From Marriott, With Love

Can Marriott’s brand of care be absent and present at the same time?

Marriott’s digital team issued a statement where they wanted to find new opportunities to connect with the guest along their journey – and no longer be dependent on airlines to enhance the traveler’s experience. If the entire travel experience is in consideration, is Marriott responsible for guests beyond their doorstep?

Design Thinking, Service Design, IX, Hospitality

From Marriott, With Love - 2014

Process Book

The process book documents research, synthesis, execution, and implementation of the entire project.

Process Book

Issue Statement: Is Marriott responsible for the guests beyond their doorstep?

Marriott’s mobile innovation team saw opportunities beyond the four walls of their hotels. They carefully selected the word, “responsible” in their issue statement. They hypothesized that those opportunities could be valuable for Marriott and their guests.

Cleveland Renaissance Lobby


Over a span of about 2 months, my team and I visited multiple Marriott brand locations (Cleveland, Columbus, Mumbai, Chicago, NYC) as guests, as observers (ethnography), and interviewers. It was very clear that our experiences at different locations were incredibly similar - Marriott had a very strict process on keeping their experience familiar regardless of location…a home away from home.

Research Artifact - Every Marriott Employee has to wear this in their pocket as part of their uniform.

Broken Experiences

We asked one of the managers, Cal from the Downtown Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, what constituted as Marriott’s brand of care. He pulled out a plastic card from his jacket with a clear hole in the middle. Above it read, “Create personal connections, respond to cues, make it brilliant.” When in doubt, employees were to hold up this card and view an individual through the peephole and remind themselves to be the harbinger of a profound experience with a guest. We found this to be silly and chuckled, but realized how serious Marriott’s doctrine was when he told me that all Marriott employees were required to wear the card - otherwise would be regarded as not wearing their uniform to code.

We inquired how this manifested into a real-world example. He told us about one of Cleveland’s most brutal winters, where a large group of guests had come to watch a football game. They were out-of-towners that had a large bus to come pick them up. While the front entrance of the Renaissance was clear, the path to the bus was blocked with about a foot of snow. When Cal's team realized this, they quickly grabbed a group of about 15 people to shovel out the path for the guests. When the guests came down, they had no idea that the Marriott team went through all the trouble of such a trivial detail. He then told us about broken experiences - "when everything goes well, it’s expected, but one broken moment can break a guest’s experience, completely.” This sounded to me, implicitly, that if a customer’s experience was broken out of the walls of the hotel, that it would affect their whole journey. Even if Marriott wasn’t responsible for the entire journey, there was an opportunity to make a difference.

A Cold Medium

Needless to say, we found Marriott’s brand of care to be empathic and compelling. We felt like they had a strong understanding of guiding a guest’s experience within their four walls. How do they make the same kind of impact along the entire guest’s journey?

The hospitality industry has had a legacy of pioneering the utilization of new technologies to build new experiences of care. For example, the first elevators were introduced in hotels and the first electrically lit spaces were in hotel lobbies - they were more than gimmicks; they were an extension of their care for their guests. However, with the hospitality apps, we found them to be very utilitarian and devoid of such care. The benefit, however, was that the mobile space did give us the ability to be “with the guest” along their journey without being actually face-to-face with them.

Our problem statement became: Can Marriott’s brand of care be absent and present at the same time?

Part of research was to travel and record our journey, unique occurrences, and find moments that were designable.

Beyond Marriott

After traveling, we synthesized our findings with multiple heuristic frameworks. There were three we created that helped us make sense of things:

  • Rhythm - in response to what Cal told us. A broken experience ruins and affects the entire journey…including before and after a guest has left the hotel. How do we make sure the expected rhythm isn’t broken?
  • Weakness & Balance - Weak moments could be found in multiple facets of a guest - physically (e.g. inability to physically walk through several feet of snow to get to a bus), mind (e.g. confusion of how to navigate to the bus) and spirit (e.g. the exhaustion and frustration of being late to the game or having to deal with such trivial problems)
  • Containers & Touchpoints - By partitioning the journey, we were able to test for different conditions. These containers were not necessarily physical spaces, but based on systems. For example, the airport has a system set in place that the airport is responsible for. Within that system, there are microsystems, like the TSA.

We found plenty of moments that needed design attention - but it was important that we found very specific moments based on our hypothesis: Finding unclaimed opportunities within the entire guest journey can result in spreading Marriott’s brand of care beyond its walls. These unclaimed areas are ideal, because they are untapped, low-hanging fruit that no one has claimed. Our business rules for locating these untapped moments:

  • Moments that were not when the guest was at the hotel.
  • Moments that no system/brand/management had claimed.
  • Moments that we acts of nature (no one to blame but bad luck).
  • Moments that the guest was weak.
  • Moments that were not being designed for.
  • Moments that would definitively work with Marriott’s brand of care.
Project Frameworks

Moments Found

There were three key moments that we found compelling:

  • A guest who had the terrible misfortune of booking a red-eye flight.
  • A guest who was traveling internationally, and would have to wait several hours after they landed before they could call home and let their loved ones know they were okay.
  • A guest who had to book an emergency flight/hotel because of a family emergency - one of our teammates had to fly to India during our research because she had a death in the family - needless to say, her experience getting there was horrible and she hit a lot of mishaps on the way there.

Services/Products Design

In response, we knew we couldn’t change those happenings - they are natural in the traveler’s world. However, we hypothesized that a small gesture from Marriott could make a big difference on their journey. After all, when we care for people, it’s the small gestures that make a big impact.

  • Cafe du Marriott - A free coffee from Marriott after a tiring flight.
  • Wifi Phone Home - A couple minutes of free internet after landing in another country so guests could call their loved ones.
  • Panic Booking - A different kind of email verification when a guest books their hotel/flight that very day.

For more information, photos, research notes, or designs; check out the process book. Here’s a video of how these products might look for a Marriott guest:

Video - A Day in the Life of a Marriott Guest
Café Du Marriott
WiFi Phone Home
Panic Booking
Café Du Marriott - Coffee Sleeve
Master Presentation - Attended by Marriott's Digital Team, Weatherhead dean, a trustee, and professors.t
Marriott's Mobile Innovation Team (Bethesda)
Team Photo - Linisha Patel, Uram Joshua Lee, Melissa Williams, Wesley Mershon