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Bon Voyage, Customer Experience October - 2019

“You may cancel your reservation for no charge up until 2 days before arrival.”

However, Marriott can cancel your room less than 2 hours before you arrive. 


In early 2019, Marriott rebranded its loyalty program to “Bonvoy.”  According to Karin Timpone, Marriott’s Global Marketing Officer, they launched a global marketing campaign around this rebrand, “to build awareness for Marriott Bonvoy and to inspire more people to travel.”  The campaign featured commercials with both Oscar nominees and winners.    

And yet, none of this creative matters to me as a long-time Marriott Rewards Member. Why?  

Brand is bigger than just an advertising function.  

A brand today is as much about the experience it creates for its employees and customers, as it is about marketing. I was painfully reminded of this one evening last month while on a business trip.  

Although I had reserved my hotel room two weeks prior, upon checking in at a Marriott Courtyard, I was told by the front desk clerk, Adam, that I did not have a room.  Based upon his uncomfortable laugh, I assumed he was kidding. Unfortunately, he was not. This was affirmed by the manager on duty, Colin.  They tried to diffuse the situation by letting me know that they sent me an email less than two hours prior (which I didn’t see while driving) and had made alternative arrangements for me at a “brand new hotel at no-cost.” 

“And don’t worry,” Colin said, “you’ll still get the Bonvoy points for this stay.”  

Never mind the fact that I had just traveled for four hours, or that I have stayed in this particular hotel at least half a dozen nights over the past two-years, or even that I have over one hundred thousand reward points. As Colin so eloquently put it, “We looked at a number of factors to determine who would have to give up a room, and status was one of them.”  

What immediately came to my mind was not Oscar-worthy, creative advertising. Rather, a famous Seinfeld scene about “holding a reservation” followed by Steve Martin’s character, Neal Page, standing at the rental car counter in the classic film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.


I was then handed a print out for a new reservation at a non-Marriott property. Alex said,  “We are sorry. If there are any problems, please give this to the people at the front desk there.”

Turns out there was a problem. Several, actually.  

After I had to ask them for directions, I realized this other hotel was 20 minutes back in the other direction – an additional 40 minutes tacked onto my four-hour journey, plus 15 minutes further away for my meetings in the morning.  Upon arrival at the hotel, a new problem emerged. This was not a “brand new property” as it had been described by Marriott. Rather I found myself standing in the lobby of an old hotel that was not nearly as nice as the Marriott I had booked.        

However, the real problem was poor customer experience and training.  And it didn’t end with Alex or Colin from the Marriott Courtyard. In today’s attention economy, anyone with a smartphone is a critic – so I did what many consumers do today – I went online to voice my displeasure.  


After tweeting at Marriott, the Bonvoy loyalty program, and Courtyard Hotels, I received an apology from Marriott Bonvoy Assist and a request for a DM with more information.  As the CEO of a company that advises brands on customer experience, this was at least a step in the right direction.  Over the next two days, I exchanged messages with Marriott Bonvoy and then was told someone from the local property would be in touch by the end of the day to “resolve” the matter.  

That was 10 days ago and I have heard nothing.  No follow up from Adam, Colin, or anyone at the Marriott Courtyard.  No follow-through from Bonvoy Assist to make sure the issue was in fact resolved or that I was satisfied.  No Bonvoy points for the stay that I was told I would receive. Nothing. Yet, I still receive daily emails from Bonvoy about how I can spend points at new and exciting destinations. 

If Marriott had understood the importance of the customer experience, they would have…

  1. Contacted me sooner than 2 hours prior to check-in, plus called or texted.    
  2. Asked me if the alternative hotel was acceptable.
  3. Asked me if there was anything else they could have done besides cover the cost of the alternative hotel.
  4. Sent me a follow-up email to see if my stay was okay and apologizing for the inconvenience.
  5. Followed up on my social media direct messages to close the CX loop. 
  6. Followed up with me to ensure the matter was resolved and I received reward credits.
  7. Trained the local and online staff better to handle customer experience mistakes.

And now that it is time to book not one, but four business trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, and New York over the next month, Marriott will not be considered.  In an era of constant competition from other hotels and Airbnb, I will forgo my point quest and instead, choose a brand that understands that mistakes happen, but it’s how you address them that counts.

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