Bye-Bye Bloomie’s!

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Sometimes I wonder if, like Don Quixote, I’m chasing windmills in my efforts to slay poor customer service. I travel a lot and have learned to manage my expectations for good service against a myriad of rationalizations: they’re not a luxury brand, my standards are too high, he or she’s probably having a bad day, I’m having a bad day, it’s Monday, and so on. Yet I still feel a sense of disappointment when a promised service call isn’t returned or when the hotel desk associate doesn’t ask how I enjoyed my stay when I check out. Sadly, these small disenchantments seem to be occurring more and more frequently. Mostly, I just let them go. But when a favorite retailer, one I consider at the very least a premier store (if not a luxury brand), makes what I consider a major customer faux pas, then I have to pick up my rusty sword and rail against customer service injustice!

That store is Bloomingdale’s. I don’t often name specific brands in my blog. Since this blog is devoted to luxury selling skills and delivering premier customer service, I try to remain brand agnostic. But Bloomingdale’s has been a brand near and dear to my heart ever since I was a little girl. I grew up in New York City and my mom would often take my sister and me to the Bloomingdale’s flagship store on Lexington Avenue. We inhaled the intoxicating aromas of the perfume counters as we rode the escalator to the fabulous floors of female fashion. After shopping for an hour or two, we’d grab lunch or dessert in the café, then walk out with those iconic Big Brown Bags weighing down our arms. As malls started to dot the retail landscape, Bloomingdale’s was always my first go-to establishment. I’ve held my Bloomingdale’s Loyalist card for years. I thought we were best friends.

So I was surprised the other day when, after a long session of trying on dresses, I found a perfect fit and went to purchase a beautiful, long-sleeve Tahari V-neck sheath. The sales associate at the register informed me he needed to “B-tag” my dress. I had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, a few years ago, Bloomingdale’s decided it had had enough of women returning clothing they’d purchased and worn to an event. Now any purchase over $150 (pretty much everything at Bloomingdale’s) requires a B-tag. Take the item home and have a little buyer’s remorse? You can easily return it to Bloomingdale’s as long as the B-tag is still in place. Should you decide you want to keep the item, simply remove the B-tag yourself.

Well, I loved the dress and had absolutely no intention of returning it, as I explained to the sales associate. No matter, the “rules” said he had to attach the B-tag to the dress regardless. I asked to try one to see if I could remove it myself. Though I play the piano and have pretty strong fingers, I had quite a bit of difficulty trying to open the tag. (I’m not alone. Watch Savannah Guthrie try to remove one on the Today Show at 2:58 in the video). Consider that Bloomingdale’s clientele extends to a somewhat older demographic than H&M; this little plastic tag could prove to be a big challenge to someone who doesn’t have a lot of finger strength.

As I stood there trying to manipulate something that honestly looks like a large plastic bug, I wondered why I was being put in this position at all. Didn’t Bloomingdale’s and I have a long relationship together? As a Loyalist member, wasn’t I special? Couldn’t they view my purchase record and see I wasn’t in the habit of returning items?

And that’s when I decided to say bye-bye to the dress (I purchased it later on line at Saks) and bye-bye to Bloomie’s. If you’ve read any of my blog posts, I hope you’ve come away with the message that the essence of luxury selling is developing a relationship with the customer. And, as we all know, relationships are built on trust. With its little tag, Bloomingdale’s was telling me it no longer trusted me and no longer valued me as a loyal Bloomingdale’s customer.

Sure, I understand “wardrobing” (returning worn items) costs the retail industry millions of dollars each year and that this cost is ultimately passed on to the consumer. So you could argue that Bloomingdale’s B-tag is there for my benefit and that it’s helping to keep down prices. This is their solution and perhaps it’s working… for them. But from a luxury selling and customer service standpoint, it fails. How could Bloomingdale’s curb wardrobing and still offer luxury service? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Listen to the customer. Let it be my choice whether to have the B-tag attached or not. Explain your return policy up front. If I choose not to have the tag attached, then it’s my decision to decline the option to return the garment (unless, of course, there’s a quality defect that arises later). Don’t make my life more difficult (trying to remove that darn tag) in order to facilitate your business process.
  2. Treat your Loyalist customers as the special people they are. If I’m a Hertz Gold member I don’t have to wait in line for my car, if I’m a Hilton Honors member, I get free WiFi. Your Loyalist patrons should be extended the courtesy of not having their clothes tagged.
  3. Use your data. Every company on the planet has more data on its customers than it knows what to do with. You have access to every purchase I’ve made, which Bloomingdale’s stores I’ve visited, and exactly how many times I’ve returned a garment (once, with the price tag still on it). If you see me abusing the return policy, then by all means B-tag my purchases (or ban me from the store), but don’t make me suffer for the sins of others.

As far as I know, Bloomingdale’s is the only high-end retailer using this practice. Perhaps others will follow. I find that sad. But perhaps other luxury retailers will continue to value the relationship they have with their customers—a relationship based on trust.

Don’t spread the bad mood flu

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This year’s flu season is one of the worst. My daily news feeds are replete with tips on how to avoid catching the flu and what to do should you get it.

But there’s another type of malady that seems to be common this time of year – the bad mood flu. It can be difficult to keep up a cheery disposition during the first few months of the year– the holidays are over, the weather is cold, and folks generally seem to be tired of winter. When your job is to deliver luxury service, it can be hard enough to keep your own mood cheery, let alone worry about someone else’s.

This seemed to be the case during a strange encounter I had with a luxury hotel professional recently. There was construction going on that limited the amenities normally offered. When I inquired when the constructed would be completed, I was met with silence and an icy stare. After a several minutes of silence, I thought this person might be distressed and I asked if I had said something to upset her. Again, she said nothing and continued to stare. I asked if she was all right and if there was something I could do. Finally she said “You can move on.”

Obviously, something was troubling this person. Perhaps it was simply that I was the “nth” person who’d asked about the construction that day. Or perhaps there was a personal or family issue upsetting her. We’ve all had difficult days and it can be a challenge not to let our emotions show through. So what can you do if you’re in a bad mood, but your job requires you to be polite and friendly to the public? The thing about the bad mood flu is that it’s very catchy. If you really want to ruin someone’s day?, provide them with snippy, unfriendly service.

Here are some ideas to perk up your disposition. Think of these as bad mood flu remedies. They may or may not work for you. They may work some of the time, but not all of the time – especially when you have a particularly severe case of the bad mood flu. In which case, you may want to stay home or seek help (just like with the real flu). But sometimes, all we need is a little time out, a deep breath or a broad smile to make it right again.

Take a mental vacation
The more you think upsetting thoughts, the worse you’ll feel. Steer away from these thoughts by imagining yourself on that sun-soaked beach, skiing down the slopes, or canoeing on a peaceful lake.

Go for a walk
A change in scenery, some fresh air and a little exercise can get your endorphins running again.

Tell a joke
Laughter creates changes in your brain and gives you a positive mood boost right away. Whether you’re the cracking a joke or you listed to a funny store, humor is one way to help manage your emotions.

Meditate
Just a few minutes of sitting quietly, focusing on the breath, and quietly chanting can turn the blues around. Luckily, there are any number of meditation and mindfulness apps that can bring calm and peace into your life.

Savor a special moment
Take a minute to do something that really gives you pleasure. Let a piece of chocolate melt in your mouth, hum along to your special song, take a few seconds to watch that funny kitten video, breathe in your favorite essential oil or fragrance. Certain scents, such as orange or lavender, can decrease anxiety and improve your mood.

Make a thank you list
Sometimes when life’s little tribulations chip away at our happiness, it helps to take a minute to remember all the good things we are grateful for. Make a list of what you are thankful for and keep it handy for when you’re feeling down.

Smile
You may not feel like it, but like the bad mood flu, smiling is contagious (but in a good way). If you can manage a smile, you may see someone smiling back at you. It might be just the thing to sweeten up a sour disposition.

I’m sure you may have your own remedies for improving your mood and I invite you to share them in the comments section below.

Own the Moment

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Nobody owns the customer, but someone can always own the moment.

This awesome quote comes from Scott Hudgins, Senior VP of Global Customer Managed Relationships at the Walt Disney Company.  I recently heard it repeated at a national sales conference for BSH Home Appliances Corporation, where I’m a senior learning partner for the Gaggenau luxury brand of appliances.

This quote reminded me that I was actually inspired to start this blog when a luxury sales associate missed owning a number of those “moments” (Missed Moments in Customer Service) that would have made my experience remarkable rather than disappointing. At least something positive came from that unhappy experience. In looking back, I realize I’ve been writing this blog for nearly four years!  Over that time, I’ve shared stories of luxury experiences that have gone terribly wrong and of those that have stood out as shining examples of how to do it right.

Here are some examples of doing it right:

  • The woman at the register of an upscale department store who complimented me on my dress selection. She was not a sales associate and received no commission, but she took a minute to say something nice and it made my day.
  • The waiter in Portugal who didn’t know what salsa was, but assured me the chef could create it if I could imagine what it would be like.
  • The hotel maintenance man who sent me a bag of popcorn, soda and free movie when I had trouble with the television in my room.
  • The unwrapping of a simple blush stick that became a sensory experience because of Chanel’s beautiful packaging.
  • The maître d’ at my favorite restaurant (Café  Matisse) who set aside a separate table just for the wine bottles we brought during a recent birthday celebration with a group of friends.
  • The elegant gestures of a server who filled my water glass at a London bàcaro.
  • A sales associate at Prada in Panama who didn’t speak English, but who keenly observed that a certain dress had caught my eye. He pulled out his cell phone and quickly scrolled to a photo of a model wearing the dress so I could envision how it would look on.
  • The salesperson at Bergdorf Goodman who asked meaningful questions about my lifestyle and the types of things I carry in my bag. Throughout the entire interaction, I felt as though he gave me his undivided attention. After leaving the store with my “perfect” handbag, he followed up a few days later to see how I was enjoying my new purchase.

These aren’t over-the-top moments. No one drove through a hurricane to deliver a wedding ring to me and no one took back a set of tires that I didn’t even buy there.  These good moments, however small, came about because the experience was personal. The bad moments happened when the experience was impersonal – when I felt like a non-person or simply unimportant.

The holidays can be a stressful time for any sales associate – hordes of people are shopping, tempers are short, customers are frenzied, store hours are extended. It can be a challenge not to become disgruntled let alone make the extra effort to deliver a luxury experience. You can choose to treat your customer like a non-entity, conduct the interaction like a transaction, and hurry them out the door so you can serve the next customer. Or you can take a few seconds to smile, compliment their good taste, wish them a happy holiday and let them you’ll be there if there if anything goes wrong.

Remember, you own the moment either way. Make it a great one!

Happy Holidays!

 

The Other Luxury Customer

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Not all luxury customers are immediately recognizable. They may not be pulling up to your store in a Bentley or be sporting the latest couture. In fact, despite having assets in the millions of dollars, some high-net worth consumers consider themselves middle-class. Rachel Sherman, a reporter for the New York Times, recently interviewed a number of wealthy individuals who “never talked about themselves as ‘rich’ or ‘upper class,’ often preferring terms like ‘comfortable’ or ‘fortunate.’ Some even identified as ‘middle class’ or ‘in the middle.’ ”

For these individuals – what Sherman calls the “working rich” – the concepts of rarity, elitism, and recognition, may not hold much sway. Sherman goes on to explain how these wealthy individuals approach the buying process: “Wealthy people must appear to be worthy of their privilege… Being worthy means working hard, as one might expect.  But being worthy also means spending money wisely.” These wealthy customers aren’t swayed by the “wow” factor; these customers need to understand the value of their purchases. They won’t gloat over how much they paid for something, but instead, will be happy to tell you in detail about the money they saved.

What value each of these individuals places on a purchase will vary from one person to the next. Their reasons may be as varied as complications in an expensive watch and can be based on economics or emotions. This means a savvy sales associate will need to divine what is of value to each customer.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of working for Tiffany & Co. For the longest while, I had my eye on a beautiful platinum necklace that I felt cost a bit more than I wanted to spend. When that necklace became available in sterling silver, I figured the value of the necklace matched what I was willing to pay. Yet, as my salesperson asked me some simple questions about how I intended to wear the necklace, what other type of jewelry I had, and how I cared for my pieces, I ultimately realized the platinum version of the necklace was a better choice for me. Though significantly more expensive, the decision came down to durability, maintenance and frequency of use (I intended to wear it a lot). At no point did the sales associate try to “upsell” me – or at least it didn’t feel that way. I had led myself to make a more significant investment because it made more sense for me in the long run. It was not a question of wanting to show off. In fact, at first glance most folks would not be able to differentiate between the silver and platinum versions. For me, it was a practical decision.  A lovely woman from Texas recently shared with me what her granddaughter’s term for this – “Worth it!” Even if your customer doesn’t say this phrase out loud; they should be thinking it as they leave your store.

Asking the right questions (see post Good salespeople have great answers, but great salespeople have great questionswill help you position your product or service in the way that makes the most sense for your customer. For someone who eschews elitism, mentioning that your product is exclusive, high-end, only found in a remote corner of the world, and is loved by some famous figure may send you down the wrong path and your customer out the door. But if you can demonstrate how this purchase makes sense for your customer, based on what they’ve shared with you, you will begin to build a relationship of trust – for this and future purchases.

 

If you can’t say something nice…

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happy-unhappyDo you remember Thumper in Walt Disney’s film Bambi?  While watching the newborn fawn attempt to walk for the first time on trembling legs, Thumper remarks that Bambi really doesn’t walk very well. Thumper’s mom then chastises him by asking him to repeat what his father had taught him. Thumper hesitantly replies, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

The questionable grammar aside, what does this have to do with luxury service?

In any type of service situation, you may be called upon to convey a message to a customer that could cause disappointment: “I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.” But this is not a post about basic customer service niceties such as telling customers what you can do for them, rather than what you cannot; demonstrating empathy by saying you understand their frustration; or remembering to use their name in the conversation. This is a post about how you can say things better. And luxury customers always expect better.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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