That’s when we expected Marriott and SPG to become one program. And, we expected some hiccups. I told folks to watch their accounts carefully for a couple of weeks after the integration, and to be patient. We did have some other signs along the way that there would be bumps and bruises, but most of those seemed like self-inflicted management decisions.
There was some initial frustration from SPG members on how they ended up with the short straw on lifetime status. After a few small changes, Marriott ended up at a much more inclusive strategy for how to hand out lifetime status.
Marriott had another unforced error with travel packages when they weren’t forthcoming with members prior to integration. And, they made a significant change on travel agent bookings that affects plenty of business travelers. These are very loyal customers. Marriott seems to have made this change after explicitly saying they planned not to. Those sorts of actions cause members to lose faith in a loyalty program.
You’d think that Marriott would be trying to calm the nerves of loyal travelers. Instead, the CEO labels the concerns of members as “noise around the edges”. He says that a small portion of members have voiced concerns.
Here’s Why That’s A Problem
Marriott has a vast number of members in their loyalty program. It’s true that the majority are not complaining. Most people don’t. They switch their business elsewhere instead of complaining. Or, they become a free agent, not as bound to the program as they once were. I’ve said in the past that many Marriott members suffer from Stockholm syndrome. While it’s true that Marriott had to walk a fine line between hotel owners and loyalty members, discussing it publicly isn’t likely to earn them more loyal members. Diminishing the importance of the complaints those members is arrogant and wrong.
It’s Been Two Months
It’s been over two months since integration. Concerns still abound. Two months later mine is just one of many accounts still not showing the correct information. Updates from Marriott have been slow to come (when they come at all). I hear from members consistently who still have problems with their account. Stays are still posting incorrectly. Canceling award reservations still causes problems with points being re-deposited.
Some of these issues might be getting better, but Marriott hasn’t told us as such. And, members are still complaining. So, why should we believe it’s getting better when many members seem to have evidence to the contrary.
Marriott Is Losing The Communication Game
The most frequent complaint I hear from members is how long they have to wait on the phone to fix a problem. The least frequent thing I hear are updates from Marriott. They are losing the PR battle right now. Communication goes a long way, even when it’s not all positive news. Technology is hard, we all get it. But, Marriott kept their platform in place for their hotels. They integrated SPG to their platform. And yet, Marriott bookings have many of the same problems SPG ones do. Why is that? Explanations have been largely absent.
The Final Two Pennies
It’s possible that the comments from management that seem to downplay the current problems are just to satisfy investors and hotel owners. I certainly hope there are internal discussions about how Marriott can fix the remaining problems quickly. SPG members were skeptical about the merger, but not necessarily for technology issues.
They were upset that the special parts of SPG would go away. When you consider how Marriott handled issues like lifetime status and travel packages, it’s not surprising some members are concerned for the future. Add in a largely silent response on problems, long hold times to get problems solved and points missing from accounts for weeks, and it’s not hard to see loyalty eroding.
That’s a shame, since it was entirely preventable.
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