LuxeCX Roundtable: Transforming the Customer Experience Means Transforming the Sales and Support Teams

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I recently had the honor of presenting at the LuxeCX Customer Experience in Luxury Roundtable in New York City hosted by Luxury Daily. The conference featured eighteen speakers focused on the critical role of customer experience in the luxury sector. My own presentation centered on the need to train sales and support teams whenever you are in the process of transforming your customer experience.

Brand and marketing teams often drive new customer experience transformation initiatives. But, in my years of leading the training function of some well-recognized luxury brands, I found they frequently forget to include the front-line customer ambassadors: sales and customer service teams. The sales and customer service associates are the “bookends” of the customer journey. Sales associates are usually the first point of contact your customer has with the brand and customer service associates support the end stage of the customer experience. More often than not, I had to chase down the directors of the marketing, product and brand teams to find out what new customer initiatives were in play.  My goal was to ensure that the transformed customer experience cycle included our customer-facing teams.

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Are You a Luxury Customer?

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.

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Luxury isn’t snobby, it’s inviting.

I’m currently reading Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schulze (co-founder of The Ritz-Carlton Company). So many wonderful ideas and words of wisdom from someone who laid the foundation for service par excellence!

This quote from the book sums up my approach to luxury “Elegance without warmth is arrogance.” Luxury should never be snobby; it should always be inviting.

Below is a link to a previous post about a study that showed while a snobby approach to luxury selling might result in increased sales, the increase is temporary. Ultimately, customers reject this strategy and leave the brand.

The Devil Sells Prada… and burns the customer!

 

 

 

If you can’t say something nice…

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.

Continue reading “If you can’t say something nice…”

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

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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Luxury Associates Need to Become Luxury Curators

Curator

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 Dictionary.com 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.com. 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.

 

Luxury: An Intimate Experience

roseI’ve frequently written about the importance of the customer relationship when selling luxury. I’ve focused on the need to use the right language and gestures to create an environment of elegance and grace. But, until now, I hadn’t thought about intimacy and how it relates to luxury.

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GRACE: The Perfect Recipe for Luxury Customer Service

GRACEDaniel Humm is the chef and owner for the Michelin three-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in New York City. He’s also the recipient of six James Beard Awards, four stars from the New York Times and the S. Pellegrino Chef’s Choice 2015 award. Mr. Humm was recently interviewed by New York Magazine and asked how me keeps his team motivated. He replied:

We treat every service as if it’s the only one that matters, the same way a sports team prepares for a championship match. Everything we do is done with intention and the desire to make the guest’s experience the best it can be.

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Luxury Service: Why is it so hard to get it right?

 

IdontknowWith over 90 properties and over 40,000 employees Ritz-Carlton consistently earns top honors in most rankings of luxury hotels. And so it’s no surprise that Ritz Carlton earned top honors a study conducted by Luxury Branding, a London-based consultancy that specializes in the global luxury market. Yet other well-recognized luxury hotel brands, such as Four Seasons and Peninsula, did not fare so well (13th and 20th, respectively), with the Waldorf Astoria rating an embarrassing 50th. By using TripAdvisor rankings as its data source, the study examines whether luxury hotels are truly delivering 5-star service or are just resting on their laurels. The study’s results are sampled from over 2.25 million public reviews on TripAdvisor. (The study is available as a free download from the website). Continue reading “Luxury Service: Why is it so hard to get it right?”

Coach the Coach: A collaborative coaching technique for sales managers

coachA few years ago I headed up a training team for a high-end jewelry brand. We were asked to create a learning initiative to help promote diamond sales. The blended program integrated different learning methodologies including e-learning, videos, webinars, games, support tools and in-store activities. The program required sales management teams to coach their local sales teams through a multi-week agenda. While the initiative did improve diamond sales, it unfortunately brought to light a mistaken belief that our sales managers were good coaches.

We looked for a way to help our sales managers improve their coaching skills. We needed a design that was both low-cost (we had exhausted our budget) and time efficient (sales managers were bogged down with daily operational tasks). In addition, we had other programs running simultaneously and could not afford to invest a lot of resources into designing a formal coaching program. Our solution was to create a program where the sales managers became coaches for each other. Here’s how it worked:

  1. We scheduled 30-minute phone calls with groups of no more than 10 sales managers at a time.
  2. We wrote a few scenarios of sales interactions “gone wrong.” I played the role of sales associate while another team member played the customer (you could also role-pay with one of the callers if you send out the script in advance. Each scenario lasted 2-3 minutes and focused on an issue such as being rude, giving wrong information, or not asking open-ended questions.
  3. Prior to the call, we asked one of the sales managers to role-play as the sales manager in the scenario. Once the scenario concluded, we asked the sales manager to provide feedback to the “sales associate” (me).
  4. After the sales manager finished coaching the sales associate, we asked the other sales managers if they’d experienced a similar situation and how they’d handled it. We questioned whether they believed the sales associate’s behavior would change as a result of the coaching. If not, why not? If so, then why had the coaching been effective?
  5. We encouraged the sales managers to coach each other (hence “Coach-the-Coach”). We allowed this process to happen naturally; our role was simply to guide the conversation back if it went off track.
  6. We spent the last 5 minutes of each call reviewing key learning points and emailed a summary to all participants afterwards. Several sales managers offered suggestions for future scenarios.

One unanticipated benefit of the program was that the groups learned over time to trust and depend on each other for advice. The Coach-the-Coach program proved to be a quick, interactive, fun, and convenient way for our sales managers to hone their coaching skills.