The Karma of Customer Service

bali1My husband and I just returned from an extraordinary vacation in Bali. It had been my lifelong dream to visit this enchanting island and experience its unique spiritual and artistic culture. If this were a travel blog, I’d share more about the activities, food and scenic wonders we enjoyed. But this is a blog devoted to luxury customer service. During my stay, I discovered the level of care and attention to detail the Balinese people delivered at even the most humble establishment, met or exceeded my definition of luxury service – and I wondered why.

We were fortunate to have a knowledgeable and friendly driver (he went by the nickname “Smiley”) who patiently answered our questions about the island, its people and its culture. When we inquired about the level of crime in Bali, he responded that it’s low since most Balinese are Hindu and believe in the concept of karma and the idea of rebirth. (Nearly 84% of Bali’s population practice Hinduism). They don’t want bad actions determining their future destiny.

I started to think about how karma relates to serving others and wanted to capture those thoughts for this blog. I had a very simple understanding of the concept of karma (and I still do). For purposes of full disclosure, I did some minimal research on the concept of karma. Wikipedia states that karma is complex and difficult to define. At this point, I don’t presume to have even a beginner’s understanding of the topic. The best I can offer you is my own interpretation of the word and how I think it relates to service. In doing so, I sincerely hope I do not inadvertently misinform or offend anyone.  My sole intention is to share some thoughts on customer service.

Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning action, work or deed. It also reflects how your actions can influence the future. Your actions have consequences. Good actions will result in good consequences, and of course, bad actions bring about bad consequences. Karma is also closely tied with the idea of rebirth, meaning your actions will follow you not only through this life, but also into the next.

bali3Philosophically this means your successes and failures are mostly products of your actions. If you think and act positively, you will succeed. If you think and act negatively, you will bring negativity upon yourself. Now let’s look at this from a customer service perspective. Karma says every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in the future. How can an act produce an effect at a future time far removed from the act’s performance? Perhaps it’s as simple as thinking about cause and effect. Think about how easy it is to ruin a customer’s day. You need only greet someone with a scowl, make them wait, be abrupt, complain about your work, and not thank them for their business. The impact of your rude behavior may stay with them long after they’ve left your store. And the negative interaction certainly won’t make you feel any better.


One article I read said that karma is like a seed. This, of course, parallels the old adage “you reap what you sow.” What does that have to do with customer service? Well, even if you don’t consider the concept of rebirth, what if you thought about how your every action could condition your future? Would it change how you greet a new customer after you’ve had a long and tiring day? Would it affect the time and attention you pay somebody who simply wants to return a purchase? Would it encourage you try to put a smile on the face of someone who’s complaining? Consider the consequences your actions have not only on your customers, but on you.

If this post is a bit of a departure in tone from those I usually write, I’m not surprised. While in Bali I had the luxury of taking time to relax, breathe and contemplate. I was deeply affected by the magic of Bali. I hope I was able to share a bit of that magic with you and to inspire you to think about the karmic effects of your customer interactions.


On another note:

I celebrated a birthday while in Bali and as a present my husband took me to the John Hardy showroom and factory – and bought me a lovely bangle to take home! We also scheduled time to visit the amazing Green School and Green Village founded by John Hardy and his wife, and to tour the remarkable homes designed by his daughter, the architect Elora Hardy. I would definitely recommend these destinations to anyone visiting Bali.


Training in-store associates the best way to improve customer personalization

verkäuferin im juwelier geschäft

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.

Continue reading “Training in-store associates the best way to improve customer personalization”

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.

Continue reading “Luxury: An Intimate Experience”

Luxury gestures – do actions speak louder than words?

serverLuxury service doesn’t always mean expensive or posh; sometimes luxury service can be found in less grandiose surroundings. On a recent business trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised by the service I received in a small restaurant serving Venetian fare. The eatery was a bàcaro—a Venetian word used to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines. If you’re familiar with Spanish tapas, then you have the idea. Continue reading “Luxury gestures – do actions speak louder than words?”

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.

Continue reading “GRACE: The Perfect Recipe for Luxury Customer Service”

The Sales Associate – Luxury’s Best Advantage

LuxsalespersonWhile luxury brands are starting to understand the importance of creating a seamless brand journey through omni-channel marketing, the luxury consumer still enjoys the personal, white glove treatment. According to a new report by the Luxury Institute, consumers rely more on the knowledge and service expertise of the in-store sales associate for their purchasing decisions than they do on their laptops or cell phones. That means luxury brands should be investing in training their sales personnel to deliver a unique and superior customer experience. Continue reading “The Sales Associate – Luxury’s Best Advantage”

When Luxury Speaks a Different Language

languageI recently spoke about luxury sales and customer service at a special event hosted by Quintessentially Lifestyle in Panama City, Panama. Quintessentially offers its members curated luxury lifestyle services and experiences around the globe. The event took place at the elegant Waldorf Astoria Panama Hotel and was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, L’Oreal, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Multiplaza Pacific Mall. Attendees included business owners and luxury associates from the hospitality, retail, banking, real estate and media sectors.

Victoria and the Quintessentially team (from left to right: Rene Estripeaut, Mileidy Castillo, Victoria Macdonald, Enoly Rodríguez, Verónica Pérez, Julia Ortega, Alfredo Smith)
Victoria and the team from Quintessentially (from left to right: Rene Estripeaut, Mileidy Castillo, Victoria Macdonald, Enoly Rodríguez, Verónica Pérez, Julia Ortega, Alfredo Smith)

Continue reading “When Luxury Speaks a Different Language”

Transforming Employees into Passionate Brand Ambassadors

brandambassadorI was recently interviewed for the Wharton School Business radio program on Sirius XM When Things Go Wrong hosted by Christian Terwiesch. We talked about how to transform employees into passionate brand ambassadors by helping them create personalized brand heritage stories, incorporate engaging brand vocabulary into their customer conversations, and position features as benefits to the customer.

Use the player below to listen to the program.

When Luxury Gets Stingy

stingy2Unfortunately, the curtailment of expectations around services and products has become de rigueur. We suffer cramped seats on airplines, poor service from our cable providers, and smaller containers of juice (have your noticed your half-gallon of orange juice is now only 59 ounces?). But when stinginess hits the luxury sector, it’s an even more egregious offense. That’s because we expect the luxury experience to be delightful, and when it makes us feel we’re being nickled and dimed, it’s no longer a true luxury experience.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon in several instances: when I had the battery of a very expensive watch replaced and it had to be sent to the customer care center,  I was charged an additional $35 to ship the watch back to my home rather than back to the store. It cost the company no more to have the watch shipped to my home, so the $35 charge was an obvious ploy to get me back into the store. Another example occurred with a recent stay at a Hyatt hotel. My bathroom amenities included soap, shampoo and conditioner, but no lotion. Thinking this was a mere oversight, I called down to the front desk and was instructed that indeed, no mistake had been made, but if I wanted lotion, I could come down to the front desk and get it myself.

That’s why I was disappointed, but not nonplussed, to read about Jeremy M. Peter’s recent trip to Hawaii in the NY Times. Though Jeremy and his partner frequented local, unpretentious accommodations through most of the trip,  they decided to spend their last few nights on the Big Island splurging on a $1300/night room at the Four Seasons at Hualalai.

Though his room was elegantly appointed in dark woods with a gabled ceiling and within steps of the beach, the hotel’s service level matched neither the décor nor the surroundings. I’ll let Jeremy take the story from here:

There were little annoying disclaimers warning us that we would be charged a $30-per-person fee if we did not show up for our dinner reservation. If we wanted faster Wi-Fi in our room, that would cost us an extra $25…When we went to the Tranquility Pool, which is off-limits to anyone under 21, staff members acted as if they were doing us a favor by finding us a pair of empty chairs. “We’re really busy” were the first words out of the attendant’s mouth — much to our amazement since we looked around and saw ample room to add a couple of chairs and even a few scattered empty ones. My tranquillity was quickly dissipating.

The bartender could barely be bothered to make eye contact with the patrons. And he displayed a little sign at all times — “Hours 11 to 5” — that read like an admonishment not to dare ask for a drink if it was too close to 5 o’clock. And sure enough, at just a few minutes to 5 on both days we were there, he moved the sign over to the front of the bar to ward off any pesky, thirsty violators of his last-call diktat.

Every part of the luxury experience from the first greeting, to the exquisite craftsmanship or exceptional service — should be about creating a delightful and memorable experience. But when the service standard does not match the level of luxury implied by the décor and price tag, the luxury customer is left feeling duped. The impression one comes away with is not of enchantment, but of overall disappointment.

A “May” Reminder

MayIt’s May! After a long, chilly winter it’s nice to feel the weather warming and to see the flowers blooming. Spring brings rain and violets. It brings spring cleaning and the desire to perhaps add a few new pieces to my wardrobe. I know that as I start my spring shopping, my ears will be filled with the sound of buzzing bees and sales associates asking “May I help you?” Continue reading “A “May” Reminder”