Redeeming W Hotels with currency and emotion

10 Jun

[by Todd] Every so often my confidence in big brands is renewed, like 3:10 a.m. the other morning. That was when the president of W Hotels accomplished what I thought was impossible, convincing me that his hotels weren’t arrogant hot spots packed with a bunch of wannabes thinking they are infinitely cooler than they are.

WhateverWell, okay, maybe they are. But at least someone at the top of the hotel chain has a visceral understanding of his brand. The email below (click the link below) captures the story pretty well. But here are the salient facts.

  1. Trip to New York where hotel rooms are harder to find than an solid marketing plan in a Crispin+Porter campaign.
  2. No rooms at Hilton or Marriott, where I have achieved some measure of status in their loyalty clubs. But somehow the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue has rooms. I have a reservation.
  3. Arrive at the hotel at 9:30 p.m. in desperate need of quiet and sleep.
  4. Packed lobby, one person at counter, rooms not ready.
  5. Room is a piece of crap unworthy of any mainstream hotel standards.
  6. Pissed off, unable to sleep, I find the president’s name and email address in coffee table book on the desk.
  7. I write a letter, at midnight, to an email address that is tens of thousands of hotel rooms.

Let’s be honest here. I was venting. At most I figured I would hear from some marketing drone a week or so later. Things got interesting less than a minute later when I got an auto reply from Ross Klein’s mailbox.

I will be out of the country on business June 4th – 7th, with limited access to e-mail and voicemail. For immediate assistance, please contact the following individuals…

Curious, an auto responder on a marketing mailbox. Then my BlackBerry went off at 3:10 a.m. I know this because it was impossible to sleep in aforementioned room.

From: "Klein, Ross" []
Sent: 06/06/2007 03:10 AM
To: Todd Copilevitz; "Baten, Ed"; "Edmundson, Tina"; "Manoukian, Vera"   Subject: Re: From a miserable room in your hotel

Dear Mr. Copilevitz,

I am sorry that I am not currently in NY to handle your urgent issues personally. Certainly your experience is not exemplary of our W standards or aspirations within the arena. While we are aware of some of the issues of the W NY as it prepares for a head to toe renovation, this room should be out of service and our service is inexcusable. 

There is no way we could accept that you pay for this experience either in currency or emotion. The team in New York will comp your stay and work on offering you other accommodations either within the property or at another location. I will follow up as the time zone allows. Kind regards, Ross

Ross A. Klein | President | Luxury Brands Group
601 West 26th Street, Suite 830 | New York, NY 10001
212-380-xxxx | 212-367-xxxx | |


Okay, I am impressed that the president of W Hotels wrote back, perhaps even more so knowing that he was in Europe at the time. But that is not what makes this so interesting. Read this line from his letter carefully.

There is no way we could accept that you pay for this experience either in currency or emotion.

In currency or emotion… How’s that for an understanding of his company’s relationship with its customers? Amazing. I have heard a dozen different takes on building brands and the brand promise, the brand equity, blah, blah, blah. Never before have I heard anything as succinct or powerful.

Needless to say, when the president of the chain speaks, things get done. Night #2 was much nicer. But in that one brief email Mr. Klein took a tired, pissed off critic of his company and turned me into a guy who really wants to believe that Ws are something different. And I’m willing to give them another try.

Mr. Klein, thank you.

(Click the link below to read my email to Ross Klein.)

From: todd.copilevitz@xxxxx
To: Klein, Ross
Sent: Tue Jun 05 23:35:11 2007
Subject: From a miserable room in your hotel

Well Hello, from hell (to paraphrase your own greeting) —

Mr. Klein you should be embarrassed and ashamed of your Midtown New York property on Lexington Avenue. From the horrible service in the lobby, to the appalling conditions of my room, this is shaping up to be one my worst travel experiences ever. And with more than 60K miles annually, that’s saying a lot.

I am currently writing you from the cramped confines of room 928. The fact that there is nowhere to put my suitcase is only the first warning sign of what nightmare this room is. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Myself and a colleague, xxx xxxxx, arrived at your hotel at 9:30 p.m. with confirmed reservations made on May 24th (my confirmation number is C591342895). There was a line of people waiting to check in and only one clerk. When we made it to the counter 20 minutes later it  became obvious why this was going so slowly, you did not have rooms to satisfy the commitments you’d made. Or rather you had rooms, but they weren’t ready yet.

Yes, that’s right. In some feat of hotel management worthy of a college case study, you were still making rooms ready at 9:30 p.m! My colleague was told it would be 90 minutes until his room was ready. I netted out a bit  better, my "NSRM-RQST ROOM AWAY FROM ELEV AND VENDING" got me a stunning queen shoe box less than two steps off the elevator.

Inside my home away from home I find threadbare carpet, a headboard with various dark stains, shredded window shade, a tattered chair with the stuffing literally falling out of the torn arms and a thermostat that is struggling to keep the room just 10 degrees above the actual setting.

We tried talking to the night manager. He offered me a smoking room or a room with a single. Nice. For our inconvenience he assured xxx and I our next stay would be much better. Well, I give him points for being an optimist.

Your kindly letter in my W guide welcomes me into a "total immersion into a world of style, comfort, service and soul… Glow with all the warmth and sheer delight that is your W." Either you have a vicious sense of humor, or haven’t availed yourself of this property.

I have two nights to endure here. If indeed you have an enlightened view of what comfort, service and soul really are, then you’ll find a way to make this situation right before I leave. If not, rest assured W hotels will be taken off our travel plans. I am on the road weekly, with frequent trips to New York. There are too many good hotels to waste time on experiences like this. That’s why I have copied my travel coordinator on this letter. I am sure she will be happy to spread the word to her colleagues throughout our offices.

Have a good day Mr. Klein, I am confident it will be infinitely better than my stay tonight.

Todd Copilevitz
Starwood #507676xxxxx

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