Choice Words: How to Speak to the Luxury Customer

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It’s been said that women fall in love with their ears and men with their eyes. I studied music and have an ear for languages. So perhaps this is why I’m particularly attuned to the words I hear, especially when those words are delivered as part of a luxury customer experience.

 Everything about the luxury  experience—the colors, aromas, sounds, and language—must work together to create the complete luxury aesthetic. If any element does not align, the messaging becomes muddled. Luxury brands spend large sums to ensure the boutique lighting is just right, the appointments are lavish, and the marketing images tell the brand story; yet they sometimes fail to make sure their sales associates’ language consistently conveys the tone of the brand.

To understand the powerful relationship between vocabulary and brand, I perused several well-known luxury websites and selected some choice words. Read through the following lists and listen to how each word resonates with the brand message:

CHANEL: couturier, glorifies, exhilarating, precious, extravagant, richness, exalts, accentuates, mysterious, magical, eternal. spell, elegance, trumps, illuminates,  decoration, classic, elegance, shines, triumphs, signature, surprising, unexpected, fresh, impeccable, flawless, conjures, whimsical, fearless, sexy and timeless

PATEK PHILLIPE: unfaltering, rare, expertise, elegant, savoir faire, rich, timeless, stylish, pride, enduring, unparalleled, prestige, connoisseurs, perfection, undisputed supremacy, excellence, trustworthiness, ingenuity, passion, noble, pioneering, finest, investment, reputation, sentimental, treasured,  discretion, aristocratic, tradition

ROLLS-ROYCE: best in the world, illustrious, powerful, pedigreed, commanding, unforgettable, authority, striking, unrivalled, supple, graceful, ultimate, palatial, exquisite, bespoke, precise, refinement, embrace, sleek, grand, sublime

If I had separated the brand names from their respective vocabularies, would you have been able to guess which brand name corresponded to which wording?

Language can be evocative and seductive. The perfect word can conjure an image, arouse an emotion or spark a memory.  By taking the time to polish and refine your luxury vocabulary, you can complete the luxury brand experience for your customer. Click on the Luxury Lexicon link here or on the menu above to access a list of words to get you started. Be sure to read your brand’s marketing materials, advertisements, and social media posts. Capture those words you feel exemplify your brand and incorporate them into your customer dialogues. Open your ears to the words you, yourself, hear as a customer and adopt those that please you. I invite you to share your own favorite luxury words in the Comments section below. Selected entries will be added to the Luxury Lexicon.

Those Little Things Really Do Count

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When you travel as much as I do (over 100,000 miles last year) AND you write a blog about customer service (four years running), you can start to overlook the little things, feel jaded, and think you’ve written just about everything you can about luxury customer service. Then the littlest thing can happen and you’re reminded again how important good customer service is and to appreciate those who go out of their way to provide it.

We’ve all read the stories of luxury hotel staff who have flown across the country to deliver a laptop inadvertently left behind, or the department store that allowed a customer to “return” four tires even though they don’t sell tires. All grand gestures indeed and worthy of acknowledgement. But this post is dedicated to those who serve in the smallest of ways. Those  who take the time to notice what’s going on and then make that small, extra effort to make your day.

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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!

 

 

 

Yours, Mine and Ours: Handling Mistakes

ImpossibleC’est impossible! That’s what our hostess exclaimed when my husband and I showed up for breakfast at the hotel we’d booked in Strasbourg, France. She didn’t mean it was impossible to have breakfast, she meant it was impossible for my husband to be there. Yet, there he was – alive and well – and hungry.

(Let me back up a bit. When we had checked into the hotel the day before, we discovered there had been a mix-up in our reservation. Though we booked a double-room for two, the hotel showed only a single room was reserved. The error was quickly resolved and we were told what time breakfast (which was included with the room) would be served.

Now back to breakfast. It was immediately apparent there had been no communication between the front desk and the restaurant regarding how many people from room 505 would be showing up for breakfast that morning. Luckily, it took only a short explanation in some broken French to clarify the misunderstanding, and my husband and I were soon enjoying fresh croissants and brioches.

Yet I kept thinking back to our hostess’ reaction, which had implied that we’d done something wrong. It reminded me of similar customer service situations I’d encountered that had been handled less than elegantly. Certainly, part of her reaction may have been cultural (service in European countries can differ from what we’re used to in the U.S.) Still, it prompted me to share some thoughts on how to handle customer misunderstandings—regardless of whether the customer is in the right or not.

Apologize and acknowledge

It may the customer’s fault—or not. You don’t know yet, so avoid jumping to conclusions. Even if the customer is at fault, perhaps there is something you can do to avoid other customers making the same mistake.  Could you provide clearer directions or put a process in place that will catch the mistake before it becomes a problem? Right now it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. A simple “I’m sorry. Let me see what we can do to resolve this” should work in most cases. (And really, aren’t you sorry this happened?)

Be polite and listen

Your customer is upset—he or she is being inconvenienced or is not receiving an expected service. (You may be inconvenienced as well, but part of your job in customer service is handling problems). Customers may become emotional; they may even become loud. It’s up to you to remain calm and listen. Of course, no one should ever put up with verbal abuse, but I’ve found that maintaining a calm, polite demeanor can prevent most situations from becoming overheated.

Focus on the solution, not the problem

There’s a parable I used to share when I taught a class on problem-solving. It applies here as well and it goes like this: A young woman and her two companions are hiking in the woods. A snake bites the young woman. Rather, than helping the young woman, the two companions spend precious time hunting down the snake. Needless to say, things don’t work out too well for the young woman. What’s the lesson here?  Don’t take time trying to find and fix the cause of the problem while the customer is standing front of you. Instead, focus on what you can do to resolve the situation. You’ll have plenty of time later to track down that snake!

Follow up

Once you have the facts, explain to the customer what happened, offer a solution, and determine whether they are satisfied.

Following are two examples:

“We’re sorry you encountered a problem at breakfast. We sat you immediately so as not to inconvenience you while we researched what happened. After talking with the staff, we realized the front desk had not informed the restaurant of the correct number in your party. We will work with both teams to ensure better communication in the future. We hope you enjoyed your breakfast and we value the opportunity to serve you further during your stay.”

“We’re sorry you encountered a problem at breakfast. We sat you immediately so as not to inconvenience you while we researched what happened. We see that while you desired to book a double-room, you indicated only a single room on your reservation. We will look into how we can make this clearer for customers booking online in the future. I you wish, we will change the reservation to accommodate your additional guest at the appropriate rate.”

It’s not impossible for a mistake to happen. In fact, you can be sure you will encounter mistakes from time to time. But by keeping these points in mind, you can avoid the mistake of not handling them well.

 

 

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Why of Luxury Selling: How Luxury Associates can Inspire Loyal Customers

attactive girl silhouette with whyOn a recent flight back from Boston, I re-watched one of my favorite TED Talks. Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  It’s a great video in which Sinek describes why great companies inspire loyal employees. My thoughts turned to luxury selling and I thought about how great associates can inspire loyal customers.

In the video, Sinek talks about three different types of companies. Those that know what they do (the majority), some that know how they do it, and the few that know why they do what they do. Sinek refers to this as the Golden Circle. Every organization knows what it does – it’s the products or services they sell. Some organizations know how they do it. This usually translates into what differentiates them from other companies that do what they do – in other words, their value proposition. But very few companies know, or can articulate, why they do what they do. The Why isn’t about making money. The Why is about contribution and impact. The Why is about inspiration.

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Sinek then talks about how the human brain corresponds to the Golden Circle. The neocortex – our “outside” brain – corresponds to the What. It’s the part of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought. The middle sections represent the limbic brain that controls our feelings, emotions, human behavior and decision making.

Continue reading “The Why of Luxury Selling: How Luxury Associates can Inspire Loyal Customers”