Q&A: Marriott’s Chief Customer Experience Officer on the Importance of Collaboration

Adam Malamut says it's vital and discusses how the C-suite can help

Adam Malamut is Marriott's chief customer experience officer.

Like many of us, Marriott’s chief customer experience officer, Adam Malamut, wears multiple hats. Most of us, however, don’t have a Ph.D. in organizational psychology and can nimbly move between encouraging people to connect seemingly disparate dots and brokering peace between two areas that don’t align.

“Sometimes I laugh and tell people I toggle between two roles: the chief disruption officer or the chief feng shui officer,” he said.

Adweek spoke with Malamut about how collaboration is vital to his and Marriott’s success, and what the C-suite can do to help.

Adweek: What does a chief customer experience officer do?
Adam Malamut: My charter is to help manage complexity in our commercial lines of business across the digital and physical.

We have a lot of different channels at Marriott—our marketing channels, our loyalty program, our hotel operations, our associates, our brands and how we communicate through our call centers.

My team works to build new capabilities that enable us to better orchestrate across our channels and the interests of our customer. And one way in which we’re doing that is rethinking our entire CRM capabilities, and the data management and personalization across the customer journey.

You have a CMO. You have other C-level colleagues responsible for some of these paths. As the person responsible for managing complexity, how are you driving new ways of collaboration, both internally and externally?
I don’t want to give the impression that I figured this out. It’s really freaking hard, particularly in a company the size of Marriott. It’s not like I can just get everyone in a room and say, “Here’s how we’re doing it.” It doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes I laugh and tell people I toggle between two roles: the chief disruption officer or the chief feng shui officer. I go back and forth between those two orientations to either disrupt something for people to think differently about their respective area, or I spend my time orchestrating and brokering between the two areas that don’t align.

On the latter, the best way I’ve found to do that is through a couple of primary tactics. Number one is our consumer insight capability has to be top notch.

“Sometimes I laugh and tell people I either have one of two roles: the chief disruption officer or the chief feng shui officer.”
Adam Malamut, Marriott's chief customer experience officer

At the end of the day, this has to be about the consumer and you have to have data that validates what the consumer needs are and what will resonate most effectively with the customer. Without that, you really lack the tie-breaking capability to get different parties to align on a strategy.

We have done a considerable amount of investment over the years to build out consumer insight capabilities, but here’s a really important notion as it relates to that. Our consumer insight group does two primary things. One, they generate insight through research and analytics, but we also started an advisory department within that insight division. These are individuals doing customer strategy and planning, and they are embedded in each of the channels. And they are also connected back to the center. That mechanism is a really important strategy for us to make sure that things are connected, and they’re grounded in customer data and thinking about the best interests of our customer.

The other big part of it is probably the harder thing—doing strategic planning in a large corporation is really, really hard to do because everything seems to be a priority. We worked over the last couple of years on an integrated road map and alignment on what we see as our future, of where we’re going to be in three to five years, and we’ve organized our investment planning and our strategic planning activities to that road map.

The challenge of that is getting people aligned and not being overly bureaucratic.

But without those two primary mechanisms, it’s really hard to make the right decisions and investment prioritization decisions in the right way that will lead to the greatest amount of sustainable impact with our customer base.

And it is not easy because within every line of business, every function, there are real tangible challenging issues, and we’re all competing for the same resources to address. Sequencing them is an ongoing diplomatic effort that I am constantly embarking on and trying to get people together to negotiate what’s right for our customers.

Sounds like you’re leaning into your background in organizational psychology.
Yes, often organizations are structured in a way where it’s functionally based, and you sort of operate that business by these different siloed functions. This contradicts what you need to create for the customer experience—which is an omnichannel, multifaceted, an experience that moves with the customer—and the more you operate in different siloed functions versus horizontal capabilities that are organized toward solving problems in a more organic type of ecosystem, you’re going to fall behind.

A lot of what I’m doing is moving us into this type of operating model. It’s really an inside-out approach to shifting the operating model to function in a more adaptable structure for the needs of our customers. And to be competitive in a global economy that is hyper-localized, that’s the only way to do it. Your organizational model and your processes have to pivot in that way as well.

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.