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.
The audience at LuxeCX was made up mostly of marketing and brand executives, so I suggested a simple, relatable approach on how to include sales and service teams in the transformation initiative. In a nutshell, apply the same the marketing techniques used to excite and engage your customers to your sales and customer service teams. Here are three strategies to start:
BRAND THE LANGUAGE
Brand and marketing departments invest heavily in designing the right advertising assets to lure customers to the brand. This includes choosing just the right colors, logos, images, and even scents. Words are a critical component of brand messaging. If you compare the brand language of two famous jewelry companies, Tiffany and Cartier, you will notice quite a difference in their language. When describing the customer experience, Tiffany will use more romantic verbiage such as lifetime, love, everlasting, celebration and memorable. Cartier’s language, on the other hand, skews more passionate with statements like, How far would you go for love? and Obsession du Jour.
I cannot stress enough how critical it is for your customer-facing teams to echo your carefully crafted brand language and sentiments in their customer interactions. Should you walk into a Tiffany store, you may hear an associate ask you “What are we celebrating today?” That question evolves from Tiffany’s core messaging around celebration and eternal love. Gaggenau’s description of the elegant extended profile of its wall ovens is that they “sit proud.” But if your salesperson says they “stick out,” then your mind forms a much different picture. Just as important to reinforcing what words to use, is clarifying which words should not be said. For example, at BMW we were never to utter the word ‘cute’ when describing a MINI. When associates do not use the same language as the advertisements that attracted the customer in the first place, a cognitive dissonance is formed. (You may also want to read the post: “When Matchy Matchy Works: Keeping Your Brand Message Consistent Across Channels”).
Takeaway: Be sure the brand vocabulary is shared with—and consistently used by—your sales and customer services teams.
GENERATE BRAND PASSION
It goes without saying that just about everything brand and marketing teams do is dedicated to generating customer loyalty to the brand. But what are they doing to create the same level of brand passion in employees?
Brand passion in employees needs to be built organically. This comes about by helping employees share their own experiences with the brand. Encourage team members to share customer stories of how the brand changed their lives. How they went out of the way to help a customer. In his new book, Excellence Wins, Ritz-Carlton co-founder, Horst Schulze, explains how he implemented a policy empowering every employee to spend up $2,000 to make guests happy. As you can imagine, the customer service stories that were created as a result became the stuff of legend. But the next step is also critical— sharing the stories as a form of education. And that’s where Schulze’s 10-minute meeting comes into play. Schulze implemented a short meeting that took place before each and every shift. Every meeting focused on one of the service standards employees are expected to meet. For example, employees are empowered to create unique and memorable experiences for the guests is one such service standard. According to Schulze, “The leader reads the standard, makes comments about what it means, and tells a story or reads a relevant customer comment to show the standard in action.”
Takeaway: By sharing internally, through morning meetings, corporate social media, or other internal communication process, employees personally experience how the brand promise impacts their customers. It becomes self-motivating.
BE THE LUXURY CUSTOMER
Many a marketing budget has been committed to creating extraordinary experiences that immerse the customer into the realm of luxury: whether it be with a champagne and caviar-laden event, or through imagery that evokes an aspirational lifestyle. But what about employees? Of course, many brands offer their employees product or service discounts that allow them occasionally to experience hints of extravagance. But most of these employees will still not consider themselves a luxury customer. There’s a certain sense of “outsiderness” — a “nose to the window” feeling of being on the other side of the luxury lifestyle looking in.
I addressed this dilemma in another post, titled “Are You a Luxury Customer?” In it I discuss how to help associates understand that they too are luxury customers, and not all that different from the customers they serve. Horst Schulze’s mantra for Ritz-Carlton employees, “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” brilliantly reinforces this idea.
There are large- and small-scale ways to create learning experiences that will immerse teams in the world of luxury. Again, rather than creating a do’s and don’ts list for service associates, or authoring depersonalized scripts, encouraging employees to develop their own brand behaviors based on their experiences, will have greater impact.
One simple way to expose associates to luxury service is to give them time to go on secret shopping expeditions to a luxury retailer. Create a check-list to help them think about how they were greeted, what the sales associate did to create a luxury experience, whether the sales associate made them feel special, etc., and then share these experiences during a group meeting Not all their experiences may be luxury experiences. Remember, they can also learn what to do by observing what not to do.
To help you get started, I’ve shared below some training initiatives I spearheaded to create luxury learning experiences for different teams:
- When we launched a leather collection a leather collection at Tiffany, we needed to reset sales associates minds to think about seasonal fashion. Up until this point, the word ‘fashion’ had been verboten when speaking about Tiffany jewelry, so a new approach was needed. We sent sales associates to high-end stores to take pictures of outfits and then share and discuss on our internal social media platform how they would style these outfits with our new leather line.
- At BMW, we arranged for our sales teams to stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel and observe the level of service they received. This experience became part of the learning process.
- At Gaggenau, we bring in a sommelier to talk about proper wine preservation and a master coffee roaster to talk about proper brewing methods. This helps associates develop a deeper comprehension of product features through sensory experiences.
Takeaway: Providing luxury learning experience helps sales and customer service associates understand and empathize with the expectations of the luxury consumer.
When transforming the luxury customer experience, there is a need to create a parallel, holistic training program that helps associates not only understand the product and brand promise, but immerses them in the luxury customer experience. As you’ve seen, this need is often overlooked. Without it, however, any true customer experience transformation is doomed to fail.