Remember me? Ensuring luxury clients return again and again

happy-customer-279x300The word ‘return’ can make even the most seasoned sales associate quiver with fear. Yet the returning customer presents a golden opportunity for luxury associates to foster the customer relationship. Your mindset can play an important role in cultivating customer relationships. If you view “returns” as a hassle or something that causes you stress, then customers will sense your aggravation. But if you treat the return as an occasion to build and strengthen the connection you have to your customers, you will have laid the path for them to return again and again.

Jon Omer, Vice President Wholesale Distribution at Fabergé said:

Someone once told me it takes about nine times as much as to make a new customer, as it does to retain an old customer.

How much time do you spend fostering existing customer relationships versus attracting new customers?  And how do you get customers to return again and again?

Information is key to cultivating customer relationships. Not only do you want to collect information about your customer, but you want to reciprocate with your own contact information. Make sure you rehearse how to present your business card or contact information in a manner that inspires trust, even if customers are not so forthcoming to share their own data.

To help you develop on positive perspective of the word ‘RETURN’, consider this acronym:
Readiness – Expertise – Trustworthiness – Understanding – Responsibility

Readiness – Be ready for your customers by preparing open-ended questions in advance to help you establish an emotional connection. Be prepared to take note of important dates, celebrations, preferences, and personal details. Ensure you are practiced on how to present your contact information to the customer gracefully.

Expertise – Be an expert on your product and services. Share what new items or features may be debuting that might be of interest your customer. Offer to be available to answer any questions or concerns they may have in the future.

Trustworthiness – How many times has a sales associate asked to you provide a phone number or email address without first establishing a level of trust? If you take the time to create an emotional connection, customers will be more likely to share their personal information. In addition, if you explain why you’re asking for contact information – for example, to keep them informed of new products, upcoming events, sales, etc. – you will provide an incentive for customers to share their data.

Understanding –  It’s not the number of questions you ask, but rather the kind of questions you ask that will help you build trust in your customer relationships. Asking open-ended and strategic questions will not only increase your warmth factor, you’ll also learn what your customers like and what features are most important to them. This earlier post will help you learn what questions to ask: “Good Salespeople Have Great Answers, but Great Salespeople Have Great Questions.”

Responsibility – As a luxury associate, you are responsible for cultivating the client relationship. Consider all the reasons you may have to reconnect with a customer once you’ve made the sale: a handwritten thank you note, a follow-up call to make sure everything is working, a check-in to ensure the gift was delivered, a service reminder, or an invitation to an event.  Additionally, clienteling software can help remind you of upcoming service appointments, special dates, and what’s on customers’ wish lists.

Nurturing – Any relationship requires nurturing and attention in order to grow. Luxury associates need to demonstrate genuine care and concern for their customers. Care needs to inform everything a luxury associate does: caring about the customer, caring about the customer’s needs, caring about the luxury experience, and caring about the presentation. Recently a Gartner Group study found 80 percent of your sales will come from just 20 percent of your existing customers. This is why it’s so important to continually nurture the customer relationship.

What occurs in a typical sales transaction is the associate invests time, energy and emotion into the pre-sale relationship. But once the customer “signs on the dotted line” the relationship ends for the sales associate, and he or she then focuses on the next sale.  Interestingly, Owen and Miller (2004) found that the customer’s interest in the relationship actually increases after the sale. (“I can’t wait to show everyone that new jacket I bought.”) This creates a relationship gap:


For luxury associates, this “gap” can become a fertile time frame in which to build and nurture the customer relationship

If an unhappy  customer comes back to exchange or return an item, to have something serviced or replaced, or even to voice a complaint, then treating the experience as a way to strengthen and develop an ongoing relationship will ensure they’ll return with smiles on their faces next time.


When Matchy Matchy Works: Keeping Your Brand Message Consistent Across Channels


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wereonitYesterday I visited the website of an upscale department store brand to order my favorite Chanel blush. Everything started perfectly. The brand’s logo was displayed elegantly across the top of the page. Its signature black and white color scheme was set off by striking, high resolution images. The ordering process was easy and I was even offered three free samples upon checkout—just as I would have been had I purchased the product in the store itself. Perfect! Almost… As I completed the transaction a final message appeared on the screen: “We’re on it!”

I stopped and wondered if I’d suddenly been transported to an Amazon or Best Buy website. The statement just didn’t fit the brand’s image. In my mind, the sophisticated, expertly suited sales associate I imagined assisting me with my purchase was jarringly replaced with a t-shirt clad kid in sneakers. It created a sort of cognitive dissonance—when your brain tries to hold two contradictory or incompatible thoughts simultaneously.

Luxury brands must consistently deliver the brand’s promise. The high net worth client demands it. Everything that contributes to the customer’s experience: décor, language, packaging sounds, smells, etc., must match the brand’s message. As luxury retailers begin to engage their customers in a digital world, they must ensure a comparable brand experience across all channels.

If something about the experience is inconsistent with the brand—and this stands true both for the product brand as it does for the luxury retailer—then the experience is diminished.  In the report  Digital or Die: The Choice for Luxury Brands from bcg.perspectives (Boston Consulting Group) it states:

Moreover, every touch point contributes to—or detracts from—the customer’s overall perception of the product or service being offered. If a luxury product shows up in oddly irrelevant digital channels, or if additional information about the product is difficult or awkward to obtain online, those experiences will diminish the desirability of the product itself.

Creating a truly cohesive luxury omnichannel experience—one that marries online shopping with the high-end, in-store experience—can be challenging to luxury retailers. But as a luxury consumer, I expect it.




Ask the right questions to create warmth and build customer trust

question-markLast week I was invited to hear Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson talk about her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It. Dr. Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist who writes about the science of motivation. In this book, she explores intentions versus perceptions. For anyone in a sales or customer service position this is recommended reading. If you’ve ever felt that you just weren’t getting through to someone or you weren’t getting your message across the way you intended to, then Dr. Grant Halvorson has some suggestions for you.

There is so much in this book that can be applied to everyday social interactions, business meetings, and customer conversations. But there is one area in particular that I’d like to focus on – and that is developing trust. Anyone in sales will tell you that trust is at the core of the sales process. The customer must trust you before they’ll buy whatever you’re trying to sell.

Dr. Grant Halvorson breaks down trust into two components: Competency and Warmth. You already know how to be competent; this blog won’t help you there. You must know your product and know your competition. But “warmth” is definitely something we can talk about. Warmth helps you creating connections with your customers. Any sales associate can be competent; not all can be warm.

So how does one come across as warm? Dr. Grant Halvorson suggests smiling, looking at people when they’re talking, nodding as they talk. All pretty easy stuff. But sales associates must work against a negative bias that comes as part of the job. Since customers know that salespeople are trying to sell them something, how can a salesperson create trust? This very question was asked at the end of the lecture.  Her response was “People who are good in sales always open with a ton of questions.”

That response reminded me of a post I wrote way back called “Good Salespeople have Great Answers, but Great Salespeople Have Great Questions.” It’s not just the number of questions you ask that will distinguish you as a trusted sales associate, but it’s the kind of questions you ask. Asking open-ended and strategic questions will not only increase your warmth factor, you’ll also learn what your customers like and what features are most important to them. With that in mind, below is a re-post of the article.


Good salespeople have great answers, but great salespeople have great questions

It happened again! I walked into one of those posh, ultra-luxurious shops on Fifth Avenue and the smartly dressed, beautifully coiffed sales associate asked “May I help you?” I’m sure she’d been trained on the company value proposition and was knowledgeable on all the new product lines, but what she didn’t know is this is one of the worst ways to greet a customer! Too often this question is met with a polite “No thank you. I’m just looking.”  That’s because “May I help you?” is a closed-ended question—it can be answered with “yes” or “no.” The next time you go shopping, listen to the number of closed-ended questions you’re asked: “Do you like this one?,” “Do you have a budget?,” “Is this the right color?,” “Will that be all for today?”

It’s been said good salespeople have good answers, but great salespeople have great questions. So, what are the great questions? That’s easy! They’re the same questions journalists use to write a great story: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. By using open-ended questions, you will encourage your customers to talk more. Studies have shown the more a customer talks, the more engaged a customer becomes, and the more likely he or she will buy. It also means you’ll talk less and have the opportunity to listen more. And listening more means you’ll get the right information you’ll need to make the sale.

Now, let’s get back to those great questions. Asking a simple open-ended question such as “How is your day going?” may get your customer talking, but it’s unlikely to generate much useful information for the sale. To be effective, you’ll want to ask questions that will help you understand your customer and his or her needs.

Many closed-ended questions can easily be turned into open-ended questions by starting with the word ‘how’. Rather than risking a negative response to the question “May I help you?,” try opening with “How may I help you?” or “What brings you into our store today?” You may still receive the “I’m just looking” response (a topic for a future post), but you’ll avoid having the first words out of your customer’s mouth be “No!”

Understanding why your customer is in your store is one of the most important things you need to know. A simple “What are you looking for today?” can get the conversation rolling. If you sense they may be a new customer, ask how familiar they are with your store or your product. Asking whether the item will be a self-purchase or a gift is also a great place to start. If the item is a gift, you’ll want to know the sentiment behind it: “What occasion are you shopping for?” or “What sentiment would you like this gift to convey?” are good questions to pose.

Understanding your customer’s style will help you determine what items might most appeal to him or her. Here the frequent “do you” question (closed-ended) can be converted to an open-ended question by using “what” or “tell me about.” For example, “Do you have a favorite color?” becomes “What is your favorite color?” or “Tell me what colors you like.” If someone is struggling to explain their own style or someone else’s, you can help them along by asking which designers they like, what do they enjoy wearing when at work or at home, or which actors they like. Even asking what type of music someone listens to can offer clues into their personal style. Of course you can still use “do you” paired with “prefer” for comparisons, such as, “Do you prefer silk or satin?”

One of the most inane questions you can ask is “Do you have a budget?” 99.99% of customers have some idea of how much they’d like to spend on their purchase. By asking, “What price range do you have in mind?” customers should be able to give you an idea of what they’d like to spend. The price question can be tricky and should be treated with care. For additional ways to handle this sensitive question, see my previous post “The Perils of the Price Question.”

There are a myriad of questions that will help you help your customer, such as: when will they need the item by, how often do they intend to use it, how did they hear about your store, when may you follow up with them, etc. There may also be questions specific to your product. The smart salesperson knows how to use the right question at the right time, and maintains a well-balanced dialogue with the customer. Start by listening to the questions you’re asking and think about how to turn them into open-ended questions. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it will require some conscious practice. But soon you too will be asking great questions!


The Karma of Customer Service


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bali1My husband and I just returned from an extraordinary vacation in Bali. It had been my lifelong dream to visit this enchanting island and experience its unique spiritual and artistic culture. If this were a travel blog, I’d share more about the activities, food and scenic wonders we enjoyed. But this is a blog devoted to luxury customer service. During my stay, I discovered the level of care and attention to detail the Balinese people delivered at even the most humble establishment, met or exceeded my definition of luxury service – and I wondered why.

We were fortunate to have a knowledgeable and friendly driver (he went by the nickname “Smiley”) who patiently answered our questions about the island, its people and its culture. When we inquired about the level of crime in Bali, he responded that it’s low since most Balinese are Hindu and believe in the concept of karma and the idea of rebirth. (Nearly 84% of Bali’s population practice Hinduism). They don’t want bad actions determining their future destiny.

I started to think about how karma relates to serving others and wanted to capture those thoughts for this blog. I had a very simple understanding of the concept of karma (and I still do). For purposes of full disclosure, I did some minimal research on the concept of karma. Wikipedia states that karma is complex and difficult to define. At this point, I don’t presume to have even a beginner’s understanding of the topic. The best I can offer you is my own interpretation of the word and how I think it relates to service. In doing so, I sincerely hope I do not inadvertently misinform or offend anyone.  My sole intention is to share some thoughts on customer service.

Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning action, work or deed. It also reflects how your actions can influence the future. Your actions have consequences. Good actions will result in good consequences, and of course, bad actions bring about bad consequences. Karma is also closely tied with the idea of rebirth, meaning your actions will follow you not only through this life, but also into the next.

bali3Philosophically this means your successes and failures are mostly products of your actions. If you think and act positively, you will succeed. If you think and act negatively, you will bring negativity upon yourself. Now let’s look at this from a customer service perspective. Karma says every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in the future. How can an act produce an effect at a future time far removed from the act’s performance? Perhaps it’s as simple as thinking about cause and effect. Think about how easy it is to ruin a customer’s day. You need only greet someone with a scowl, make them wait, be abrupt, complain about your work, and not thank them for their business. The impact of your rude behavior may stay with them long after they’ve left your store. And the negative interaction certainly won’t make you feel any better.


One article I read said that karma is like a seed. This, of course, parallels the old adage “you reap what you sow.” What does that have to do with customer service? Well, even if you don’t consider the concept of rebirth, what if you thought about how your every action could condition your future? Would it change how you greet a new customer after you’ve had a long and tiring day? Would it affect the time and attention you pay somebody who simply wants to return a purchase? Would it encourage you try to put a smile on the face of someone who’s complaining? Consider the consequences your actions have not only on your customers, but on you.

If this post is a bit of a departure in tone from those I usually write, I’m not surprised. While in Bali I had the luxury of taking time to relax, breathe and contemplate. I was deeply affected by the magic of Bali. I hope I was able to share a bit of that magic with you and to inspire you to think about the karmic effects of your customer interactions.


On another note:

I celebrated a birthday while in Bali and as a present my husband took me to the John Hardy showroom and factory – and bought me a lovely bangle to take home! We also scheduled time to visit the amazing Green School and Green Village founded by John Hardy and his wife, and to tour the remarkable homes designed by his daughter, the architect Elora Hardy. I would definitely recommend these destinations to anyone visiting Bali.


The Why of Luxury Selling: How Luxury Associates can Inspire Loyal Customers


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attactive girl silhouette with whyOn a recent flight back from Boston, I re-watched one of my favorite TED Talks. Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  It’s a great video in which Sinek describes why great companies inspire loyal employees. My thoughts turned to luxury selling and I thought about how great associates can inspire loyal customers.

In the video, Sinek talks about three different types of companies. Those that know what they do (the majority), some that know how they do it, and the few that know why they do what they do. Sinek refers to this as the Golden Circle. Every organization knows what it does – it’s the products or services they sell. Some organizations know how they do it. This usually translates into what differentiates them from other companies that do what they do – in other words, their value proposition. But very few companies know, or can articulate, why they do what they do. The Why isn’t about making money. The Why is about contribution and impact. The Why is about inspiration.


Sinek then talks about how the human brain corresponds to the Golden Circle. The neocortex – our “outside” brain – corresponds to the What. It’s the part of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought. The middle sections represent the limbic brain that controls our feelings, emotions, human behavior and decision making.

Now let’s consider the luxury buyer. A customer’s decision to purchase a luxury product or service is not made from need, but desire. And desires rise from emotions. Remember, the neocortex does not drive behavior, but the limbic brain does. This is where emotions live. This is where gut decisions are made. This is where things need to “feel right.” Luxury associates can reach the limbic brain by connecting with clients through emotion, story-telling, visualization and personalization.

The neocortex, the thinking part of the brain, is always trying to understand and make sense of the world. This is the reason we think we are rational beings when we are really not. If we were, we would never buy a product or service simply because of how it makes us feel. We would never be loyal; we would always choose the best deal. We would never care about trust or relationships; we would only evaluate the numbers. We know that we don’t do that. We do choose one product, service or company over another because of the way it makes us feel.

– Simon Sinek

According to Sinek, people don’t buy What you do, but Why you do it. He cites Apple as an example. Apple’s “Why” is that “everything we do we believe in doing differently.” This is why consumers will by an MP3 player or a phone from a computer company if that computer company is Apple, but not if that computer company is Dell.

When you consider some of the best known luxury brands, only a few meet the bar when articulating why they do what they do. BMW comes immediately to mind. “We don’t make sports cars. We don’t make S.U.V.’s. We don’t make hybrids, and we don’t make luxury sedans. We only make one thing, the ultimate driving machine.” The Four Seasons delivers customer experiences that are “beyond compare.” To acquire a Patek Philippe timepiece is “to welcome into your own family a possession designed to last and accompany successive generations.” You must know why you do what you do in order for other people to believe what you believe. Great salespeople don’t sell products or services, they sell the Why.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Luxury brands must find and train associates who can convey the Why with clarity and passion. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do your associates love your brand?  Are your associates simply working for a paycheck or do they believe in what you do?
  • Are your associates passionate brand ambassadors? Does their passion carry through in their interactions with clients? What can you do to fuel this passion?
  • Are associates more concerned with creating personalized customer experiences than they are with how many customers they can serve in an hour?*
  • Do associate’s attitude, dress and language reflect your brand’s Why?
  • Is your brand’s vocabulary consistent with your brand’s Why? Even though the limbic brain does not control language, it responds to the emotions that are triggered by what it hears.

*From a recent Harvard Business Review article: “companies are learning that true sales success isn’t indicated by the number or size of deals closed; it’s measured by getting and keeping the right customers.”

Remember what Maya Angelou said: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” For the luxury sales associate, that’s the real Why.


Training in-store associates the best way to improve customer personalization

verkäuferin im juwelier geschäft

Timetrade’s recent whitepaper, Personalization in Retail: A Reality Check says that only 26 percent of consumers feel they’re receiving a customized +shopping experience even though 69 percent of retailers believe their delivering a personalized interaction.(Timetrade’s website says they help companies deliver on their brand promise of a truly personalized customer experience.) Since 90% of retail transactions take place in brick and mortar stores, it’s shocking to learn that consumers rank stores as the second worst channel for customer expPersonalization in Retailerience.

The whitepaper reminded me of my own “de-personalized” shopping experience a few years ago that led to the birth of this blog. In Missed Moments in Customer Service, I told the story of a luxury sales associate who missed several opportunities to connect with me. The post offered suggestions that would have turned a disappointing interaction into a luxury experience. A year later I was asking the same question in Luxury Service: Why is it so hard to get it right?

Timetrade’s whitepaper suggests that retailers are committed to closing this gap in customer expectations making training in-store associates their top priority:

The good news is that the retail decision makers surveyed cite the physical store as their top priority in terms of personalization, and training in-store associates as their top initiative to improve customer experience.

The study concludes the best approach is to leverage technology and automation to create a consistent personalized experience:

There are many proven technologies that retailers can use that will help automate processes for store associates and also the consumer. Simple automation and self-service can enable consumers to have a seamless experience and help them engage sooner with associates for more prompt service.

While mobile devices and integrated systems can certainly facilitate the customer transaction, it is the  knowledgeable sales professional who creates the personalized experience. Luxury brands need to understand the many different dimensions, values and priorities of their customers and then use that understanding as a platform to build a  lasting brand connection. Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute says:

Technology today presents an immense opportunity for targeting potential customers, but it is ultimately the intimate humanistic relationships that sales professionals form with customers that keep them coming back.

It is the luxury sales associate who holds the key to building those connections.

For sales associates to deliver extraordinary and remarkable experiences to luxury customers, they must have the right tools and training.  According to Laurent Ohana, Senior Advisor at Ohana & Co.:

The investment in stores and sales associates is turning out to be a major advantage and differentiator for luxury brands.

Luxury sales associates must be knowledgeable about and be able to speak the language of luxury. They need to stay current by subscribing to luxury magazine, blogs, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Their gestures and vocabulary should also resonate with the tone of the brand they represent.

Luxury associates must be passionate brand ambassadors. In turn, they can ignite brand passion in consumers by sharing stories that reflect customers’ values. Using descriptive and evocative language they can paint a picture and help customers envision. “Can you see yourself in this car?” instead becomes “How will you feel driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and the ocean breeze wafting through your hair?”

Luxury associates can create magical moments for customers. Sales associates at Louis Vuitton don white gloves before presenting a handbag. Harry Winston offers customers a glass of champagne as they peruse diamonds, and Disney Cruise lines leaves folded towel animals on guests’ beds each night. Every luxury brand has multiple opportunities to create moments of magic for its customers.

Technology offers luxury brands a variety of new ways to create immersive experiences. But it is the customer-facing associate who is the brand agent—he or she is the direct line of contact to customers—and it is the luxury associate who ultimately determines the success or failure of the customer experience.








A luxurious experience of India and its age-old luxury market




India is an alluring country that shimmers with vibrant colors. For centuries it has offered magnificent buildings, temples and landscapes. The past opulence of the maharajas and the splendor they created now flows seamlessly into today’s booming luxury industry.

The Indian luxury market

India’s luxury market is expected to reach $50 billion in 2020. With global brands opening retail and production premises in India, the need for trained and culturally aware employees and future leaders is pressing.

Abhay Gupta, Founder & CEO of India’s Luxury Connect Business School, believes India is the “best of BRICS” as Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa are all facing financial, political and / or social challenges that affect their economies and growth rates. India is expected by many to emerge as the world’s fastest growing major economy and “the fastest growing luxury market after China.” At this year’s Mint Luxury Conference held in Mumbai, Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), stated that the Indian luxury market is likely to grow nearly tenfold over the next 10 years

Gupta makes the point that, while India is not new to luxury brands, “the new maharaja, the new customer… has dreams and expectations. He or she wants luxury to provide a personalized, customized and ‘Indianized’ experience. India’s new breed of consumer indulging in luxury goods and services is expecting a more cherished luxurious experience.”

In order to thrive in today’s luxury market, Gupta believes luxury brands need to “connect with the consumer through media, PR, special events and so on. Provide closeness, uniqueness, product and brand acquaintance with appropriate messages. Educate this new Indian customer with your value proposition – reach out – engage – inform – indulge – entertain and then retain. This customer is loyal and will remain with the brand if assured of prompt service, efficient sales staff, continuous engagement and mutual respect.”

In light of this and the fact that India is becoming source of inspiration for designers and developers, particularly in the luxury product domain, it is imperative that international students, entrepreneurs and young executives learn about the Indian luxury market. That is why Gupta established the Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS) in Gurgaon, India in 2012. He recognized that a business school focused on aspects such as customer relationship management, retail services skills and brand management would fill this need.

India’s Luxury Connect Business School

This unique business school is an initiative launched by Luxury Connect—India’s premier luxury segment consulting organization. Luxury Connect recognized that education focusing on the acquisition of skills—or reskilling to support the luxury industry—was vital to meet demand in a growing luxury market.

Gupta cites several reasons for creating a luxury Master’s in Management program. The world is moving towards complex specialization in every field and the luxury sector must comply with this trend. While the LCBS CEO believes that “the world of luxury brands is a zero tolerance zone with no scope of mistakes or errors of judgement. Dealing with a cash rich but time poor customer is the key to success of any luxury brand and is the essence of this program.” Industry Connect is an initiative created by LCBS for regular students undertaking the Luxury management Program. It is an immersive learning program that provides students and affiliates with the opportunity to interact with industry leaders and professionals. Sessions allow attendees to meet, talk and share ideas in a friendly, informal setting.

In addition to the Master’s in Management program, the school launched Experiential Luxury, two weeks of Immersive learning in the heartland of incredible India.

Gupta states that the LCBS workshop “is designed to satisfy and answer the Westerner’s curiosity, fascination and desire to know more about all things connected to India’s luxurious heritage, culture and tradition.” Furthermore, the “program not only takes the delegates through a classroom orientation… but allows them to travel into history by visiting the palaces, enjoying a meal experience with a royal family, experiencing the heritage and architecture of the forts and dwelling homes of the maharajas.” There are visits to artisans and designers of jewelry and fashion products where delegates can try their hands at the various artistic techniques.

LCBS is India’s first and only luxury focused business school. But Gupta isn’t stopping there. Given that similar skills will be needed by BRIC countries, LCBS plans to offer similar structured educational programs to students in other emerging markets.

This post was written by guest contributor Gretchen Shaw. Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret


Luxury Associates Need to Become Luxury Curators


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I recently returned from the largest international conference for professionals in the field of learning and development sponsored by the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Nearly 11,000 attendees from over 80 countries attended 300 concurrent sessions in Denver, Colorado. The exhibition hall boasted more than 400 leading training services providers. As I wandered the aisles of learning content vendors, one word repeatedly caught my attention—curated.

‘Curate’ is not a new word. Its root goes back to the Latin curare, which means to care. The first known use of the word ‘curator’ as someone who is in charge of a museum or art gallery collection dates back to 1561. The word has evolved over the centuries and today defines ‘curate’ as “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.”

Content curation is so omnipresent in consumers’ lives today that we barely notice it. Your shows on Netflix are curated based on your viewing history, Spotify tailors music selections specifically to your taste, most news services feed you content according to your specified preferences, and shopping services such as StitchFix will curate a personal wardrobe for you. Curation as a marketing and sales technique gained ground in 2011 with Steven Rosenbaum’s book Creation Nation.

I love the idea of turning luxury sales associates into luxury curators for two reasons. The first reason is the root of the word – to care. Care needs to inform everything a luxury associate does: caring about the customer, caring about the customer’s needs, caring about the luxury experience, and caring about the presentation. The second reason is the idea that the curated experience is a personalized experience for the luxury consumer. Today’s luxury customers seek experiences that are customized to their personal preferences, that are exceptional, and that they can share and remember. Recently, Saks Fifth Avenue launched a service through which associates are available 24/7 to curate personalized virtual boutiques for individual customers. But curation isn’t just about technology. As Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute says, “Technology today presents an immense opportunity for targeting potential customers, but it is ultimately the intimate humanistic relationships that sales professionals form with customers that keep them coming back.”  It is the luxury sales associate who holds the key to building those connections.

What do luxury sales associates need to do in order to become luxury curators? To find some answers I searched “How to curate?” and found some great tips on Coschedule is a marketing calendaring service whose tips are specific to how to curate online content. I’ve borrowed the heading for each tip and turned each into a suggestion for sales associates who are looking to create a curated luxury experience for their clients:

  • Provide your take on things – Add your own personal touch. To paraphrase Coschedule, provide every piece with context. You should always surround the piece with your views, knowledge, and insight. Share a story about your brand’s heritage or an intimate detail about the craftsmanship.
  • Don’t make it all about you – Remember your customers have different preferences than you. Research and understand the lifestyles of your luxury customers. Read luxury travel and style magazines, subscribe to luxury blogs, and know your competition.
  • Answer your audience’s common questions – Be knowledgeable about your brand, your services, distinguishing product characteristics, shipping and return policies, corporate responsibility programs, etc. Common questions may also include concierge-type recommendations on where to eat, shop or find local attractions.
  • Be very, very selective – Rather than rattling off a list of features, share two or three benefits (a personalized statement of value) you believe best meet your customer’s needs. To turn a feature into a benefit, think of the customer asking “Why is this important to this me?”
  • Take advantage of in-house expertise – Observe your co-workers. How are they interacting with customers? What can you learn from them? Be open to asking for feedback. Ask your manager to observe you and provide suggestions on how you can improve. If you don’t know the answer to a question, make sure you find someone who does.
  • Don’t forget your CTA’s (Calls to Action) – Your relationship to the customer doesn’t end when he or she walks out the door. Think about how you can proactively reach out to customers to grow the relationship by building upon additional needs. A hand-written thank you note is always welcome. You may want to invite them to an upcoming event, alert them to a new item, or just check in to see how they’re enjoying their purchase.

If you view your role as a curator rather than a sales person, you will provide the level of care and personalization necessary to turn every customer interaction into an extraordinary luxury experience.