I think that Marriott has done a better job with their program than many give them credit for. Marriott Rewards never offered suite upgrades. They’ve increased the number of brands that have a breakfast benefit. Since the Starwood merger late checkout became a guarantee. And they’ve introduced 24 hour check-in and Ambassador services at the top end of the program.
At the same time they’ve had incredible challenges over the past year. Taking my own account and experiences only,
- My account was missing 8 years of lifetime platinum, which was finally sorted over six months into the new program.
- I’ve consistently been unable to find award space at some properties — sometimes one night at a time would be available, but it’s impossible to combine those nights into a longer booking, sometimes the award calendar shows no availability, ever, and sometimes it works.
- I’ve tried to fix issues by calling (getting little help) and emailing (I’m still waiting on a response to an email from September).
Readers have had many more problems than I have, and I’ve assisted in sorting through things like elite status where customers have earned a tier but are still told they haven’t (and are cited incorrect rules in support of the incorrect status).
Nonetheless there’s been progress. Award booking is better than it was. Account issuers are fewer in number (they finally fixed my years of Platinum!).
There are still IT challenges, even booking rooms at times at Marriott.com. There are huge challenges getting a sprawling network of 7000 hotels to consistently deliver on points and benefits promised by the program.
I think many people forget the games that some Starwood hotels used to play. And this involves more change for more properties, and with seemingly less of a club for the loyalty program to work with to force hotels into compliance. There’s probably not enough proactive monitoring going on, though.
Ultimately the biggest problem Marriott is facing, I think, is offering customer service to members when things don’t go well.
- Marriott customer service channels, even when quick to respond, often seem to offer incorrect information.
- They don’t have the capability to understand a problem.
- And there’s really nowhere that members can go to escalate things to get problems with their account, with a stay, or a property sorted out.
Marriott needs some sort of executive resolution team that understands the program, communicates (listens) well, and is empowered to fix things. The challenge with this, of course, is that if they too were overwhelmed by a deluge of requests they wouldn’t work through expeditiously then it wouldn’t really be an improvement.
Where I think Marriott needs to work is:
- To get their booking systems working properly. That means being able to search for the hotel you want, and the rate plan you want (including award nights) accurately every time.
- To get hotels into compliance with the program. Too many hotels don’t upgrade elites, take a cheap approach to breakfast, and don’t post points from stays promptly.
- Deliver customer service to fix problems when the usual processes break down.
I think the public tone at Marriott has been a mistake, whether it’s Arne Sorenson downplaying the real problems experienced every day by members as mere ‘noise around the edges’. And I think a celebratory rebrand of the program as ‘Bonvoy’ was a mistake. We don’t know how many millions of dollars they invested, all told could it have been $100 million they budgeted not just for TV and website collateral but new materials across 7000 hotels? All to declare ‘a new language of travel’ when customer service was having such a difficult time communicating the old language.
They set expectations pretty high. They didn’t deliver against those. They raised the bar again with their celebratory rebrand, all while their CEO tells members their concerns are immaterial. That’s a PR failure in my view that’s compounded the technical challenges faced.
And it’s meant that they get a lot more flack than they even deserve, fully recognizing that they deserve some flack. It’s meant the delivering suite upgrades, late check-out, more breakfast and a decent earn and burn proposition across a very large footprint of hotels has gotten drowned out by members who have had problems that have been exacerbated by the lack of a good mechanism for solving those problems.
Put another way they’ve largely self-pwned here. But they have the guts of a very strong program, it delivers more value to members than Marriott Rewards did more often than it doesn’t, and Marriott Rewards itself had plenty of fans. So odds on they’ll improve, it’ll just take some sort of significant symbolic rapprochement for members to recognize it.