When “No problem” is a Problem

When “No problem” is a Problem

One of the perks of working in the luxury industry is that you sometimes get to stay in lovely places and dine in very nice restaurants. One of the drawbacks is that you can become hypercritical of the service you receive. I write this blog with the intent of providing insight and guidance on what luxury customer service should look like. If I call out a particular phrase or behavior, it’s not from arrogance, but from a strong belief that when customers are willing to spend more, they should receive a commensurate level of service. That means every action, word, gesture, and expression on the part of the luxury sales and customer service professional should echo the premier experience. The luxury professional should always be thinking of ways to improve the customer experience. When I was at Tiffany & Co., the mantra was “always say it better.” That translated to taking a moment after each customer interaction to reflect upon how you could have improved the experience for the customer and how you might have phrased something better. Which brings me to my latest pet peeve.

During a recent business trip to Miami, I was looking forward to a lovely dinner at a highly recommended restaurant. Everything was perfect—the linens were white and crisp, the silverware gleamed, the menu presented tantalizing suggestions, and the lighting and music were appropriately subdued. I made my selection and after a few minutes the waitperson returned with the glass of wine I had ordered. As she set it down before me, I said, “Thank you very much.” She smiled and replied, “No problem.”

The response, “No problem,” is something I expect to hear when I thank the roadside assistance person for changing my tire, when I thank Siri for telling me what film won Best Picture, or when I extend my gratitude to the clerk who bagged my groceries. The phrase is fine in an informal context, but I cringe a bit when I hear it in a luxury setting. It may be a little thing, but when it comes to delivering exceptional service, it’s all about the little things. “No problem” also contains two negative words: ‘no’ and ‘problem’. If I’m thanking you, why should the first word out of your mouth be “no” and what exactly was the “problem” we managed to avoid?

There are a few other phrases I would group with “no problem” as being too casual for a luxury experience:

“No worries.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“Of course.”
“Anytime.”

So how can we say it better? A simple, “You’re welcome,” is always a welcomed response. Other more appropriate replies include:

“You’re very welcome.”
“You’re so welcome.”
“You’re most welcome.”
“With pleasure.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“It’s my sincere pleasure.”
“It was very much my pleasure.”
“Certainly. I’m happy to be of service (or assistance).”
“Thank you for your patronage.”

Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to create a memorable and enjoyable experience. Consider how you can create a warm and engaging greeting and how your parting words might encourage a customer to return. But also think about how you might improve all the small exchanges in between the greeting and farewell to enhance the luxury experience. How can you say it better?

I’ve only offered a few ideas here and I’m certain my readers have more to share. How do you respond to “thank you?” I invite you to contribute your own suggestions below.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Luxury: An Intimate Experience”

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”

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?”

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”

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.

Luxury Talent Goes Big

Big3This Harvard Business Review post, “Luxury’s Talent Factories,” discusses how large luxury conglomerates such as LVMH, Kering and Richemont actually drive talent performance. Most management research would argue the opposite. It’s generally accepted that companies can increase their financial returns by focusing on core lines of business. Contrary to this evidence, the article states: “Diversification generally does not add value unless there are significant cost savings and operational synergies across units—which isn’t necessarily the case with all luxury groups.”

Diversification generally does not add value unless there are significant cost savings and operational synergies across units—which isn’t necessarily the case with all luxury groups.

According to the article, here are some of the reasons the “Big 3” are able to use their size to their business advantage in developing luxury talent:

Mobility – Diversification of internal brands means that employees who move from subsidiary to subsidiary bring a core set of brand values and skills. They are also better able to build their personal networks across multiple internal brands. The advantage to the enterprise is that they’re able to leverage talent when and where they need it.

Best practices – The organization can identify and transfer best practices across products, and gain the benefit of new perspectives at the same time. In one case, CRM talent from a fashion group was brought in to help build a CRM function for a watch brand.

International Experience – Cross-cultural exposure inspires creativity and provides exposure to a larger pool of manufacturers and suppliers.

Understanding the Global Customer – As technology and social media create a growing international marketplace, it’s imperative that brands understand how luxury customer expectations vary from country to country.

Although Europeans can explain to customers what luxury means, they also must have experience in foreign markets to understand which aspects of luxury the customers there actually care about. For example, in America consumers will buy watches for their functionality or performance, whereas in Asia it’s more about the prestige of the brand.

The three large luxury groups are able to leverage these advantages for the individual as well as for the enterprise. It only works, however, when the group is able to keep its brands relevant and continuously invests in developing premium talent.