Customer Service Failure at a Starwood Hotel

After some 8-hour travel — 6 hours of driving from Northern Virginia to New York City where I’m participating in the Affiliate Summit East 2009, and a 2 hour business meeting in Wilmington, DE — I checked into the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers (member of Starwood Hotels group). The girl at the reception was as nice as she could be, and since I’m traveling with my wife and daughter, she kindly offered us a choice of either a king size bed with a rollaway one (waiving a $30/day charge for the latter) or a room with two twin size beds. Both of the options were unexpected exceeding of our expectations. We decided to check out the one with two beds first, and then make our final decision. Since we were pleased with it (very much so), we decided to go with such a room.

Then I realized that I left my suit and shirts in the car, went down to the hotel’s garage, and asked the attendant if he could get me my truck to get my clothes out. The guy hardly spoke any English, but I patiently paraphrased my request several times, and he seemed to understand what I wanted, and quickly turned around and walked away to help other newly-parking hotel guests. He served three of four cars, then came back to me, and asked me what it is that I want. After my new attempt at explaining he turned his back on me again, and went away to a little room to do something — to come back and ask me the same question again… It wasn’t even funny at that point. I mean, it was simply unacceptable (I’d understand it if I were speaking Russian or Cantonese, but not English)… Eventually I did get what I wanted, but is this how a hotel customer service supposed to be?

I experienced two diametrically opposite expressions of customer service at one hotel. C’mon, Sheraton, you gotta be consistent! Or is the “Customer is King” approach slowly getting excluded from the Sheraton’s philosophy? I sure didn’t feel this way at other Starwood hotels I stayed at recently:  namely, The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center where I had a wonderful stay in June of this year, and Sheraton Frankfurt Hotel & Towers where I received a stellar customer service just two weeks ago. The Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers started off extremely well, but sadly, the consistency was missing.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, is known for saying that “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary” [italics mine]. It is my belief that this applies to all businesses, but especially to the hospitality one.

6 thoughts on “Customer Service Failure at a Starwood Hotel”

  1. I hate to say it but maybe it’s our culture in the U.S. In Europe there’s an expectation that you speak the language of the land to be able to work. In the U.S. you’re considered a racist if you have that policy. There is also the argument that there isn’t an official language in this country, even though English is regarded as the language of the land.

    I would like to see some uniformity and expectations in America that you have to be able to communicate with the customer to be able to land that job.

    We would need to specify an official language for that expectation to come to reality and with a growing hispanic population, you may have to specify both English and Spanish as official languages.

  2. How interesting. I didn’t know that in the U.S. there no “expectation that you speak the language of the land” if you want “to land that job”. What an eye-opener (to multiple similar situations I’ve encountered in the past).

  3. Hi,
    I’m not saying that I believe that soemone is a racist for expecting a person to speak the language of the land. I jsut think there’s an element in this country that is misguided and believes that.

    I’ve actually been called a bigot for saying that people should leanr english when they come to the United States.

    Oh Well!

  4. Last year I purchased a “Two night stay for two” at a fundraiser which was due to expire November 14, 2009. My niece was married in September, so I passed the gift certificate to her and her new husband thinking that they would enjoy a weekend in Chicago. The certificate was for the Sheraton Towers. My niece checked the internet for openings, and then called the hotel for booking. (This is a second marriage and getting a sitter for the children, required some planning).

    A reservation could not be booked because the weekend was filled as soon as a gift certificate was mentioned for payment. After many phone calls and five weeks of trying to arrange the weekend my niece asked if I would assist. I reached Michelle Rollins, who told me that she would need to have a supervisor approve the weekend because, we requested a “king bed” and the hotel did not honor certificates if they were 80 percent booked.

    A week passed and Michelle did not call back or return calls. I spoke with Ms. Iversen who suggested that I email Rick Ueno for approval since Mickelle could not be reached. Mr. Ueno did not respond to the two emails sent. I finally reached Michelle and had my niece call her to confirm the reservation. She said that she or someone would call back with a confirmation number. Several days later, I called Starwood Customer service because we had not heard from Michelle and she was not responding to her voice mail. I spoke with Natalie Hanna in customer service, who said that she would file a report. At that time, a supervisor could not be reached and I would therefore be contacted within five days. Natalie did finally email me a confirmation but, she did not give me a case number. After two emails to Natalie requesting the case number, I called customer service again. No case report had been filed. I asked to be transfered to Natalie but was told that she was busy. When her line cleared, my call was directed to her but, it went directly to voice mail. After two more days, no return calls.

    In my last email to Natalie, I asked for the moon…I requested a case number, free parking, breakfast, no tax and most of all an appology for their lack of hospitality.
    Still waiting…

  5. I live in Switzerland. I’ve spent some time in the U.S. I really do think immigrants should be required to learn the language of the country they wish to WORK in. If I want to buy property in the U.S, it shouldn’t matter if I can’t speak the language well, but WORKING is something else!
    PS. I love Starwood

    1. Oh, yes, I still remember both that experience, and this post of 3 yrs back… Yes, I too (still) love Starwood (very much so); yet it’s not so much about the brand, but about the people that… oh, wait! don’t they represent (hence, are) the brand in situations like these?

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