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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.