Lessons Learned at W Hotels
A paradigm-shifting trendsetter for the hospitality industry, W Hotels was the first brand to set the tone for modern luxury customer experiences in the hotel space. From its careful branding to its invigorating atmosphere and sultry décor, W Hotels knows how to make guests not only feel at home, but also feel the need to return. Here are some insights into how they set the stage for an industry-wide pivot that we’ve come to take for granted in the luxury space in 2015, and what we can still learn from them, today.
It was often reiterated to our corporate team that we should focus on creating a lifestyle experience and a sense of comfort that felt like home. Though it was not your typical home, it as more comforting than just any place to sleep at night. This feeling of home was strategically achieved on four fronts (product, place, process, and people).
While W worked to create a product that people wanted, in the end it was still a hotel; something that has been replicated many times. What set W apart were its strategic partnerships. They introduced recognized chefs and celebrity brands into their restaurants, unafraid to allow others to run their food and beverage operations. They created a marketing partnership with Apple to launch fashion, art, and other lifestyle events.
In today’s fast-paced, short-attention-span environment, you must be willing to partner with others within your customer’s brand set. Customers want an experience, which is much easier to create when you collaborate and create something special with others. Ask yourself, who are your strategic partners, and how are they elevating your product in the customer’s eyes?
Renaming spaces around the hotel to reflect the at-home nature of the lifestyle brand, W shifted “lobby” to “living room,” and “elevator” to “lift.” This was done to inspire the sort of casual hangouts that one would find at home. People felt comfortable mixing and mingling in the living room, and they felt an emotional connection to the brand, which wasn’t there when the area was a cold lobby meant just for checking-in and checking-out.
Today, if you want your customers to hang out longer and feel more connected to you, you need to create an environment that allows people to refresh and recharge as required, while also allowing for social interactions and collisions. W created an environment that people wanted to be a part of and talk about. Do your customer spaces do the same?
The Whatever/Whenever mentality of W Hotels has become pervasive in hospitality, but when it originated no one had thought of the concept, yet. Guests were frequently misdirected to housekeeping or room service, and were often frustrated by the number of calls they had to make to get something done. At W, dialing Whatever/Whenever ensured that any need could be satisfied quickly and efficiently: it took the guesswork out of requests, putting guests at ease.
Customers continue to be frustrated by the number of calls they have to make with many brands, which wastes their time. The lesson for any brand is to ensure you are creating a single point of contact for your customers, empowering and enabling staff to not have to pass a customer on. The Whatever/Whenever mentality should be part of every business; after all, respecting your customer’s time should be one of your highest priorities.
When you utilize a script for guest interactions, training and hiring is fairly straightforward, but the guest interaction is not authentic. When W shifted to an authentic, unscripted experience, it required more emphasis on talent selection and training. W had to harvest the right personalities and groom them for premium service delivery that works in a lifestyle brand.
With so many businesses struggling with their guest interactions, they often revert to scripting and strict adherence to rules and procedures. If you want your customers to interact with a robot, then invest in technology. If you want your customers to interact with warm and friendly people who care, then hire those people and immerse them into your brand without removing the personalities that make them special.
It was an honor to be a part of such an innovative and industry-disrupting hotel brand. We learned so much, and those lessons are still relevant today. Partner with other like minded brands to create great experiences, and to elevate your products position; create spaces that your customers want to hang out in by themselves or with others; minimize your customers frustrations by creating a single point of contact that can deliver whatever they want and need; and, finally, select great people and invest in their training without compromising their personalities or character.