How To Destroy A Legendary Brand Through Awful Customer Experience: The Legendary Luxury Hotel in NYC Story


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If you are looking for the CliffNotes version of this story it is quite simple – lean on your great heritage and cut costs at your guests’ expense.

I am writing this article not with the purpose of blame and shame and therefore refrain from mentioning the actual hotel’s name.

The hotel’s advertising was very clear: “Each one, the greatest of them all.” You cannot create higher expectations than that. And with those expectations I booked a long awaited 4-day vacation at this luxury New York City legend. At $600 a night I could have gone to any luxury hotel in New York City. I chose this hotel. After all it’s the greatest of them all.

The reality I faced was by far different and the great expectation eventually evolved into an even greater disappointment. Going on Trip Advisor to report my experience I discovered that I was not alone. The greatest of them all was ranked at the time #189 out of 435 hotels in New York City. Not a very complementary position. Additionally, guests’ reviews started to pop-up with headlines such as:

“What a bitter disappointment!”

“They are only a name”

“Not worth the hassle or price…..”

“Horrible – stay elsewhere.”

“Such a Shame!!! The queen is dying….”

“Needs more than just a great name and location”

“Can’t wait to leave”

So how did this luxury legend manage to destroy its reputation and brand equity so quickly? It did so in a diligent way. It seems as though a bean counter took a hold of the hotel and started to cut costs without understanding guests’ expectations and the legend’s overall value proposition. Here are a couple of principles from its book of brand-destroying rules.

Disregard Guests’ Time – It’s Christmas time and the hotel is full. Apparently that was a huge surprise to the hotel management who did not staff their reception and guest services accordingly causing long wait times for EVERYTHING from check-in to receiving your luggage.

Disempower Employees – Employees acted as apology machines dispensing apologies for all the missing/not working elements of the hotel. No one was empowered to do anything about it.

Stop Caring – Employees were rushing the services, never stopped to ask why you were here or if you were satisfied with your stay. When I checked out I made a point of going to the reception desk to do it and yet not a single question was raised about satisfaction.

Neglect Your Product – My $600-a-night suite included rusty vents, peeling paint and unscrewed door handles. Traditional luxury-suite amenities were missing such as mouthwash and body gel and although we were a couple we were allocated only one bathrobe. Only after repeated requests did we receive another one.

Reduce Services – On Saturday it was impossible to receive a newspaper or a cup of coffee. The coffee was only available if I decided to pay for a full breakfast. I was sent to buy myself the newspaper and the coffee outside the hotel. There used to be a Starbucks at the hotel but it has since closed down. For comparison purposes, every luxury hotel provides newspapers all week long and in some, a cup of coffee is available free of charge in the morning.

After 8 PM it was not possible to have a drink with my wife. Why? One bar was shut down altogether. Another closed after 8 PM and the only option was to sit on a stool at the steakhouse restaurant. Not your luxury experience.

Disregard Cleanliness – Room service carts and trays were left for hours before they were picked up, creating a very unpleasant experience walking in the hallways. Ours was neglected for more than 4 hours outside our room.

Ignore the Most Loyal Customers – As diamond highest level elite member of the hotel’s loyalty program, I am entitled to several benefits. The hotel’s new version of benefits was a slimmer version. Gone were the personal letter, fruit plate, breakfast coupons and lounge access. This luxury legend’s version was two bottles of water to be removed from your mini bar and Wi-Fi access. When I checked out, the elite guests reception desk was not staffed at all, which thereby required me to wait in line again.

Provide Lip Service Responses – Trying to express my frustration with employees was futile. So I posted my impressions on Trip Advisor. The hotel in response posted the following:

, Public Relations Manager at, responded to this review
December 26, 2012
Thank you for taking the time to share feedback on your recent stay with us. We always appreciate hearing from our guests as new perspectives help us to continually evolve our service to best meet and exceed the needs of our guests. We are sorry to hear you were disappointed in your stay due in part to our staff’s service and we will use your input in our ongoing training as we strive for superior guest service. We believe the best service is anticipatory and we work hard to deliver this brand standard. We hope to have another opportunity to show you the world class hospitality you expect and deserve from us should you return to New York in the future.

Thank you,
Name reserved for confidentiality

Seriously? I paid $1800 so you can have learning opportunities for your employees? How about compensation? I do not envy the PR manager’s job. She has posted many apologies out there including apologizing for ruining one guest’s birthday. But if you respond to upset customers do not insult their intelligence.

I have recently started to post my reviews on Trip Advisor. In a single month I posted 13 reviews and according to Trip Advisor over 6,500 people read them in that month! The above response will not do anything to rectify the issue and only will exacerbate the frustration of already pretty upset customers.

This is a sad story. Seeing a legendary brand being destroyed like this. This is so far from being the greatest of them all. If any of the celebrities adorning the luxury hotel’s walls would have been treated that way we did, I doubt they would ever frequent the hotel again. I feel bad for the employees who were tasked with apologizing for bad management decisions. I debated whether or not to write about it, as I usually do not share my personal bad experiences. But when I noticed the surge in bad reviews and the hotel’s low ranking among New York hotels, I realized it is not just about me. It was time to bring this to a broader awareness and learn the lessons.

What are the lessons to be learned from it? Unfortunately, nothing new. Just a reminder of the classic lessons:
1. Don’t lean on the past. Evolve and develop exciting value.
2. Do not over-promise and under-deliver
3. Empower your people
4. Don’t take customers for granted
5. Respect your loyal customers
6. Surprise and delight your customers
7. Solve customers’ problems with customers in mind

The saddest part is probably that these are the lessons the hotel applied to become the legend and claim the “greatest of them all” position. But then when it achieved it, management decided to ignore the rules and apply self-centric, cost-conscious, value-destroying rules. This indulgent self-conviction that customers will always come back regardless of what you do to them and how you disappoint them is exactly the milestone pointing toward great brand decline. Unfortunately this luxury legend has chosen this path and is creating a new legacy for itself.

Lior Arussy
One of the world’s authorities on customer experience, customer centricity, and transformation, Lior Arussy delivers results. His strategic framework converts organizations from product- to customer-centricity. It is drawn from his work with some of the world’s leading brands: Mercedes-Benz, Royal Caribbean, Delta Air Lines, MasterCard, Novo Nordisk, Walmart and more.Arussy is also the author of seven books, including Next Is Now (May 2018)


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