Yesterday 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!”
My 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.
Philosophically 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.
On 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.
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.
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.
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.
With 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?”
My husband and I recently spent a week vacationing on the beautiful island of Crete. Despite the financial challenges the citizens of Greece are facing, we were unfailingly welcomed with smiles, generosity and meraki. ‘Meraki’ is a Greek word that is somewhat difficult to translate. Perhaps the best definitions of meraki are “to do something with soul, creativity, or love,” or in other words “to put something of yourself into what you’re doing.” Continue reading “What the Greeks Taught Me About Luxury Customer Service”
While 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”
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.