Never rest on your laurels (or your brand name)! How the Waldorf Astoria can serve as a lesson to all!


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Doing what I do for a living, I am not easily shocked when I am exposed to unsatisfactory Customer Experiences – either my own, or those that are shared with me. This week, a good friend of mine shared a video clip that almost made me spit out the mouthful of coffee I had just supped! The video served as an extremely powerful lesson of the damage that FAILURE to deliver the experiences that customers EXPECT from a brand can do. If you work for an organisation where leaders are still not convinced of the CONSEQUENCES of failing to continually transform the Customer Experience, you need to get them to read this blog post!

Sadly I am unable to share the video with you. The creator of it decided to remove the video having taught the organisation concerned a valuable lesson! In just 50 hours the video had been viewed 110,000 times and shared 1,200 times. Those numbers would have been HUGE if the video was still accessible today.  Whilst I cannot share the video, I can share screen shots of it – read on to find out what all the fuss was about….


If you know your luxury hotels, you are very likely to have heard of the Waldorf Astoria brand. Now owned by the Hilton empire, the 5 star residence is an icon best associated with the wonderful city of New York (even though the brand has extended to other cities around the globe).  When people hear the name Waldorf Astoria, it tends to conjure up images of luxury, style and grandeur. For over 100 years, the hotel has been pampering the rich and famous.

The Waldorf Astoria is one of many global brands that exist with a reputation that has been built over many years. Just last week I attended an event in the legendary London department store, Harvey Nichols. Again – on hearing that name, you are likely to associate it with luxury and style. It takes years and years to build a brand’s reputation – years and years of hard work, sweat, effort and persistence in continually delivering great experiences to generation after generation of customer.

HOWEVER (there is usually one of those), whilst it takes years to build a reputation, it can take considerably less time to throw it all away!!! With that in mind, I would like to bring you back to the Waldorf Astoria. The description of the hotel in New York on their website is as follows:

The landmark hotel in midtown Manhattan, the Waldorf Astoria New York has set the standard for lavish rooms and suites, exquisite dining and 5-star events for over a century.

Like the Greats of Hollywood, entertainment and international politics before you, experience stately elegance and exceptional service at the legendary Waldorf Astoria New York. A classic example of Art Deco architecture, our Park Avenue hotel sits right at the heart of the action: The Theater District, Fifth Avenue shops, museums, Central Park and Times Square are all within walking distance.

Sample 5-star dishes in restaurants noted for such creations as Waldorf Salad and Veal Oscar, and share romantic after-dinner cocktails in the lounge, as a pianist tinkles the ivories. Our 1,415 guest rooms and suites – featuring spacious, elegant marble bathrooms – are individually decorated with original Art Deco motifs.

Sounds lovely! Lovely does not come cheap though! If you want to stay at the Waldorf Astoria in New York tonight, the cheapest room will set you back $279. If you want breakfast and wi-fi, that price goes up to $324! If you combine the price with your expectation of the brand, you would hope to have a memorable experience for the right reasons. So, with that in mind, I ask you to have a look at the screen shots of the eye watering video created by a very unhappy customer:

The video starts with a less than impressive looking door...

The video starts with a less than impressive looking door… a room with filthy windows...

…in a room with filthy windows…

...and carpet that had clearly not been cleaned properly!

…and carpet that had clearly not been cleaned properly!

'Modern' wardrobes!!

‘Modern’ wardrobes!!

Filthy windowsills!

Filthy windowsills!

The dirt theme continues on the bathroom mirror...

The dirt theme continues on the bathroom mirror…

...and a really quite revolting shower wall!

…and a really quite revolting shower wall!

Although the 'dirt' is included in the price of the room, WiFi is just a 'little' extra!!

Although the ‘dirt’ is included in the price of the room, WiFi is just a ‘little’ extra!!

The video's creator delivers a very clear message...

The video’s creator delivers a very clear message…

It is such a shame that you can not view the video in all its horrible glory. However the screen shots are equally as difficult to look at. The images would be unacceptable if they were taken in a three star hotel in Newcastle – let alone a 5 star hotel in New York!!!

A customer should NEVER have to go to the lengths of creating a video of their experience to transmit their dissatisfaction with an experience. If they are prepared to go to those lengths, there is something very wrong with your business. We will never know the real reason why this customer has now removed the video – I would say that the Waldorf Astoria are very lucky he has. Yet whilst they may be lucky the video has been removed, they MUST use the fact it was created as a catalyst to drive change – and fast!

No brand can rest on its laurels – it does not matter how good your reputation is, or how long it has taken you to build it. Organisations must continually transform or run the risk of customers ‘rebelling’ in the age of ‘consumer control’. I mentioned Harvey Nichols earlier in this post. I was not impressed with the experience I had there either. The toilets were filthy; the staff not particularly well-trained. I expected a lot more from an iconic brand.

No company is too big or too famous to fail. Rather than waiting for your customers to tell you that things have gone too far the wrong way, why not be pro-active – listen, learn and live the customer experience and prevent yourselves from being the next YouTube horror sensation!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


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