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Marriott Executive Reveals Secret to Hotel Chain’s Sustained Success

Jagdish Ghanshani
Jagdish Ghanshani

Marriott understands that the customer experience begins when you first consider traveling rather than the moment you step inside the lobby of one of their hotels. And it ends long after the trip’s finished. This holistic view of the customer experience, which nowadays seamlessly combines the digital and physical, has been a major factor in Marriott’s continued success.

Peggy Fang Roe, the global officer for customer experience, loyalty and new ventures at Marriott International, has made a career out of delivering best-in-class travel experiences. With more than 18 years in the hotel industry, she currently oversees the company’s Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, new business initiatives and end-to-end guest experience.

Marriott, which started as a nine-seat root beer stand in 1927, is recognized globally as one of the most successful hotel companies of all time. We wanted to hear how Marriott perseveres through challenging times and stays at the forefront of the travel industry—meeting and even anticipating customer expectations.

So, we met up with Roe in downtown Washington, D.C., at one of Marriott’s Moxy hotels, the youthful and stylish brand that celebrates nonconformity and originality above all else. The hotel’s sleek industrial design provided the perfect environment for discussing the brand’s commitment to exceptional travel experiences.

Alex Kahn

Global Head of Content

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

PS: I’m curious to hear your perspective on the special ingredient that has allowed the brand to survive many decades—almost a hundred-year history—and thrive.

Roe: I’ve been with Marriott for 18 years, and I’ve given this question quite a bit of thought, because I feel like we're always moving and changing as a company. And I wondered that myself, “Why is that?” We were born with this mission and spirit to serve customers right as they traveled worldwide. And because our goal is to anticipate where you want to go and how we can make your experience better, we have to be in front of all the trends. So, whether that's being in the countries or the markets where you think you're going to be in a couple of years, or being able to anticipate what you need when you go, consumers are constantly changing, so we have to, too.

PS: The word “experience” is so broad and all-encompassing that some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around it. So, what is your definition of experience?

Roe: This is an interesting question for a company and industry where customer experience was basically born, right? What other product or service can you imagine should be focused [more] on customer experience than hospitality? How you host somebody when they come into your home or hotel is what we're after. So, I think that the way we define customer experience is actually through the lens of the associate. Whether you're in the hotel, or you run our digital site, or you run our loyalty program, or you're in finance, you have a view of customer experience that's different based on what you're doing. Most of the people in our company have joined because they love this mission of serving the customer experience. That said, I think today we have to think about customer experience very differently. It's not just the person who walks in the hotel and the person who's interfacing with you in that moment. But we have to think about your whole experience with us throughout your journey.

PS: What is that journey? What do parts of the journey entail?

Roe: I think about the end-to-end experience regarding trip planning. Our sweet spot is when you land in the hotel. That moment of arrival, when you open the door and see your room—that moment is a significant moment of truth for us. But the customer experience itself is the whole journey. And then where we want to play and make a difference is where Marriott’s competitive advantage can be. That can be wrapped up in the brand experience we create for you, the service strategy we make for you, or even the value proposition that our loyalty program provides.

PS: Why do so few companies in the world—even in the hospitality industry—get it right?

Roe: This is a fascinating question, particularly for someone who studied organizational behavior in college. What I loved about psychology in business was understanding how people think and why they do things. I think companies get wrapped up in what they want. And the key is understanding what customers want and being able to build a business that offers services and products around customer anticipation. Sure, it's hard. You have to organize yourself and structure your processes in your business to do that—and it's not intuitive. Today, we're trying to link digital and physical together. And make that more seamless and frictionless.

I think companies get wrapped up in what they want. And the key is understanding what customers want and being able to build a business that offers services and products around customer anticipation.
Peggy Fang Roe, Global Customer Experience Officer,Marriott

PS: That's a tall order. We want to get a sense of the stakes here. What is the upside to a superior customer experience? But also, what are the downsides to not getting it right?

Roe: If you started a company today, you would come into the world with a lot of the basic thinking around this. I think one of the hard things for us as Marriott is that we started in a different place—we began in a place of delivering quality, consistency and excellent service. And we have a model for thinking about that. But disruptors will come in today and have already learned about that and taken it to the next level. Our challenge is: How do we do that just right or faster? Our opportunity is that we've got so many years of the base reputation and the people and the associates and the content behind how to do that. And if we can do it right, that's where our competitive advantage can lie.

PS: The COVID-19 pandemic was a curveball for everyone, but Marriott has overcome a lot of curveballs over many decades. How will Marriott thrive in the face of future challenges?

Roe: Our DNA is about serving people, and it's what has carried us through all these years and keeps us motivated to change. That's the key driver. The pandemic was a curveball like no other for Marriott, but seeing our way through that by focusing on our spirit to serve people has carried us all along, and it’s what will carry us into the future.

PS: What early moment in your journey—in your career or even pre-career—shaped you as a leader?

Roe: I went to business school during the tech boom, and all of the case studies we studied were for companies that are not here anymore, except for Amazon. The summer of my business school year, I worked at Amazon when Amazon was only one tab—books—and we were launching toys and electronics. And for me, it was transformational, because Amazon was a place that was focused on the customer at all costs. And it was an interesting thing to complement where I'd come from, which is GE [General Electric], a company that was very focused on process. Those two things coming together inspired me to think about customer experience the way I do today.

PS: What do you primarily focus on in your job, and why do you feel it's so crucial?

Roe: My job spans many different disciplines and challenges every day. I spend a lot of time focusing on the loyalty program, but when it comes down to it, I view myself as the person in the company who speaks on behalf of the customer. I try to spend as much time as I can getting into our customers' heads and minds to be that beacon.

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