Millennial CX Gone Wild: The Marriott Room Design Edition

Millennials don’t work at desks? Really?

McorpCX_No-Desks

Here’s the premise. It appears that Marriott is in the process of redesigning their hotel rooms for a millennial business traveler that doesn’t actually do much work. And/or, if they do, that they’re much more comfortable working from their bed or local coffee shop than in their rooms.

Marriott is undergoing a global hotel-room makeover which they tout on their website as “bold design that’s stylish, intuitive and smart.” Maybe. But one thing has business travelers of all generations up in arms – the brand’s decision to eliminate desks.

In a post on his personal blog titled Who Stole the Desk from My Hotel Room? Dan Wetzel - a Yahoo Sports columnist and lifetime Marriott Platinum member – said that when he complained to management about the lack of a desk in his Charlotte Marriott City Center room he was told:

“This had to do with the habits of Millennials, who don’t use desks. [Insert “Millennials don’t do any work” jokes here.] They prefer rooms that are designed to “hang out” in and whatever work they do can be accomplished on their phone.

As for working in the room, I was encouraged to sit on the bed and put my computer on my lap. Maybe some people like this. I don’t. Doesn’t matter. Essentially, Marriott was telling me that my preferred manner of working was wrong. And here I thought that Platinum for Life card meant they loved me.”

Customer experience design – particularly for a brand with so many customer segments – often needs to target more than one persona

I get that millennials are an important segment for most companies, and that they are – as each major generation before them – doing some things differently, with different habits, interests and expectations as a result.

But using the wants and needs of a single persona to drive a massive investment such as the interiors of all their properties isn’t just silly. It’s shortsighted. And, it’s stupid.

From where I’m sitting (which from here on out will NOT be in a Marriott hotel room), I’ve got to ask: what about older travelers – say, 35 plus? Or business travelers, who have to work in their rooms? (Many business travelers are prohibited from working in public areas for security reasons, for example). Or - those millennials who have to work on the road from their rooms? (Yes, many millennials do actually work. I’ve seen them. In fact, we employ many of them).

I’m pretty sure this is a cross-generational issue. Based on the hue and cry on frequent traveler blogs, I’m not alone. One millennial summed up the sentiments of the many with this reply to a post on the One Mile At A Time blog:

“I’m a 20-something year old millennial who travels for business around 15 times per year. I can’t imagine not having a desk in my hotel room! That is an expectation for most any business traveler. Hearing Marriott say that “that’s how millennials like to work” and saying we can do most of our work from our phone is so, so ignorant. I really get annoyed when I hear someone age 50+ make a statement like that. Talk about generalizing a group.”

Marriott believes that 60% of their business will be millennials in the very near future. (Great, but what about the other 40%?)

Discussing the importance of millennials and the changing dynamic of the hotel business in a Wall Street Journal interview last year, Chairman Bill Marriott said "In four years, 60% of our business will be millennials… We've got to be cool!" Duh. We ALL know desks are uncool. And, frankly, so is work. But someone has to do it. Apparently, this is also because future guests want rooms that have “…the feel of a Silicon Valley startup.”

If that “startup feel” is the goal, they’ve missed the mark by a wide margin. We’re based in San Francisco, surrounded by startups and I’ve visited dozens of them. Guess what? For the most part they work from – wait for it – desks.

Does he or anyone at their company really think millennials don’t want a place to work in their rooms? Or value the comfort of a decent desk chair – even if it’s tucked up to a table of some sort that could serve as a desk?

As a regular business traveler, I know what I like – and don’t – about the hotel rooms I find myself staying in. At the same time, I’m not a loyalty program diehard. What this means is that I have choice. And like most customers I’ll simply vote with my wallet – and with my back and neck - on where I work and stay when somewhere other than my office or at home. Hint: it’s not sitting cross-legged on a hotel bed, or in the local Starbucks.

Hotel customers have totally changed in the last 5 years. Not.

Ironically, just five years ago Marriott redesigned many of its rooms to accommodate the then highly valuable business traveler’s requests for a better workspace. A 2010 New York Times article noted that “Marriott International is going further than other hotel companies in rethinking the in-room workspace.”

Citing research into the wants and needs of the business traveler, a Hilton executive noted at the time that “The biggest thing that the guest wanted was to have everything ready for them to put down their laptop, plug in and be instantly productive,” he said.

While an admittedly qualitative assessment, I spend enough time in hotels around the world to observe the fellow travelers in the lobbies and executive lounges I end up in aren’t mostly millennials. For better or worse, it’s the 40 to 60 year-old crowd. Like me. Sigh.

Marriott (with 18 brands) along with all the other major hotel groups has launched more and more tightly focused hotel brands targeting different customer segments. The intelligence of inflicting an experience designed for one segment across brands defies logic.

Here’s the punch line: There’s a reason customer experience firms like ours use segmentation and persona to design new products, services and experiences. And when we do so, we’re designing for the wants and needs of those that drive your economic engine. For hotels, there are almost certainly multiple persona. And some of those persona need a place to work in their room, with a comfortable desk chair to do it in.

For example, what about those platinum-level business travelers that most hotels are trying so desperately to please with their points and rewards programs?

If Marriott no longer wants them, I know a few chains that do…

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