If you’ve stayed at a W hotel, you know how hard they work to be hip. I was at one for three nights this past week, and when I tell you the priority they gave coolness over service wore a little thin by the time we left, I’m being kind.
I was fortunate to go to the first TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C. As usual with these things, the conference had ‘deals,’ (there’s no such thing in that neighborhood) in this case at the Marriott, the Willard and the W. The Marriott was sold out, and the Willard was a little pricier than the W, so I chose the W.
When you arrive, the bellmen are all in black shirts and pants, so initially it’s not easy to spot them. (I can’t imagine how that could possibly work in NY, where black is the signature color.) At any rate, we were shown to our room, which looked eerily like the inside of a refrigerator. White drawers, a bluish brushed glass on shower, white bed. I half-expected the headboard to read ‘crisper.’
The shower is a good example of hip over what’s actually good for the guest. The bluish, but nonetheless transparent, glass faces the room and entranceway so if you are showering when, say, room service walks in, you’ll be revealing more than your preferences for tea over coffee. What is the point?
In the bathroom, there are the requisite toiletries, tissues, towels and robe. There’s a little white bag hanging next to the robe labeled ‘plan B.’ What’s in this mysterious bag? A roll of toilet paper. Seriously? Couldn’t they just put an extra roll under the counter and be done with it?
The worst, though, is when you want to call for anything from a wake-up call to housekeeping to room service. In what must have seemed like a great idea at the time, some marketing guru decided that the guest should dial ‘1’ no matter what they needed, and they would be served.
Three problems with that:
1. They answer with an impossibly cheerful ‘Whatever, whenever! How can I help you?’ Try being greeted that way more than twice and see if your nerves don’t begin to fray.
2. About half the time, the line is busy, especially since the same people who answer also man the front desks.
3. Because they wear so many hats, the Whatever Whenever people sometimes forget to do what they said they would for you. When that happens, the Whatever Whenever greeting makes you want to go through the phone at them.
One of several cases in point: We asked for a wake-up call at 7 am. The Whatever lady asked if we would like a 7:15 follow-up call. I thought that was a great idea, because being on West Coast time (we’d flown in from California), I knew it wouldn’t be easy to wake up. So I said yes, please. She asked if we wanted breakfast, and I said no thank you.
Well, they must have taken the Whenever part a bit too seriously, because the wake-up call never came. We woke up at 9:30. My husband missed his 10 am meeting in Reston, and I was late to register for the opening day of the conference. If that had happened the second or third morning, the results would have been disastrous. We weren’t pleased.
I want to point out here that the hotel did its best to make things right, taking $200 off our bill and sending up wine and cheese. And the next morning when apparently they once again took Whenever a little too much to heart and showed up late with our breakfast, they comped it.
The point is, trying hard to be hip at the expense of service is so 2008. In this kind of economy – and to my way of thinking, in any economy – why not focus your energies on good customer service instead of being cool? Turn down the ‘unz unz’ beat in the lobby so that the concierge can hear your question and the bartender hear your drink order. Let the operator direct my call to housekeeping or room service. I’ll sacrifice the one-touch saccharine greeting for knowing that my request will be honored.
This is hardly the first time I’ve stayed at a W. No doubt, the hotel chain will say, ‘whatever,’ but whenever do I intend to stay at a W again? Never.