It was 1927, not quite a century ago, when J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, opened an A&W root beer stand in Washington, D.C. Later that year, the Marriotts have added hot items to their menu under the Hot Shoppes name. . Over the next 30 years, the Marriotts honed their hospitality skills and expanded their restaurant business into airline catering. In 1957 they opened their first hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It was run by their son, Bill.
Over the next 25 years, under Bill Marriott’s leadership, the hotel chain expanded across the globe. Today, he represents more than 30 brands, from budget accommodation to ultra-premium brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Julius Robinson, Director of Sales and Marketing for Marriott in the United States and Canada, on Amazing business radio. Robinson started with the Marriott organization 30 years ago in the reservations center. He knows firsthand what it takes to create an amazing customer experience. Here are several lessons he shared in our interview.
· The fundamentals of customer service happen one person at a time: When Robinson worked at Marriott’s reservation center, he learned the power of one-on-one customer interactions. It’s about taking care of people one interaction at a time. Every guest has had the opportunity to start over and confirm, if not grow, Marriott’s reputation.
· Understand your customers: Understanding begins with listening. A customer booking a family vacation has very different needs than a customer booking a business trip. The secret is to listen and avoid misunderstandings. A complaint of a misunderstanding is one of the worst kinds of complaints. It’s easy to replace a dirty towel in a bathroom. It is much more difficult to rebuild trust after miscommunication.
· Mistakes handled well can create a stronger bond: When there is a problem or complaint, how it is handled can make the difference between a returning customer or not. Just fixing the problem doesn’t mean the customer will come back. It’s how you do it that can make a big difference. Robinson was delighted to share, “If you handle the problem the right way, customer surveys will often be higher than if the problem never happened.” Problems and complaints should be seen as opportunities to prove how good you are.
· Embrace the digital customer experience: When Robinson started 30 years ago, there was no internet. Today, customers may call, but often they make reservations, check in and check out on a computer. They can even get their keys through a mobile app. According to Robinson, “technology is an opportunity for the customer to take control of their travel experience.” The modern customer increasingly benefits from a self-service digital experience. However, if there is a problem at any point during their trip (no pun intended), the customer should have easy access to someone who can help them, whether it’s an agent on the phone or an employee at the reception.
· Employees must be empowered to care for customers: Employees must be properly trained to do what is necessary to care for customers. Robinson shared how, from the start, JW Marriott Sr. believed in treating employees the way you want customers to be treated. In other words, leadership and management were the role models, and their behavior showed employees the right way to treat customers. Treat employees well, and they’ll treat customers well, and then customers will come back.
· The Modern Marriott Guest Experience: Every business must grow as customer expectations change. Over the past two years, we have seen customers demanding more. This challenge must be met. Many Marriott guests now expect more than just a place to sleep. The result is Marriott going from simply providing a beautiful room and restaurant to creating an expanded experience. For example, hotel staff can help you find hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and concerts. Maybe customers want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Marriott team is here to help. Marriott, like any other business, must meet the current expectations of its customers and be able to anticipate their future needs.
Throughout the interview, Robinson shared information about Marriott’s efforts to make its guests feel comfortable and confident about returning to pre-pandemic travel habits. It’s not just about creating an excellent customer experience and providing exemplary service, but also about taking steps to address customer safety and health concerns. Because without it, nothing else matters.