Here's How Marriott International is Going to Beta the Competition When It Comes to Customer Experience

brought to you by WBR Insights

Marriott International was founded as a simple root beer stand by husband and wife duo John Willard and Alice Sheets Marriot in 1927. From these humble beginnings, the company expanded first into a chain of Hot Shoppes restaurants, and eventually the hotel business, with the opening of Virginia's Twin Bridges Marriott Motor Hotel in 1957.

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Marriott International now operates more than 6,000 properties in 122 countries and territories, and includes brands like the Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. The hotel franchise sits at #163 on the Fortune 500 list, with a revenue of $17,072 million.

The company has certainly come a long way from selling ice-cold beverages to the hot and thirsty citizens of Washington D.C., and has witnessed the world change around it. To keep pace with a rapidly evolving global marketplace, Marriott has embraced innovation and maintained a first-class customer experience.

Mobile Technology

In 2014, Marriott International became the first hotel chain to offer "Check-in" and "Room Ready" notifications via a mobile app. However, Marriott wasn't satisfied with the simple transaction-based booking functionality of its mobile app and was looking for a way to develop the concept even further.

The decision was made to use the existing app technology to offer special Marriott Rewards members a personalized travel concierge with several new features.

"Many people have an emotional connection with their mobile devices and apps they've downloaded," says Thom Kozik, Vice President of Loyalty at Marriott International. "Therefore, it makes sense that we can deepen our relationship with Marriott Rewards members by delivering greater recognition, and easy access to the loyalty programs' features through our new mobile experience. We know some of our most loyal guests stay with us upwards of 100 nights a year. For them, along with members who stay less frequently, we can become a valuable part of their travel experience on a device they engage with 365 days a year."

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The updated app offers everything from suggestions for days out to a messaging service to communicate with hotel staff, and the ability to order room service. The app even comes with a built-in electronic key, which enables guests to unlock their rooms using only their mobile device.

However, while the app has long been rolled-out after successful initial testing, there is another aspect of Marriott's dedication to customer experience which is destined to never come out of beta.

M Beta

Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, the M Beta is a Marriott Hotel like none ever seen before - a living breathing innovation lab, open to guests. M Beta allows Marriott International to experiment with customer experience innovations, and test and measure the results in real time.

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"Beta Buttons" are placed throughout the hotel, which allow guests to rate new concepts as they experience them. "We went in and we did a reinvention from top to bottom," says Jennifer Hsieh, Vice President of Insight, Strategy & Innovation at Marriott International. "We wanted to get our latest and greatest thinking out there so [customers] could give us feedback on how to refine and scale. We wanted to be able to demonstrate that you can innovate fairly quickly so [owners and franchisees] could see it and bring that experience back to their hotels."

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Check-in at M Beta is a very different experience from a traditional hotel. Customers can check-in via their smartphone and walk straight into their room using mobile key technology. Alternatively, they can collect a key from a reception pod, or - if they prefer the human touch - from one of the hotel's staff. Receptionists are out from behind their desks and walk around with tablet computers to interact with guests directly.

The rooms are designed with multi-purpose surfaces like flexible furniture and modular desks. This allows guests to configure the beds, lounges, and chairs for relaxing, focused work, or to enjoy a meal. M Beta bathrooms come resplendent with spa-like amenities, while hardwood floors and modern lighting create a new level of spaciousness, cleanliness and comfort.

"Continuous innovation is a big deal for Marriott. And so is scaling it. A small change to one room will need to be duplicated across thousands of rooms," says Hsieh. "To ensure success and mitigate risk, Marriott approaches innovation with customers. We recognize that we can't solve everything ourselves, that the customer plays a really important part in co-creating with us."

A Shared Experience

With M Beta, Marriott International is clearly demonstrating its commitment to staying at the forefront of innovative customer experience. The last word goes to Jennifer Hsieh.

"We like to think that we're the originator of the sharing economy. Customers are individual guests like you and me, business corporate customers who hold conferences and meetings, and property owners and franchisees. Serving them all is a balancing act. We have to make decisions that drive value for our owners, but also drive delight for our guests."

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