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The Waldorf Astoria Way: Unlocking the Secrets to Exceptional CX

Hey CX Enthusiasts,

This week, I'm taking you on a trip to bougie town as we dive into the luxurious world of the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam hotel.

I'll spill some tea on all the CX practices I observed during my recent stay and my CX takeaways from them.

For those that missed last week, here's how we got here.

  • I'm spending a week in Amsterdam (primarily working, just with a different view).

  • I used Bilt points to get me here–I accumulated these points just by paying rent.

  • My wife and I both have the Hilton Aspire Amex card, which gives us both a free night certificate annually, and we chose Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam (€1,400 per night value for our room).

(This newsie is slowly becoming a points and miles one; frankly, I'm here for it.)

There is so much the DTC/ecommerce world can learn from hospitality, and I hope this newsletter gives you a little glimpse into that.

  • Prepare: Pre-Arrival Touchpoints and Setting the Standard for Excellence

  • Arrive: The First Impression and Personalized Service at Check-in

  • Sustain: Day-to-day Guest Experience and Consistency that Wows

Let's get into it.

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Prepare: Pre-Arrival Touchpoints and Setting the Standard for Excellence

In my early 20's, I was dollar poor but points-rich. I traveled to 30+ countries, staying at luxury hotels.

I've stayed at quite a few Conrads, Waldorf Astorias, Ritz Carltons, and an Andaz or two. I sprinkled in a few stays at boutique luxury hotels that accepted points, like this one in Prague.

So much of my desire to make a career out of CX came from the service I experienced at these hotels. I've learned so much about experience vs. service from the hospitality industry.

As Will Guidara (formerly of Eleven Madison Park) says:

The difference between service and hospitality is simple. Service is black and white; hospitality is color.

Black and white means you are doing your job with competence and efficiency. Color means you make people feel great about the job you are doing for them.

Getting the right plate to the right person at the right table is a service. Genuinely connecting with the person you are serving so you can make a genuine connection? That is hospitality.

As the famous quote from Maya Angelou goes:

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

When I booked the Waldorf, I received a plain text email from the team looking forward to my stay, with a link to this pre-arrival questionnaire.

So many hotels consistently upsell, but only a few do it tactfully, and even fewer use zero-party data like this to get a clear understanding of what kind of traveler you are, as well as the intention for the trip you are taking.

The beauty of this questionnaire is that it’s not all upselling. It’s done so that your personal concierge can start preparing an agenda for you of things to see and do outside of the hotel as well.

However, this is only worthwhile if the data is acted on. I received this email a mere few hours after filling out the form.

They found out about Noah joining and created a unique itinerary for him.

Learnings for DTC: Collecting data is cool, but worthless if you have no plan on creating a personal experience using said data.

So many DTC brands run quizzes to sell you sh*t quickly, and very few use the data to handhold the customer through the journey with their brand the way the Waldorf did.

Collect useful data, and then make sure you use it thoughtfully.

Arrive: The First Impression and Personalized Service at Check-in

When arriving at the Waldorf, I noticed how prepared the team was. When mentioning our last name, they immediately remembered Noah and welcomed him with penguin-shaped chocolate (he subsequently had three more).

They asked about our flight, and told us that although our upgraded room was not yet ready, they had a temporary room prepared for us to use while we waited. They tracked our flight based on the pre-arrival questionnaire.

We chose to take the temporary room and wait for the canal view premium one, and they brought us some coffee to sip on during check-in.

They then reviewed our benefits as a diamond member (complimentary breakfast, additional 30 min free on spa treatments, etc.) while bringing in this big black box.

They had a remarkable collection of scents designed for turndown service, and guests could choose their favorite one to use in their room.

Learnings for DTC: When something goes awry, instead of making a decision you think your customer will love, offer them a choice. Oversold a product? Offer them a refund, but also offer the opportunity to wait and receive it when it’s back in stock.

Second, I love being recognized for loyalty, even if it’s just a mention of my status or relationship with the brand.

Some folks find the “thanks for your 5th order” cringe, but to be honest, I kinda love it.

Lastly, personalization does not always have to be insanely expensive to feel special. In the case of their fragrance, most hotels have one they spray when cleaning the room.

The Waldorf has four, and they allow you to choose. Probably not that much more expensive on their part, but it made me feel hella special.

Sustain: Day-to-day Guest Experience and Consistency that Wows

I found personalization to be a common theme throughout the hotel. Most of it was not a major lift and was undoubtedly high-impact. Some examples:

  • They remembered our breakfast seating and food choices and offered similar options the following days.

  • They rushed out Noah’s food before ours in an effort to keep the chaos low (a win-win, I suppose).

  • They noted that Noah was asleep when they came by for turndown service on day one, so they came earlier the following days.

  • We asked for a blanket for Noah’s stroller on day one, and they had it ready on subsequent days.

  • Every single hotel employee knew us by name within a few hours of our arrival.

  • Restaurant staff maintains this insanely difficult balance of always being around, but never hovering over the table. Whenever you need something, they are always nearby and ready to help.

The kindness we encountered was not just with reception; it also went down to the housekeeping team. It reminded me of the $2,000 rule that the Ritz Carlton is famous for.

 Learnings for DTC: I love that with hospitality, almost everyone has customer interactions at some point, unless they are locked away in a back office.

It allows everyone to put themselves in the consumer's shoes (as opposed to folks just clicking buttons on a screen at a DTC business).

Most fine dining restaurants make all their staff take a shift waiting tables to ensure they get that customer-facing engagement.

More DTC brands should think about doing the same: Put everyone in CX for a few days to learn more about the customers they are marketing and selling to.

One of my favorite Danny Meyer quotes from Setting The Table is: “At its best, a restaurant should not let guests leave without feeling as though they’ve been satisfyingly hugged.”

Great CX takes inspo from there. Regardless of your experience with our product, I want you to feel good that you took a chance to try it.

Another key lesson I took was from the restaurant staff being available and attentive to customers without being overbearing.

In the DTC universe, instead of being annoying and following up every second day, try to always be there answering questions they might have without being pushy.

Lastly, this is only possible with the entire team delighted to be there doing their job.

While they are not doctors saving lives, they are bringing magic to thousands of visitors' lives monthly, which is incredible.

Every customer interaction allows you to go above and beyond and create a customer moment.

Still, most brands move too quickly and focus on response times and resolution times instead of slowing down and being intentional.

Slow down. Read between the lines. Obsess over experience.

That's it for this week!

Any topics you'd like to see me cover in the future?

Just shoot me a DM or an email!

See you next week,

Eli 💛

This week, CX Chronicles is just as beautifully sidetracked as this week’s newsletter is. We are talking to a CPG leader who recently turned to hospitality.

Nathan Woods spent 8+ years as COO of RunGum and employee #1.

He recently joined Bolt Farm Treehouse to lead their marketing. Nathan has a heart for hospitality and is one of my favorite operators and a great longtime friend.

So grateful to have you here with us, Nathan!

1. How did a CPG guy end up in hospitality?

A better question may be, "How did a Hospitality guy end up in CPG?" I have a Master's Degree in Event and Hospitality Management, so as I told our friend Nate Rosen, I actually got sidetracked for a decade with CPG.

From the get-go at Run Gum, I tried to approach everything with a hospitality mentality. Not the hospitality industry per se, but the philosophy and posture of being hospitable, which is—quite simply—the practice of welcoming and showing generosity and kindness to guests (team) or strangers (customers).

The collision that prompted me to leave the CPG and return to hospitality began about a year ago when I started to delve deeper into this concept I have been thinking about—Hospitable Marketing.

I read every book related to hospitality that I could find on Amazon, covering topics from the restaurant and hotel industries, hospitable leadership, and how hospitality relates to faith and communities. I genuinely believe CPG/DTC space can learn a lot from hospitality, but I was also rethinking how our marketing could look more like it too.

And then, I connected with Seth and Tori Bolt. I have been a fan of Bolt Farm Treehouse since its creation and followed the founder Seth, who is also one of the members of the band Needtobreathe, for an even longer time. When the chance to join them came up, the decision was clear and felt like more of a calling than a choice.

2. Can you share your fav Bolt Farm Treehouse story?

I've only been here for two months, but, goodness, the stories and feedback from our guests at Bolt Farm Treehouse are blowing my mind!

This place is all about celebrating life's big moments, but we also create the space for rest and rejuvenation when you're going through the hardest. The stories are amazing. And you know what's also wild? People always rave about the views and accommodations, but so many say that the hospitality they received made their entire trip—naming our staff by name and everything.

It's stuff like that that gets me fired up, you know? Hospitality is about human connection, and I think we need much more of it.

It also reminds me of what Will Guidara says in Unreasonable Hospitality, "(Because) building good products is no longer enough. Serving them efficiently is no longer enough. It's how we make people feel that matters most of all."

Oh, and it has been pretty cool bringing what I learned from DTC over to BFT. Hospitality can definitely learn a lot from how DTC revolutionized customer experience and marketing in the digital world. I'm using tools like Klaviyo, Postpilot, Tolstoy, Beam.fm and shaking things up. 😁