After Marriott purchased Starwood Hotels and its various brands, it initially kept the loyalty programs associated with the different brands separate. But several years later, it decided strategically to merge the programs, so that travelers could earn benefits whether they stayed at a Marriott, Westin, or Ritz-Carlton. The transition, unfortunately, was not as smooth as the company might have hoped, which created some serious concerns for some of its most loyal customers.
In particular, the programs for both Marriott and
Starwood offered frequent clients exclusive privileges, such as a dedicated telephone line that enabled them to reach a customer service representative directly to make reservations on the fly. They appreciated this additional service, because for frequent travelers, being able to reach someone who can help them while they literally run through an airport is highly valuable.
With the merger of the programs though, the system became completely bogged down, such that customers were waiting for hours on the phone to make their reservations. Furthermore, the corporation sought to expand use of its automated system, meaning the loyalty program members had to get through several layers of automated elements before they could reach a human representative.
The program members, especially those with elite status, were not happy. They also expressed concerns that the service gap predicted further diminished service in other realms. Would the personalization they had come to expect disappear at the front desk too? Another issue for a small percentage of customers was that the merger did not transfer their records from the previous version to the new, combined program. These customers were left in a sort of loyalty program limbo, unable to access rewards they already had accrued or add to them with new earnings.
Marriot acknowledges the issues but also notes that with a merger as extensive and vast as this one, there were bound to be some challenges. It did not run a test in advance of the overall merger, leading some industry experts to suggest it did not do enough to avoid those problems though. But in the aftermath, the company has added 225 employees dedicated specifically to serving loyalty program members, as well as 200 employees whose primary job is to answer merger-related questions.
Ultimately, despite the less-than-ideal implementation, the merger may prove beneficial for both customers and the vast company. But the hiccups and customer complaints highlight just
1.Are the elite loyalty program members’ expectations described in this abstract reasonable or not?
2.How can a company communicate with members to keep their expectations reasonable?
Source: Martha C. White, “Marriott’s Merger of Hotel Rewards Program Tests Members’ Loyalty,” The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2018