Dear Luxury Hotels: Stop Trying So Hard

As I mentioned yesterday (in the context of the hotel hosting six weddings in a day), I spent the weekend at the St. Regis Monarch Beach. It’s not my favorite hotel destination in the world, though it’s a great weekend getaway from LA.

I had an amazing time for the two days I was there, and would return in a heartbeat. But there was one thing I noticed which couldn’t help but make me cringe.

Generally I have lower expectations of service in the US than I do in Asia, for example. The service culture in most Asian countries is simply better, and also comes across more sincerely, especially when it comes to high end hotels.

So while I appreciate hotels trying to provide great service in the US, sometimes I feel like they just fall miserably short, because they try too hard.

I’ll use the St. Regis Monarch Beach as an example. I’m not trying to pick on the hotel, since I’ve noticed this problem at lots of properties, and it seems to get more and more common. The reason I’m writing about it in this context is because I was truly there for relaxation, so had time to really notice everything.

St-Regis-Monarch-Beach-1

For example, as I approached the check-in desk I was asked for my last name, and said it to the associate as I got out my credit card and ID. In the roughly three minute check-in process, he repeated my name 16 times… and pronounced it incorrectly every single time.

Even if he had pronounced it correctly, I’d rather every sentence not start with my name. It just seems so painfully insincere and forced. For that matter, the only time I’m impressed by someone addressing me by name is when they do so from memory, as it shows some effort. If someone is just reading off a sheet of paper or regurgitating what I just told them, I don’t see the point.

While this property has some great employees, many of the staff here seem to be so rigid in how they talk to guests, and I’m guessing that’s simply a function of how they’re trained.

Given the check-in experience, I decided to continue counting how often I was addressed by name. I stopped counting at 100. How many times was my name pronounced correctly? Once.

It would be one thing if an employee actually knew my name, but in this case it was simply the employees using every guest’s name after they gave their room number and name, be it at the pool, bar, restaurant, etc.

St-Regis-Monarch-Beach-2

On top of the forced over-the-top name calling, I also noticed the other forced vocabulary. The only word most staff members seemed to know when it came to acknowledging a request was “certainly.” Which is a good term, except when it’s clearly forced.

For example, ordering room service:

“Hi, I’d like to place an order please.”
“Certainly. How many guests will I be assisting tonight, Mr. Schlappig?”
“Two.”
“Certainly. And what can I get you, Mr. Schlappig?”
“A Caesar salad with chicken and the Mongolian beef.”
“Certainly, Mr. Schlappig.”
“And then a bottle of sparkling water, please.”
“Certainly. Will that be all, Mr. Schlappig?”
“Yep.”
“Certainly Mr. Schlappig, we will have that to your room within 40 minutes.”

Just to contrast the above, one of my favorite employees was Justine, who worked at the tram stop (which takes you from the hotel down to the beach club). We used it Saturday, and she was so sincere and nice. And she was comfortable just referring to us as “guys.” I never thought that would be a noteworthy salutation, but after every sentence starting with my mis-pronounced last name, it was a lovely change of pace. She asked what we had planned that evening. We said we’d have dinner at some restaurant in Laguna Niguel.

StRegis-Tram

Then the next day when we returned to the tram and she was working, she said “nice to see you again, guys. How was dinner last night?” She proceeded to carry on a conversation which made me feel like I was actually talking to someone who was engaging and interested, as opposed to someone trying to regurgitate their customer service manual.

I know this might sound silly, but to me that’s good service. It’s not about forcing people to be so rigid that they lose their personality, but rather about being able to read a situation and address people accordingly, rather than having a formula to follow.

But then again I guess that’s the difference between a luxury hotel with 400 rooms and an Aman Resort

I’m curious where you guys stand. Does anyone actually prefer rigid, formulaic service at big luxury hotels (where service won’t be that personalized), or where do you stand? Are some hotels just missing the mark?

Comments

  1. I think a lot of this is generational, and some luxury hotels still train their employees in a more old school way that even I (someone in his mid-30s) finds stuffy. One example is how Ritz Carlton employees worldwide are trained to respond with “my pleasure” in response to practically everything.

    Agree 100% on the use of names– it’s great when it’s spontaneous, but gets a bit tiresome in your examples. A great example of it being done in a positive way was at my recent stay at the Intercontinental Lisbon. When I arrived at the club lounge, I was asked (by an employee I had not yet met) for my room number, and she immediately responded (without looking at any computer or printout) with, “Ah yes, welcome Mr. XXXX.”

  2. Agree 100% but this is only the case at the lower tier 5 Star hotels like St. Regis and PH.

    Aman trains their employees not to be as intrusive while still keeping the personal touch

  3. I stayed at this hotel for a weekend back in June, and they did the same thing with my name, over and over when I checked in.

    I can see why they do it though, most of the people staying at this hotel were, well arrogant as hell, and that’s putting it lightly. I must have seen about ten times during my stay the staff being treated like SHIT from the customer’s as they all think that because they have money they can treat people like ASS.

    The hotel is nice and all, but the people is what really put me off and I won’t be returning, also the breakfast is a bit of a joke, a buffet ? Really….is this Vegas ? and for $80 per person you would have thought they could have included the coffee.

    I know this property is expensive and the people who stay here all seem to have a ton of money, but the environment is very stuffy and uptight. I’m not saying that everyone who stays at this hotel is like that, this is just what I witnessed.

  4. David is spot on here — not that the St. Regis is poor quality, but the *true* five star properties in the world are typically better in that regard.

  5. When you say they did not pronounce your name correctly… do you mean they did not use a proper, German pronunciation? Or that it was as if they were not listening at all when you said your name?

  6. What was the response of the hotel general manager when you shared your experience at the property? Observing a trend in behavior is the first step. The most important step is to take action to re-direct the situation while still in progress.

  7. Well, first question is – So how do we pronounce your name correctly?

    I don’t like any service related business that forces being cordial. I want to interact with people, not machines, automatons and canned scripts. I get a good number of surveys from airlines and hotels where one of the first several questions is, “Were you greeted with a smile?” and “Did they include your name in the greeting?” Hey great. Let’s do that and now that we’ve established that you know who I am, let’s talk like normal people for the rest of this conversation, OK?

  8. Ben, here’s the problem. Mr. Schlappig, the heart of the matter is that they don’t pay people enough to genuinely care. So, Ben, finding that shuttle driver that seemed genuinely interested is an outlier. They don’t pay her enough to care, but she does anyway because she’s simply that kind of person. But Mr. Ben, a person like that with basic social skills is going to certainly find a better paying job eventually.

    OK, I had to, but in all honesty it’s true. The reason they sound like a 419 scam is because they will only pay for the “memorize my lines” staff – generally inexperienced people, and when that staff gets better, they’ll go somewhere else that pays for higher caliber service professionals.

  9. If someone refers to me by my last name (especially if they manage to butcher it), I simply ask them to call me by my first name.

    Being called by the last name doesn’t always have to feel weird — it’s all about being natural which, in this case, it sounds like the employees were just obeying the rulebook but not really trying to sound natural.

  10. Hey Ben –
    Lots of good comments here – notably DWT, Dan and Ed. There’s likely several things occurring – all of which they mentioned, from generational differences (including the stuffy clientele who suffer from entitlement syndrome) and the rigidity so many customer service managers and trainers still seem to hurl onto their employees in wasted training sessions. The other aspect I’ll mention – with the disclaimer that I do have bias to anything in Southern California – is that the property is in SoCal. There are great exceptions to this rule, but as I read your post, I couldn’t help but think of this aspect: few things worth anything are ‘real’. It’s a fantasy, a charade.

    Being real and genuine – oddly enough – doesn’t take a ton of training if someone is truly interested in serving others in a hospitality/service industry. If hotels, airlines, etc. spent more time and energy in hiring the right people in the first place and less on training them to rigid, disingenuous standards, the world would be better off.

    I agree with you 100% on Asian hospitality. We commented constantly on our Asian trip that the staff at the hotels there should train those in the US on how it’s done. Sadly, however, we have a culture here that will have nothing of it. Good news is that is slowly changing as more millennials – who thrive on real, genuine interaction and experiences are gaining greater influence into so many industries. Thankfully.

  11. I think we shouldn’t worry about hotel employees incorrectly pronouncing names. It is hard to pronounce people’s names if not acquainted with them. Personally I don’t care if they pronounce my name wrong, as long as the pronunciation is close. It can also be a conversation opener, right?

  12. Kelly has a great point – that the property was in SoCal. As someone who grew up in SoCal, I visited Disneyland hundreds of times and was impressed by the level of Disney service. Until I went to Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, where the service was a level far and away better. Sadly, the fakeness of SoCal even seeps into the Magic Kingdom.

  13. @ John — I heard over a dozen pronunciations, most of which were totally off (like adding an “n” to my last name).

  14. @ Dan @ Victoria — I’d say “it’s pronounced exactly like it’s spelled,” but that confuses some people more. “Schlah-pig” would be the correct pronunciation, I guess.

  15. @ Steven — They just weren’t listening at all. Like saying “Schlapping” rather than “Schlappig.”

  16. I also love this hotel for a weekend getaway from LA. Little over an hour drive but seems like a world away when you get there. However, I have to agree with you that the service in general wasn’t the best. Our housekeeper was absolutely the worst. She would always show up when we were in the room and then would ask her to come back an hour later, she would say “certainly” and then when we would return to the room 3 hours later, the room was never cleaned. This happened everyday, several times a day.

  17. I also have a frequently mispronounced name and as far as I’m concerned, either take the time to figure out how to say it correctly, or please don’t bother. It grates on me every time a mispronuciation is repeated to me, and that much repetition would have made me nuts.

  18. Generally I did not have any expectations on services when staying at any hotels in Australia. But last time when i went with Langham Sydney, prior to reaching the counter, I was recognized by the GSA and she remembered my name and addressed itproperly. In addtition, she could even remember the plan I told her yesterday and check whether I had great time in that event.

  19. Can’t imagine what the fuss is here Mr Slap-Pig.
    A pleasure to serve you oink oink lol
    Amazing hotel with the most sincere staff in or out of Asia
    I’ve been following this hotel for years on social media and stayed once
    I personally will never be back. First thing I arrived at 7 PM and checked in
    Walked a far distance to their health club and told the fitness center would be locked shut at 8 PM
    But I had 7 minutes to complete my work out. Certainly worth the resort fee right there!
    No upgrade as a Platinum member (tons of suites online) and folks as you say that are stiff and faking hospitality. Insincere as it comes
    I’ve been a hundred times happier at Hyatt Huntington Beach and a host of other more reasonably priced properties and will never be back. Its also dark as hell at night driving in at nighttime in their entryway with poor lighting for a luxury hotel
    They don’t respond to unhappy guests in social media and only care about $$$$$$$ emptying your pockets. Otherwise great hotel!
    Though not the hotels fault .If you have T mobile don’t think of using your phone in house
    Did I say the hotel is overpriced?

  20. Customer service over the phone is largely the same these days. A common complaint people have is “I want to talk to a person, not a machine.” Well, the people are just like machines now. You give them your name and it’s “thank you for that.” Then you verify your address and it’s “thank you for that.” They’re just trying to be friendly, so it’s hard to fault them too much, but they’re clearly just reading from a corporate script. It’s so robotic and impersonal that it’s having the opposite effect of what they intend.

  21. At last I have found my people! Someone who gets annoyed by that cookie cutter faux hospitality.

    I too have a difficult to pronounce German name, oft mangled by service staff. I have got to the point where I congratulate people when they get it right, or at least say it with an implied question mark so I can put them right.

    My signature experience about ‘name calling’ was at the Suhkatai in Bangkok about a decade ago. We arrived late in the evening, and from the porter to every employee we met on the way to being checked-in in to our room, we were greeted with a bow (wai), and our names. We hadn’t even checked in yet! I was just amazed. On reflection of course, we were a male couple arriving late at night, so I guess we were fairly identifyable, but at the time, I was simply amazed.

    And @lopere, this entire blog is about first world problems – fortunately.

  22. Hey Lopere. Thanks for your trite “insight.”
    Visit.
    The.
    Haiti.
    Today.
    Travel.
    Blog.
    If.
    You.
    Prefer.
    Discussing.
    3rd World.
    Issues.

  23. The part that confuses me most about this it that it doesn’t seem like that hard of a name to pronounce.

  24. I make a point of requesting that I be called by my first name when I check in and that seems to ease the formality that has been bashed into them. It is a foreign concept in Starwood hotels but when I insist they will play my game.
    My regular SPG hotels in Australia and Singapore have obviously retained my “quirk” on my profile and I am now always welcomed with my first name.
    Strangely, the doormen can also manage it but the porters always defer to Mr Matheson!
    I can live with that!

  25. I have a very German maiden name. If I say it phonetically, 99% spell it “Poley”. If I spell it, Pohle, people phonetically say “Pole.” I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Of course, I did always know when it was a cold call because the caller said my name wrong.

    So I got married and took my husband’s last name. Do you know how many times I have to spell “Lee?” Yeah, way more than you would think. I’m blonde. People assume that my last name is spelled Leigh. Hubby is Chinese…

  26. The D.C Hilton was constantly calling my aunt by my surname (I made the booking). It falls really flat when ‘service’ is so careless.

  27. Nothing better than being Mr and Mrs Griffin when you are son/mother traveling together. We sure have stories to share!

  28. sincerely not trying to zing you here, but how is this any different from you asking at the end of every post – “I’m curious about what you guys think about _____ .” You’re a fairly self-centered opinionated guy, it’s part of your charm ha ha, and so you “really” don’t care what I, or most think. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t as you say, “force it”. Bc it comes off as insincere click bait. So you see, we all do it in various capacities – even you – so to answer your question, yes it annoys me.

  29. Luxury Hotel??!?? It’s time to get back on the road and out of SoCal / SPG / Marriott etc. – hopefully a forthcoming trip report will showcase a few of the world’s best properties and then you can “call a spade a spade.” To me, this is nothing more than a glorified Westin on the wrong side of PCH…. I would, however, be interested in hearing how your experience differed down the street at the Montage (presumably drawing on the same employee talent base)…

  30. I wish they would try harder at not ripping people off. A $30 resort fee AND a $40 parking fee? I mean, seriously just pick one please. That’s the kind of gouging that drives me to dine* off the resort, if you’re going to force me to pay for valet parking in a suburb, I’m going to make sure I use my vehicle often.

    *Loved the food (and prices) at the Schwack Beach Grill btw.

  31. Whoa, SE– mighty heavy chip on your shoulder there, buddy. I love that Lucky ends with that, and I think he seems (based on his responses) to be really interested in what ever we all have to say. He’s also way less defensive than some other bloggers I could name.

    Unrelated issue that one of the other commenters reminded me of: assuming that couples traveling together share a last name. Geez, people, it’s 2015. Even if he IS my husband there’s a great chance we don’t share a last name. Presumptions are both lazy and rude and fine hotels should always train on these issues.

  32. I hope you enjoyed the Indian wedding at the hotel on Saturday. It went on for hours and hours. We were there checking a wedding venue for my daughter and could not believe that the swimming pool is right behind where couples get married. In addition to that amount of idiocy, we were told that the hotel is being redesigned and they really don’t know about colors or what will and won’t be there after the work is done. The only think they knew for certain was that the fountain by the pool was being removed to stop blocking the ocean water from wedding pictures. She decided on the Ritz down the road which was immensely better for having a wedding.

  33. I had a similar feeling in Japan, not only at (luxury) hotels, but with the customer service in general. I can feel or sense if someone is being genuine or robotic, and I almost always prefer a genuine, personalized approach. I don’t think your feelings have anything to do with a “generational problem” or be a “first world problem.” You’re a travel blogger, and I really appreciate you writing about things like this. Thank you.

  34. I was there this also at the same time. Would have liked to say hello if I would have known. I found employees on both side of the spectrum. Concierges were rude, cold and unfriendly. Also the breakfast manager was rigid as a statue without any facial expresion.
    Front desk shared my same name (Ricky) and we had a nice conversation. Waived $40 parking fee as a gesture for being platinum, since it was my first time at the hotel. Also my waiter Enrique at breakfast was fantastic.It helped we communicated in spanish but he was very, very nice without trying. I gave him one platinum employee recognition card.
    I agree that this hotel is a glorified Westin. Good beds but nothing really special about it.

  35. @ Ricardo — Sorry I missed you! I had to pay the $40 valet fee, so sounds like you lucked out. Find that cost to be kind of crazy for valet at a resort, especially since there’s already a resort fee.

  36. Many years ago, I’ve stayed with my folks in a high class little hotel at a winter destination in the south of Brazil. Our room was on the second floor, so we took the elevator, but the bellboys was not allowed to do so. Surprisingly, he reached the room before us. I don’t know how, but he managed to climb four flights of stairs with our luggage. But the thing that most bothered me was that he was evidently trying to hide the effort he just had to do. Those were the “Hotels rules”. Unfortunatelly, as @James has said, there are a lot of people who can’t stand being in the same space with an employee of any kind. And apparently for the hotel (for which I’ll never come back), treating the associates like second class animals is a fancy thing.

  37. To me, I think it is nice when the agents make use of my name. Once at the beginning and once at the end is sufficient. I know they are just reading it from the screen, but it makes you feel less like a number and more like a person. But when they do it as many times as you said, that is too much because it is insincere.

    I agree. The fact that the tram operator remembered you and about what you discussed the previous day has a lot more impact than the agent that says your name 100 times.

  38. I love the thought of you being referred to as Mr Schlapping!

    Anyhoo – I think you should do a wee YouTube of you pronouncing & then mispronouncing your name. Purely for research purposes.

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