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MirrorOne of the most difficult challenges in training luxury sales associates, is that they feel disconnected to the customer. They don’t live the “high class” lifestyle they believe their customers revel in. They could never imagine themselves paying so much money for a “frivolous” item. They may even decide a certain customer would never be interested in a high-end brand based simply on how that customer is dressed or what car he or she is driving.

Many of us don’t see ourselves as a luxury customer. Indeed, in a rather humorous piece for the New York Times called “So You’ve Wandered Into a Too Expensive Store,” the comedy writer, Monica Heisey explains the sense of panic that can ensue when you walk into an upscale store:

The air smelled too good; there were too few items on the shelves. By the time you’d touched the first wafer-thin turtleneck, you knew: This is a too-expensive shop.

Heisey then shares some tips on how deal with this embarrassing situation, including asking the salesperson to find another size as a diversionary tactic so she can make a quick exit.

What we don’t realize, however, is that most of us are luxury customers.

In a previous post, titled Do your salespeople really understand the luxury perspective?, I take up the question of whether sales associates really understand who the luxury customer is. There is a disconnect. In the mind of the sales associate, the luxury customer is the “other.” They do not see themselves as the luxury customer.

Horst Schulze, co-founder of The Ritz-Carlton Company, authored the  famous phrase: “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” The wonderful thing about this phrase is that it eliminates the concept of “they.” The message it delivers to each Ritz-Carlton employee is that “you are they.”  The challenge, then, is to help sales and customer service associates understand that they too are luxury customers.

An article in New York Magazine called The Worth-Its begins this way:

Expensive things are sometimes things we come to regret. Other times, though, years later, they are the things that one feels wisest about having sprung for. What is it that makes such pieces truly worth it?

The article details some very interesting personal purchases ranging from wasabi for $70 a pound to $2000 for a duvet. However, one comes away with the realization that we too have probably spent a bit more on something that had special value to us, even if it’s coughing up $6 for a pumpkin spice latte. We’ve all, at some point it our lives, have probably bought that special item that made us feel exceptional—extraordinary in our own little world. For me it was Tiffany’s Diamonds by the Yard necklace by Elsa Peretti. I initially intended to purchase the sterling silver version of the chain necklace familiarly know as “DBY.” But after being reminded by the sales associate that I would have to polish this very delicate chain, I talked myself into the much more costly platinum version. As the New York Magazine article suggests, I never regretted the purchase. It’s never really about the price; it’s about the value to that person. Everyone has something that he or she values. It’s the role of the sales associate to find out what the customer values—not to assume what that is for the customer, and certainly not to stand in judgement. During training sessions, when I’m working with sales associates to create a list of learning objectives, they usually ask how they can justify the “price” to the customer of whatever they’re selling. I always rephrase this to how to justify the “value” to the customer. Find out first what is it your customer values.

There are many ways to help sales associates appreciate the culture and experiences of the luxury customer. One way to help them  do this is by immersing learners in luxury activities that make it easier for them to transfer their experiences to their own customers. You can have they stay in a five-star hotel, have them dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant, have them shop at an ultra-high end store. But for them to truly understand the luxury consumer, they must move away from viewing luxury as a “nose against the window” experience, and realize they too are luxury customers. Whether it’s paying more for personal service, springing for that special something, shelling out for a unique experience, we all have our little luxuries. We all have something that we’re willing to pay a bit more for—because we understand its value.