Keith Picthall

Keith Picthall on how Marriott uses social listening to improve the guest experience

Marriott International Social Media Director Keith Picthall sat down with us to talk about the beginnings of their social media customer care and where social listening is going for their brands. He's been a member of since 2014.

In 2011, Social Media Director Keith Picthall's initial request for a social customer care team at Marriott was denied.

“In terms of priorities, we just were not able to outrank other things going on at the time. But as time wore on, we were seeing more and more complaints come in via our social channels, and it wasn't something our agencies were ready to manage,” he explains.

Keith says that's when some senior customer care team members, energized by social media as a new medium, took the initiative to find time to respond to these complaints.

“Although they were already incredibly busy with their existing roles, many of them saw social customer care as something that would become bigger on their radar and wanted to get ahead of it for their team.”

With the help of these pioneering customer care team members, Keith could bring compelling numbers and success stories back to leadership.

In the fall of 2012, Marriott started a brand new Social Media Alert and Response Team (SMART) and brought on three full-time staffers. It has since grown by two to three people a year.

“The number-one success story for us is keeping up with the volume as social grows and more brands begin to get engaged. With our customer care, we've been very quick to respond, so we've won a lot of people back.”

Keith hopes to give the Social Media Alert and Response Team larger ownership of brand social moderation in the future.

Currently, agencies and individual brands handle both positive and neutral mentions about Marriott — passing on negative social feedback to SMART. By expanding the team, Keith hopes to give SMART the ability to respond to all types of feedback, helping reduce the time lag between communications while improving their daily roles.

“It's a balanced diet for SMART, so they're not always just focused on the negative feedback. It reflects well publicly because we're engaging more quickly on all fronts,” he explains.

They're also improving the customer experience by combining social listening with traditional guest satisfaction surveys.

“Our guest satisfaction survey recently underwent a major upgrade,” says Keith.

The standard, structured, legally accountable guest satisfaction surveys seem so far removed from all of the other options modern guests have to express their feedback on hotels. Each customer's opinion is no longer an answer filled into a blank. It can be a paragraph on Yelp, a photo album on TripAdvisor, an Expedia rating, a tweet.

Keith says Marriott needed a way to organize all of this guest feedback into one place where hotels could gain a level of consistency in listening to guest feedback, responding to guests, and making improvements.

“Now we have a much larger pool of data from both guest satisfaction surveys, which is structured — and from social, which is unstructured,” he explains.

Keith says getting all of that feedback onto one platform means deeper guest engagement and performance improvement.

“The tremendous level of value here is that it gives hotels the ability to see how they're doing and identify areas of improvement much more quickly and confidently.”

According to Keith, with this integration, many of their hotels are much more engaged with guests in social and on travel review sites than they ever were before.

And while Marriott's social customer service program took some work to get started, it's clear the entire organization is now committed. Just last week, Bill Marriott, Marriott International Executive Chairman, posted on his blog about the importance of engaging customers through digital channels and shared 10 key strategies for hotel managers in social media.

Say hi to Keith on Twitter and ask about his favorite new tech.