Volume 80 | Issue 2
March 2012

Q&A with David Marriott

In early 2012, The Bulletin had the opportunity to interview David Marriott, chief operating officer of Marriott International’s Eastern Region. Marriott attended the University of Utah, where he majored in finance and was a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity. Through observing the family business firsthand, his mission work in England, and his participation in the fraternity, Marriott learned theMarriott2 importance of relationships and working hard. These are just two of the many qualities that Marriott International tries to inspire in associates, believing that excellent external customer service starts with quality internal customer service. Many of Marriott’s service strategies offer transferable insights for union and activities staff in building campus community.

Bulletin: What is the Marriott customer service philosophy?
Marriott: Marriott has a customer service philosophy that has been around for more than 80 years: If you take good care of your people, or your associates as we like to call them, then they will take good care of the customer, and the customer will come back. That is a quote from my grandfather that my family has repeated over and over again.

Bulletin: What is the role of internal customer service?
Marriott:Our people know that we care. They know that we are interested in them. We have always made it our mission to take care of our people—make them feel like we care, make them feel part of a family. It empowers them to take care of the guests. Our guests are the most important constituents. Without them, we don’t exist. We try to do all we can to meet our customers needs. We have incredible associate loyalty because of this. Most of our full-service general managers have been with the company for 25 years or more.

Bulletin: How do you measure employee satisfaction and loyalty?
Marriott: We conduct an associate engagement survey every year and have around a 95 percent participation rate. We encourage every single associate to take it. They know that we want to hear their voice. They know that this is one of the most important things that we do. The survey focuses on leadership; how happy they are with compensation, benefits, position, and direct supervisor; and how loyal they are to Marriott—would they recommend it to others?

We look closely at those scores and how we are rated—what areas of concern there may be, what areas we are doing well in. We sit down with various teams, critique those scores, and come up with action plans on how to improve and how to continue to better take care of our associates.

Bulletin: What are some ways you help your employees to feel appreciated?
Marriott:Specifically, in the eastern region, we feel our associates have encountered tough times. We felt like we needed to do something more than just come up with plans and actions. As a leadership team in our region, we came up with a robust letter writing campaign where we were writing handwritten notes and sending messages to those going above and beyond. We sent out more than 2,000 notes two years ago, and we had about the same last year.

It’s amazing how many thanks I get from associates for writing these notes and how much it means to them. I’ll see these notes posted and framed in their work areas. It is a great way to recognize efforts.

We have also provided a forum for some of our younger managers to be able to sit down with the regional leadership team and engage for an evening. We sit down for a Q&A session and provide a little training. It’s a great opportunity to connect with those younger managers and learn how we can remove obstacles for them.

The biggest thing we can do is help our associates know that we care. We are concerned about their careers; we are concerned about them. We want to make it easier for them to be successful.

Bulletin: How do you improve customer service through training?
Marriott: In the past few years, we have focused on the service level our associates are providing. We worked with the Stephen Covey organization on their program called the “Four Disciplines of Execution.” We have implemented it across the United States in our hotels.

We feel like it has been a great training program. It has helped us focus in on those two or three key drivers of service that we can provide to our guests. It’s about having regularly held, quick meetings to make simple—yet impactful and focused—commitments to really drive results in those key areas. And following through on those and holding one another accountable as a team. We have seenMarriott1 our service scores improve through this.

Bulletin: How does physical space affect customer satisfaction?
Marriott: When it is kind of tired and outdated, there is just a different feeling that the customer gets when they come into the building. And their satisfaction is automatically going to be at a lower bar. If they come into a hotel that is new, fresh, and relevant to them, they feel like they are at home.

You also have to keep the space clean. You have to keep it spotless. That is a huge reflection on the staff and service level. When I go and inspect hotels, I can tell within the first 15 or 20 minutes if it is a well-run hotel—not just by the front of the house, but the back of the house as well. If the kitchen is dirty and the back dock is dirty, you know that the team is not as engaged as they should be. Their pride isn’t where it should be. Cleanliness in the physical space of the product makes an enormous difference when it comes to the satisfaction of the customer.

Bulletin: How do you ensure organizational changes won’t adversely affect the customer?
Marriott: You always have to look at things through a customer lens. Let me give you an example. I used to head our global sales organization. We had learned that our customers were getting frustrated with the way we were transacting their group business. We took a step back. We interviewed about 450 stakeholders—internal, external, general managers, sales, customers, owners, etc. We found some pretty compelling themes.

We took a customer focus and a customer-centric approach with how we built our new sales organization. We took a look at what is it that the customer needs—how can we make their life more efficient, how can we make it easier for them to do business with us. It created a little bit of pain internally as we went through this change.

We wanted to build an organization that made more sense for the customers. And we were able to do that. Everything that you do and those changes you make really have to be done through a customer lens. Anytime you go through change, you have to look at how it impacts the customer. That should be the key driver.

Bulletin: Why is it important for college students to understand quality customer service?
Marriott: You can really tell which organizations are run well and which aren’t by how people interact with you and how you’re taken care of. It is so important, particularly when people are coming out of college and starting their careers, that they understand how critical relationships are and how critical really taking care of the customer and really caring about your trade is—whatever it might be.

Give your best each and every day. Show the customer and those that you are working with that you care and you will go far.