I’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.
Daniel 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.
A 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:
- We scheduled 30-minute phone calls with groups of no more than 10 sales managers at a time.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute recently confirmed, “Luxury brands lose half of their top customers every year. The biggest reason why a consumer won’t come back is not the product—it’s a rude or inattentive salesperson” (The new face of luxury: breaking down the myths and stereotypes of the luxury shopper). On the surface this statement seems to contradict the finding of a recent study titled, Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand (October 2014 Journal of Consumer Research). The study (co-authored by Dr. Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the Sauder School of Business and Prof. Morgan Ward of the Cox School of Business) found customers who receive poor treatment from sales associates in a luxury retail environment are more likely to make a purchase.
Luxury brands lose half of their top customers every year. The biggest reason why a consumer won’t come back is not the product—it’s a rude or inattentive salesperson
“Only 19 percent of consumers believe sales associates have relevant information,” says Adam Silverman, principal analyst at Forrester Research, San Francisco. “That’s very shocking and that’s clearly an indicator that the sales associate role needs to change.”
One way in which you can change that role is to perfect the art of telling luxury’s story. A good story engages and excites the listener. Stories create emotions and those emotions, in turn, drive desire. We buy luxury items not because we need them, but because we desire them.
Platinum is more expensive than gold because it is rarer. Similarly, a platinum level of service is more precious than the “gold standard” of service offered by most sales professionals. The Golden Rule states: “Treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.” It is the rare sales professional, however, who knows and lives by the Platinum Rule: “Treat other people as they would wish to be treated.” The difference comes down to a small, but meaningful, change in perspective.
Yesterday someone told me there’s no point in trying to exceed customer expectations, because once you do, the bar is raised and the exception becomes the norm. It creates a never ending spiral upward. All I can say, is “poppycock” (yes, people used to say “poppycock,” probably the same folks who used to say “balderdash”). Anyway, you get my point. Continue reading “Should We Try to Exceed Customer Expectations?”
My last post talked about educational institutions that now offer Luxury MBA degrees. This led to the question—what happens once you have such as degree? Interestingly, I just ran across an article from the Boston Consulting Group titled, “Minding the Talent Gap: Fashion and Luxury’s Greatest Challenge for the Next Decade.” The article reveals that luxury companies are struggling to find the right talent. What a perfect time to evaluate whether those Luxury MBA programs provide the same skills and knowledge that luxury and fashion brands seek today. For example, needed skills at the executive level are: analytical and creative skills; retail, product, and brand expertise; and international experience. Continue reading “Finding Luxury Talent”
After reading through the list, some of my key takeaways are:
- There is over saturation in the luxury sector. Brands will need to do an even better job of differentiating their products and services. Customer service, relationship building and social outreach are critical.
- Leaders must strive to inspire, empower, measure and reinforce best practices.
- It’s all about developing relationships, particularly across channels. (See my previous post What the Luxury Sales Associate Needs to Know in an Omni-Channel World).
Also, and very importantly, look for luxury brands to empower store sales associates who have multi-channel clients to reach out and build human relationships after the client purchases in any channel.
More and more luxury and fashion brands are using omni-channel retailing to maximize their brand exposure and increase purchasing opportunities for their customers. For omni-channel to work successfully, the brand message needs to be consistent across all consumer touch points, including in-store, online, mobile apps, social networking, etc. In order to deliver a seamless customer experience, sales associates will need a new level of training in technology, product and processes. Continue reading “What the Luxury Sales Associate Needs to Know in an Omni-Channel World”