Earlier this month I spent 2 nights at the San Francisco JW Marriott Union Square (Platinum) and then 2 nights at the Westin St. Francis (Gold), which I covered in a previous posting. After the Westin stay I received a survey from Westin, to which I replied. Since I regularly get Marriott surveys I was not surprised with the Westin survey. However, I was surprised when I heard back form the Westin St. Francis regarding my survey answers. Basically, asking me to contact the Westin person responding, if I was ever planning to return to San Francisco so she could arrange a premium room for my next visit. I have yet to hear back from any Marriott survey regarding my survey comments. I guess Westin actually reads them!
This points out a worthwhile observation in our quest for optimizing our travel experience during an era of eroding benefits. I'm not quite ready to apply customer service sainthood to any of Marriott's competitors, but I have realized, like high school dating (or at least, I think that's how I remember it, it was last century after all) there's nothing like a new romance. Depending on the energy/time we want to invest, it does seem to me that competitors courting our elite status, value us more than our current partner. I experienced similar warm greetings and treatment, with disproportionate benefits, when I dipped my toe into a new environment (which prior to the current 'death by a thousand cuts' offensive, I wouldn't even have considered). So to paraphrase Churchill and Shaw; we've established what type of elite members we are, we're now haggling over price. Keep on keepin' on Insiders, we're going to win (or at least survive) this customer service guerilla warfare after all.
As a small business owner, I realized many years ago that the only thing I had to offer was better customer service. I also realized that one of the easiest new customers to acquire was an unhappy customer. While Marriott has never responded to any of the surveys they have sent to me, I have to assume they are reading them and learning something. Otherwise they are just wasting time and money. Even though I read a lot complaints that nothing is ever changed from discussions on this forum, as far as I can tell, Marriott is the only hotel chain hosting such a site. Again, it costs time and money to host this forum and as a business owner I would have to assume that Marriott is getting something back that justifies the cost. I like your analogy about a "new romance" and couldn't agree more. Until this year I was 100% Marriott, unless they were not available. As I read more travel blogs I realized that I was missing some benefits so I added SPG and Hilton Honors to my wallet. I do not expect to ever get beyond Gold with SPG or Hilton and I do not expect them to treat me like a Marriott Platinum. However, occasionally "dipping my toe" into another pool does help me to better understand/appreciate what I am receiving from Marriott.
I agree with each of your points, I just take a bit more skeptical view having watched veteran travelers (with far more revenue potential than I) over the past two years, time and again post reasonable issues with relatively low effort solutions essentially being ignored or IMO, worse yet, ineffectively (and I don't mean positive outcome, I mean professional interaction) addressed.
I'm confident Marriott reads and gets a lot out of their survey responses, but I believe it's more to fine tune their already pre-determined short to intermediate term profit maximization strategy (which of course is their strategic prerogative) which captures more profit margin in their agreement negotiation, development plans, and newer target audience than in elite customer loyalty recognition.
The value of this forum to Marriott, again in my IMO, comes more from revenue potential and going forward directional input than it does from assessing current customer relations, which Marriott is smart enough to have already gauged. Fortunately for all parties involved, Marriott still operates for the most part at the property level very effectively (it's the corporate level, management contract group that gives me the headaches). This leads to a receptive audience when Marriott, or even more persuasively fellow Insiders, highlight a property (I'm going to the JW Indianapolis solely based on Insiders raves) or even write about a city (psudad's write up on Belgium for example and certainly your Seattle 'walk about' trip has me thinking that way) which I'm convinced leads to additional revenue for the company - a fair trade off. Ironically, whereas it's quite clear Marriott at the Rewards benefit level isn't responsive nor all that interested in Insiders' opinions, they are heavy miners for the input of designing rooms, apps, web sites etc. And finally as any good operator would, Marriott no doubt, does have a sense of the issues discussed here which at least carries a value of attempting to minimize damage (since they're pretty set in their ways of trimming costs). So in summary, as beneficial as the Insiders forum is to me, I'm not quite willing yet to chalk it up as a benevolent customer service act on Marriott's part, but rather as a mutually beneficial asset for all parties and a sound business effort on Marriott's part.
This has only happened to me one time so I will not say it is anything such as frequent or even probable...but I had two rooms at the Residence Inn in Tulsa, OK a couple of weeks ago. When we arrived and got our rooms assigned to us, we proceeded to the elevator and passed a maintenance person from the hotel. When we got to the elevator we saw why. It was out of service. I went back to the front desk and asked Leah at the front desk if she could move us to rooms on the first floor since some of the party could not do stairs well, especially with luggage. We were quickly moved to other rooms which were very nice, no problem. I received the normal "how was your stay" survey via email so filled out. I did not say I was angry with the hotel but stated that the elevator was broken upon our arrival but we were easily moved to the ground floor without any problems. (btw, just a sidenote...still got my ammenities which included two snacks from their kiosk as well as points for both rooms)
I only said I was surprised that it was not in working order since I stay at the hotel at least once a year (2 rooms) and it was always in great shape. The next thing I know I have an email from the Area Manager who says he was very disappointed in hearing of my plight and he was personally putting points in my account for the inconvenience. I thought that was pretty cool so I looked at my account and 10,000 bonus points from the hotel were added to my account. I have never had this happen before, nor do I necessarily expect it to happen again, but there is still some individual hotels in this chain that care about their customers and want to show them so. just my 2 cents and just giving another side to the situation.