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Can the Customer "WOW" Go Mainstream!

The W Hotel Enters Boston's Competitive Lodging Market

By Ragsdale Hendrie, October 2009

Boston is a pretty toney town, even though it has no classic song, like New York, Chicago or San Francisco (“Down by the River Charles” and “Charlie on the MTA” don’t quite cut it).  High end Retail is prominent, from iconic hotels, Newbury Street merchants, extraordinary cuisine, cultural institutions, attractions and a well read, traveled, educated consumer.  Boston is a Destination of Choice.

Shortly, there will be a new player on the crowded, competitive lodging landscape, the W Hotel, which has a different, dynamic approach to business and hospitality.  Inspired by theater and the senses, they plan to “WOW” their Guests and make every Experience memorable.  We all need to watch this opening and first year of operation, for this just may be the new business model, not only for hotels but also for all of retail. 

It is about the Consumer Experience, which today has been devalued across the board.  Some lodging companies have experimented successfully already, such as Ian Schraeger, Kimpton and, locally, the Liberty Hotel.  They have proven their differentiation.   But, the W Hotel seems to have gone one step further with their staff enculturation process – the employees are the theatrical troupe, there to inspire, to entertain and transport their Guests. 

Firstly, according to the Boston Globe (10/25/09), as reported by Katie Johnston Chase, their “casting call” culled 300 employees from 7,000 applicants.  The troupe has now been founded.  They use special lingo – Housekeepers are “Stylists”, the Lobby is the “Living Room”, and “Whatever/Whenever” means exactly that.  They have undergone extensive training to create this Culture of WOW.  The target Guest audience is the Trendsetter – classy, cool, hip (with some pocket change).  Perhaps, not quite mainstream, the W Hotel exhibits on a bigger stage a newer paradigm for doing business.

The crux of being a successful brand in this Experience Economy revolves around orchestrating 'Branded Moments of Truth', not only into an exceptional exercise in service but also a seamless brand story built by the geometric progression of staged, authentic moments. Many companies latched upon sensationalizing their Brands, transforming our sensibilities: escape, actualization, feel good, wanton, safe and satiated. Not bad messages! And, our   Hotel Customers— the Boomers, the Road Warriors, the Lifestyle Seekers — bought into it. Our product offerings demonstrated our commitment: spacious beds, high thread count, curved shower curtains, rich color schemes, flat screen TVs. Luxury and comfort —pretty tasty!!

It is all about the Experience.  We are in the 'feeling business'. If that sounds manipulative, it is, because Consumers have been misled so often. In the past year, your staff has been slashed, amenities diminished, product hardly maintained, quality standards not upheld – the list goes on. The truth is that if you present yourself as you really are in all things, deliver on the functional, emotional and aspirational promises you make, and engage your customers in a personal, ongoing relationship, brand loyalty and repeat business will be your reward. 

Your strategy commences with how you construct and frame your Brand message. This exercise does not take place in a vacuum; rather, the ingredients include listening to customers, staff and vendors, challenge, taking a few whacks, chancing innovation, all wrapped around a force field of energy and passion.  The W Hotel appears to have a moving script, painstakingly created by theatrical, hospitality driven screenwriters.

As we are what we say we are,  our Brand has to be verified by our customer, based upon how we delivered on their expectation(s), impacted by what they felt, how all their senses interacted, and how their perceptions turned into reality - the validation process - our delivery. This cosmic challenge is dictated by two factors: the reliability of your brand promise while your guest/customer is with you and the successful interaction of your staff, who create the relationship, which makes the experience remarkable or just “chopped liver”. 

Management creates either the compelling dynamic or the lost opportunity. A solid customer service orientation and superb communication skills, specifically interpersonal, dramatically reinforce, or not, effective interaction and relationship building.  Most of us would be pleased with simple courtesies — welcome, thank you, we appreciate your business, have safe travels, and even these few words are rare. The W Hotel has the W’s Secret Seven Ways to create a positive Guest Experience.

The Experience business is driven by that memorable relationship. Take nothing for granted. Invest in all your Customer Contact Ambassadors, optimize their behaviors, create a standard of excellence, and become distinctive. This is absolutely critical for the men and women we have selected to represent and sell us to the public. They become the "face", the persona, of our business before one step is taken onto our property. We want them poised, polished, confident and informed.

How will this W Hotel – Boston performance play out?  The reviews are not in yet, but there is good Buzz.  As quoted in the Globe, “Tell me the last time you Wowed a guest”, hotel general manager William Bunce asked a veteran doorman.  Try taking that same question to your front desk, your servers, your sales associates, your call center agents, bank tellers, grocery store cashiers, etc.  Most would not even know what you are talking about.  Business simply cannot be conducted as was usual.  That is so last year.  Break a leg, W Hotel!

By means of disclosure, the author has absolutely no ties to either Starwood or the W Hotels, other than early career experience with WESTIN many, many years ago.


Ragsdale Hendrie
Telephone/Fax: 978-346-4387

Also See: The Only Differentiator Left in the Guest Experience Is Service / Ragsdale Hendrie / August 2009

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