Tag Archives: Travel

Marriott’s Approach to Customer Service

Customer Service the Marriott Way

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

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 added some hot food items to their menu under the name Hot Shoppes. Over the next 30 years, the Marriotts honed their hospitality skills and expanded their restaurant business into food service for airlines. In 1957, they opened their first hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It was run by their son, Bill.

Over the next 25 years, under the leadership of Bill Marriott, the hotel chain expanded across the planet. Today it represents more than 30 brands, from economy-priced lodging to uber-premium brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Julius Robinson, Marriott’s chief sales and marketing officer in the U.S. 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 six key lessons he shared in our interview:

  1. The Fundamentals of Customer Service Happen One Person at a Time: When Robinson worked at the reservations center for Marriott, he learned the power of individual customer interactions. It’s about taking care of people one interaction at a time. Every customer was a chance to start over and confirm—and even build on—the Marriott reputation.
  2. Understand Your Customers: Understanding starts with listening. A customer who is booking a family vacation has very different needs than someone booking a business trip. The secret is to listen and avoid miscommunication. A complaint from a misunderstanding is one of the worst kinds of complaints. It’s easy to replace a dirty towel in a bathroom. It’s much harder to rebuild confidence after a miscommunication.
  3. Mistakes Handled Well Can Create a Stronger Bond: When there is a problem or a complaint, the way it is handled can make the difference between a customer coming back or not. Just resolving the issue doesn’t mean the customer will come back—it’s the way you do it that can make a big difference. Robinson was excited to share, “If you handle the problem the right way, the customer surveys will often be higher than if the problem had never occurred.” Problems and complaints should be seen as opportunities to prove how good you are.
  4. Embrace the Digital Customer Experience: When Robinson started 30 years ago, there wasn’t an 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 over their travel experience.” The modern customer is increasingly enjoying a digital, self-service experience. However, if there is a problem at any point in their journey (no pun intended), the customer must have easy access to someone who can help, be it an agent on the phone or an employee at the front desk.
  5. Employees Must Be Empowered to Take Care of the Customers: Employees must be properly trained to do what is necessary to take care of customers. Robinson shared how, from the very beginning, J.W. 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 the employees right, and they will treat the customers right, and then the customers will come back.
  6. The Modern Marriott Customer Experience: Every company must grow as customers’ expectations change. During the past two years, we’ve seen customers demanding more. That challenge must be met. Many Marriott customers now expect more than just a place to sleep. The result is Marriott’s shift from simply providing a nice room and restaurant to creating an expanded experience. For example, the hotel staff can help locate hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and concerts. Maybe guests want a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Marriott team is there to help. Marriott, just like any other company, must meet its customers’ current expectations and be able to anticipate what they will need next.

Throughout the interview, Robinson shared insights into the efforts Marriott is making to get its customers to feel comfortable and confident about returning to pre-pandemic travel habits. It’s not only creating a great customer experience and providing exemplary service, but also taking measures to address customers’ concerns about safety and health. Because without that, nothing much else matters.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

How the Customer in 9C Saved Continental Airlines from Bankruptcy

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the carrier had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was headed for their third and potentially final round.

US Department of Transportation statistics from that year show among the ten largest US airlines, Continental ranked dead last in every single key customer service metric.

Against all odds, Bethune was able to turn the company around.

He did it with outstanding leadership, no doubt, but also through the help of one very significant “customer.”

Bethune’s Litmus Test

In his book, From Worst to First, Continental’s Remarkable Comeback, Bethune describes the challenges he faced when he first became CEO of the troubled carrier, including an overwhelming list of problems with the customer experience, on the ground and in the air.

It was too much to tackle all at once, and due to the company’s poor financial performance, money was short.

If the limited resources weren’t used properly, it could mean the end.

Bethune needed a simple method that the executives and managers in his organization could use as a litmus test for what was important when making decisions.

Customer in 9C

Bethune introduced the concept of “The Customer in Seat 9C” — a composite image of their best customer segment —business travelers— who were paying a premium fare and willing to pay more if their experience could be improved in meaningful ways.

Continental analyzed, then pinpointed the key traits, preferences, and concerns of “The Customer in Seat 9C.”

When prioritizing or deciding between different approaches, employees were trained to ask, “What would make a difference for the Customer in Seat 9C? What would make them prefer to fly with us? What would they be willing to pay more for?”

Over the next ten years, with this simple but disciplined focus, Bethune “piloted” Continental out of bankruptcy and to the title of “Fortune’s #1 Most Admired Global Airline.”

Why Your Customers Are Like Snowflakes

Of course, the concept of what “The Customer in Seat 9C” wants is a massive generalization.

On one flight, 9C could be occupied by a 60-year-old bank executive and on the next by a 23-year-old running an organic farming business.

Surely, their needs are not identical.

Like Snowflakes, Every One of Your Customers is a Completely Unique Human Being. But, Also Like Snowflakes, Many Are Extremely Similar

You may very well have noticed this during your customer research.

After listening to 40 contact center interactions with customers calling to order parts, or talking to 15 brides shopping for wedding dresses, or speaking to a dozen owners of luxury cars, while you hear many unique stories, you also start to hear the same themes over and over.

Identifying these patterns is a key part of your customer research.

Once you can analyze and synthesize all of your data, then you get actionable insight that you can use to drive your decision-making.

Personas Are Powerful

Personas are Powerful

That’s why it’s so critical to have customer personas developed for your company that any employee can quickly understand and internalize. It’s great to have decks full of customer data, but a simple, easy to understand vision of who the customer is and what they care first and foremost about makes it actionable to the enterprise.

Your Turn

Do you use customer personas at your company? If so what impact have they had?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Mask of the Road Warrior – The Xupermask

Xupermask on WILL.I.AM

WILL.I.AM and Honeywell have collaborated to bring the Xupermask to market.

What is the Xupermask?

It’s probably easiest to describe the Xupermask as equal parts: health & safety equipment, personal electronics, and fashion statement.

At its heart the Xupermask is a human-centered design intended to empower the user to feel both safe AND productive. It addresses the following set of user needs that are mostly unmet by traditional mask options:

1. Fits well to the face so escaping air doesn’t fog up your glasses
2. Fit also better prevents unsafe air from entering
3. Fans improve the ease of respiration
4. HEPA filters improve air quality
5. Built-in microphone for easier and safer phone calls
6. Built-in Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones for phone and entertainment

For me, the Xupermask seems like overkill for many day to day situations.

But, when I think about getting on public transport every day or flying on a commercial airline cross-country or across an ocean, the idea of having a Xupermask to wear becomes quite appealing.

And for those of us in the western United States, this could come in quite handy during forest fire season – just saying.

What do you think about the Xupermask?

Innovation or not?

Image credit: Xupermask


Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Starbucks Train Making Connections with Customers

Starbucks Train Making Connections with Customers

What happens in Switzerland if you forget to buy your latte or cappuccino before you get on the train?

Well, Starbucks has taken the next leap in connecting with customers as they make their rail connections, moving beyond retail locations in train stations across Europe to opening its first store on a Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) car, the national railway line for Switzerland.

Starbucks Train InteriorThe new Starbucks train café is one of the smallest the company has ever designed, and they have managed to include space for 50 people, baristas, a pastry case, standing bar, and a lounge area, all tastefully assembled into a two level train car.

This latest Starbucks retail twist may only be a test, and the first of its kind for the company, but it now officially puts them in planes, trains, and automobiles, and is a smart way to extend the customer relationship and maintain their connection with existing customers while also possibly building new ones in a captive audience situation.

It’s a smart move for Starbucks to test this format even if it fails like Amazon Tote.

Starbucks Train CustomersIt’s incredibly important for companies like Starbucks that sell daily indulgences to be in the places where people are looking to enjoy that little treat, and with the level of quality increasing (at least in the coffee experience) at competitors like Dunkin Donuts, McCafe, Caribou Coffee, and others, Starbucks has to do everything they can to reinforce their premium image and customer loyalty.

The questions every retailer (or business for that matter) must continuously ask themselves include:

1. What type of customer relationship do we have?
2. What type of relationship does the customer have with our product or service?
3. What products and services do we have our customers’ permission to provide?
4. Where do our customers want us to be?

If you have a copy of my popular five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, you can dig into the ideas behind these questions more in Appendix A where I look at a number of different “Customer Relationship Types” and “Levels of Customer Permission” in an effort to help you maximize the customer relationship

If you are looking for additional opportunities to serve your customers, maintain existing customer loyalty, and to build new customer relationships, you might also want to check out Appendix B in Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, where I get into my framework for visualizing the customer purchasing journey and my framework for visualizing the core business operations that support the customer purchasing journey.

And then when you’ve got some ideas that you want to possibly pursue, you might want to run them through The Innovation Baker’s Dozen framework in Appendix C.

There is a lot of great content hidden in the book in various places, which is why it has done so well, and this exploration of the new Starbucks Train is the perfect time to highlight some of the insights captured in the appendices.

So, ask yourself the four questions above, check out the appendices, think about what Starbucks has done with their espresso train and let me know what you come up with!

Here is the official video announcing the Starbucks and SBB collaboration on the Starbucks train experience:


Build a common language of innovation on your team

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Innovation Costs of Reducing the Flow of Immigrants and Travelers to USA

Innovation Costs of Reducing the Flow of Immigrants and Travelers to USA

September 11th was a traumatic event for the psychology of the nation but also for its innovation capacity. After 9/11 the United States started admitting fewer highly skilled immigrants, invited fewer students to come study here, and companies and consumers cut back on their travel budgets.

These factors, along with many others, combined to reduce the amount of face to face collaboration and created new innovation headwinds for the country.

In 2001, Michael Porter of Harvard Business School published a report ranking the United States as #1 in terms of innovative capacity. By 2009, the Economist Intelligence Unit had dropped the United States in its innovation rankings from #3 between 2002 – 2006 to #4 between 2004 – 2008. The most recent Global Innovation Index has the United States falling from #1 in 2009 to #7 in 2011 — behind Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, and Denmark.

If you’re the United States, not being #1 anymore is a definite concern. Innovation drives job creation, and any decrease in the pace of domestic innovation will ultimately lead to lower economic growth. As the United States slides down the innovation rankings, restrictive immigration policies suddenly look less smart.

The number of foreign student visas increased by a third during the 90s, peaking in 2001 at 293,357 before dropping post-9/11 by 20 percent nearly overnight. It took five years before foreign student visa numbers recovered to 2001 levels. Last year, 331,208 foreign student visas were issued.

But a drop-off in highly skilled immigration does not account for the entire drop in America’s innovation leadership. Another headwind that hit post-9/11 was the drop-off in travel in America. In August 2001, 65.4 million airline passengers traveled to the country. It took three years for passenger growth to resume.

Travel — both corporate and leisure — is important to innovation for three main reasons:

  1. People see and experience things that spark new ideas
  2. Face-to-face meetings deepen human connection and improve productivity and collaboration.
  3. Innovation partnerships and acquisitions are often made in-person.

The United States is at an innovation crossroads. We must commit to attracting more innovators to this country, and to traveling abroad more. Not doing so is guaranteed to exacerbate America’s slide from innovation leader to laggard.

This article first appeared on The Atlantic before drifting into the archive

Build a Common Language of Innovation

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.