyalty points to book rooms. Marriot focused its attention on the cosmetic features of their website, but the basic function of booking rooms for future guests was not available (not to mention a plague of other IT issues).
Marriot should have conducted automated regression testing on all legacy functionality prior to launch. All use case scenarios for old and new content should have been validated. Additionally, Marriot should have created customer profiles for each type of customer that would come to the site and conducted exploratory testing based on that customer’s perspective. Lastly, Marriot should have established an adequate event management system to alert its tier 1 staff when certain systems were offline or functionality was unavailable.
Of course, this situation would frustrate any individual that frequently stayed at any one of the hotels within the chain. Marriot should have redirected more efforts in the areas of event management, incident management, change management, testing and evaluation, and release and deployment management instead of focusing more on its ad campaign, which launched during the 2019 Oscars.
If you were a loyalty member that tried to book a hotel room through the website or app and experienced issues with the booking, the next thing you would probably do is call customer service. If you followed that rationale, you might find yourself on the phone for upward of four hours. Marriott’s contact center was so ill-equipped to handle the influx of issues after the acquisition, it took hours for their staff to investigate and resolve some issues. There have been several occasions reported where customers were told a representative would get back to them within 24 hours, and the customers did not hear responses for weeks.
Marriott forgot a golden rule in staffing, increasing the quantity of staff during surges does not always increase the quality of service. Marriott did make an effort to address the inundation of complaints by increasing the number of staff at their call centers. This approach only addressed their MTTA (Mean Time to Acknowledge). In an ideal service desk, staff surging would be handled by having a blend of seasoned and novice staff support during those peak times. Issues would be categorized, sorted, filtered, ranked, and redirected to the appropriate call center agent by an automated phone system. The system would gather information from the customer in order to diagnose their issue so the issue can be forwarded to the call center agent with the appropriate level of knowledge and expertise. This approach focuses on improving the MTTR (Mean Time to Resolve). Both metrics are equally as important to ensure customer satisfaction. Marriot chose to have a narrow focus on only one of those key metrics.
Piggy backing from Lesson 2, the contact center staff did not fully understand the clientele they were interacting with during this acquisition period. They were not dealing with first time Marriott customers. They were dealing loyal customers, some of which were seasoned platinum premier elite ambassadors for the brand. In order to have the status of an ambassador, you must stay at least 100 nights at an eligible hotel AND spend over $20,000 a year. Let me restate it another way, every Monday and Tuesday night for the entire year, these customers were spending that time at a Marriott hotel chain. These are not ordinary customers. They are very familiar with Marriott’s processes and systems. These customers require an elite amount of time and attention to solve their problems promptly.
In an ideal situation, high priority customers and large account holders would receive rapid and above satisfactory service. To help promote this, customers may be given a different number to use if they needed to contact customer service. This approach would ensure that their calls would be earmarked and handled by well-trained staff members. This is an example of customer segmentation. By implementing this approach, customers feel valued, important, and special. This strategy would help drive customer satisfaction and ensure that loyal customers remain loyal to the brand.
Marriott, rather Bonvoy, has made a large effort to correct many of the issues that plagued its rebranding campaign, but some think it is still not enough. The challenge that comes from this situation is that Bonvoy now has to go above and beyond to regain a favorable opinion to revive its now tarnished image. It seems to me that if they focused on those core areas of service management, like testing and incident management and key metrics like MTTR and customer satisfaction, this situation could have been avoided.
Dr. Alma Miller is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, speaker, and educator with more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Catholic University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University, a Masters in Technical Management from Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctorate in Engineering from George Washington University. Dr. Miller considers herself a relationship counselor between development and IT operations teams. Her consulting company, AC Miller Consulting , provides services to government and commercial clients across multiple industries. Dr. Miller speaks at industry conferences and events and teaches graduate courses for Johns Hopkins and University of California Irvine. Connect with her on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.
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