Marriott’s three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven CX at scale

What are the main guiding principles for achieving outstanding data-driven CX (customer experience) at scale. Today at Adobe summit 2022, I attended a great presentation by Susan Bloomberg, VP of personalization and product performance at Marriott International. She described herself as “a maths nerd as [she] started a career in tech and analytics before bouncing back and forth between product analytic roles”. She has been carrying out a lot of experimentation in the field of personalisation for the famous hotel brand. One of the things she is “most proud of” is what was on our agenda today i.e. “how [Marriott] established a digital experiments centre of excellence and what difference it made for the brand and its customers”. Here are a few takeaways from her presentation including some of her slides which give a pretty good idea of her methodology for improving personalisation at scale.

Marriott’s three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven customer experience at scale

three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven customer experience at scale
Three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven customer experience at scale: learning from Marriott’s best practice

Transparency - informal networksDisclosure: Adobe is our client. We have written this post with our usual aim of professionalism, independence and authenticity

“We have thousands of properties under 30 leading brands spanning the globe and with such a broad and diverse property base, we had a wide and diverse customer base in the digital space” Susan said. The difficulty being to serve all “these different customers just through one website and one app and to personalise and differentiate experiences” at scale, because we are talking about masses of customers in this instance.

Marriott’s three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven customer experience at scale
Marriott Bonvoy isn’t just about the Marriott brand, there are 30 odd brands in that group spread across 138 countries and territories

Luxury hotels could be difficult to find on the Website

Marriott’s luxury brands

In this project, Marriott focused on its luxury brands. It started looking at some customer feedback and what they found was that it “could be difficult to find luxury hotels in the search results list” of the website. With that problem statement in hand, Marriott could draft some hypotheses and start working on how to solve the problem “to find out what they could do to help the customer on the search results page.”

The straightforward four-pronged methodology by the Marriott digital experiments centre of excellence

Building an outstanding data-driven CX with a focus on the Luxury audience

The first question that the experiments centre of excellence had was “our visitors using brand filters?” And what are their information is available on the page to help them make a decision.

Then the group went through a number of a hypotheses which they eliminated one by one (through behavioural studies, surveys and customer feedback) until they found out that people were actually interested in “[being] shown luxury properties proactively in the search results.”

This is definitely best practice, quite contrary to what is often seen on e-commerce and travel websites. More often than not the systems designer will try and get the user to follow a certain path that he or she has designed from his or her own point of view (brand filter being a staple of self-centred marketing), rather than trying to serve customers by providing relevant information proactively at the right time. In a nutshell, customers do not care about the brand what they want is service!

The right question “what can we do to help our customers?”

The team then tried to find other ways of catering for the customers. “What other information was available to [customers] to help them make a decision on the search results page?” was the question they had to ask themselves.

Then the team went through another number of a hypotheses to solve that problem. What they came up with was a central callout box where customers were presented with a list of luxury hotels which best suited their needs based on their history and profile.

On the right, the brand new callout box offering a better overall data-driven CX

“This callout box works by showing the top three results in the search results page which met the customer’s search criteria” Susan said.

“One of the things that we looked at was also revenue” she added.

There’s still things that are difficult to measure though: “We have a hard time measuring through experimentation our cancellation rates on properties, customer retention or intent to recommend” Susan said.

The work is not yet finished, however. Getting back to the experiment, “we found that only 2% of the luxury audience actually engage with our call outs” Susan added. But the thing is, these 2% were clearly influenced by the box given the results in booking and in property views.

Thus now the team is working on how to make it more engaging knowing that “the callout was influencing customers to remind them that they are luxury brands and helping them get into the right place.”

To wrap up, Susan spelled-out the three main guiding principles which are leading the work of the Marriott team.

Three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven CX (customer experience) at scale

According to Marriott, there are three principles for achieving outstanding data-driven customer experience at scale:

  1. Be customer obsessed: here, a lot of our European listeners and readers would be well advised to pin that PowerPoint slide on the wall above their computer screen,
  2. Hypotheses are important but it doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong. They are only a means to an end, the first step towards helping proactively one’s customers,
  3. The right path towards an outstanding customer experience is iteration: one hypothesis should lead to another until one finds the right solution to the right problem. All this must be done in the interest of your customers (which takes us back to principle number for one: be customer obsessed!).

This presentation wasn’t just impressive for its clarity and brevity. It was outstanding in terms of customer centricity, it showed that being customer-centric isn’t particularly difficult, as long as you follow the right methodology, and above all, when you are determined to improve your customer experience.

Once we have understood this, the rest will be taken care of by technology. In that order.

Yann Gourvennec
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