It's one thing to hear from our capable IBM execs at events like the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Madrid. It's a whole other thing to hear from our customers, and that's precisely what we were able to do in our general session yesterday afternoon.
Marriott's vice president of consumer knowledge, Stephan Chase, explains to the gathered IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit crowd in Madrid on Tuesday afternoon the secret to Marriott's customer-centric approach in the hospitality industry.
Stephan Chase, who is the vice president for customer knowledge at Marriott International, took the stage at the Hotel Auditorium to explain how Marriott has come to adjust to a more data-centric world.
Chase started his talk with an anecdote about the cards his staff left in restrooms to encourage people to re-use their towels, with the vantage point differing on the meaning of the data like Kurosawa's Seven Samurai -- the story you got back depended on who was retelling it!
But, ultimately, Chase observed, the so-called "preference cascade" effect kicked in. The cascade being that phenomenon where an individual thinks they're the only one thinking something, or the only one in their social circle, when, in fact, they discover there are plenty of others thinking the same thing.
And, hence, they all start to change their behavior.
Yes, as it came to mind in my own head, it's all very Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.
Chase went on to explain that this phenomenon brings to mind that in the modern age, and particularly for hotels, but also more generally, it's become even more important that what you do is much more important than what you say.
Generation C will sniff out any inconsistency between the two, and it won't matter what you write on the card or say in your commercial if your actual organizational behavior is not living up to your actions.
Chase then related a story about his grandmother, explaining she used to say that "we are all servants," and that he didn't understand what she meant until he'd worked for Marriott for a number of years, and recognizing that in the hospitality industry, he was in a service-oriented business where actions always spoke louder than words.
"When founder Bill Marriott created our first hotel in 1957, he had a saying," Chase explained. "Take care of the associate. And they'll take care of the customer. And the customer will keep coming back."
With that saying, Marriott went on to open some 3,700 hotels in 70 countries, and to this day, the company focuses on discovering and applying truth for the benefit of customer and company alike.
He explained there are three key factors in hospitality: Freedom of choice, transparent pricing, and repeat and referral. That is to say, there are plenty of hotels that will be price competitive, so the consumer has a lot of choice when it comes to hotels, and that there are very few monopolistic businesses. In the hotel business in particular, the majority of the business is not with "one-time stayers," but rather people who (hopefully) keep coming back.
Therefore, in our social-mediated world, "Connected customers are the best customers: They have a broad set of experiences, provide valuable feedback, and are engaged in greater variety of channels," whether that be via smartphone, landline Internet, or even phone.
Then, Chase shared a key insight of the Marriott customer base:
If you take a look at your customer base and you abstract out their future value, I bet you'd find something: The broader the set of purchases and channels they engage with, the greater their future value!
Therefore, Marriott's Smarter Commerce evolution has been to focus on engaging the "connected" consumer to drive increased demand by delivering relevant messages to them, providing appropriate and relevant service, and also by recognizing milestones in the relationship (through points award programs and the like).
If you do a good job of it, the customer will be more likely to come back. Thinking about the outcome (coming back), as opposed to the method (the marketing or service), is what will help keep you focused.
With that, Chase left the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit audience with some actionable "to dos":
Marketing should focus on what to do -- the IT organization should focus on how to do it.
Focus on positive customer outcomes.
Measure results, refine, and revise.
If you do those things, Chase concluded, you'll realize some key lessons learned that will provide long-term customer connections and a roadmap for success that will fit your culture for years to come.