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.

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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”

“Thinking” about Luxury

thinkingDoes your heart quicken when you see someone carrying a Chanel bag? Do your eyes widen when you spy a Lexus LS turning the corner? It’s been said that luxury is not defined by need but by desire. There’s a certain feeling you get when wearing, driving, or obtaining the luxury item. You feel special.

Many of the posts in this blog talk about the role desire plays in luxury sales and customer service (see What’s it to you?” – Igniting Customer Desire and The Value of Luxury). The CEO of Hermès, Axel Dumas, understands how integral creating desire is to his company: Continue reading ““Thinking” about Luxury”

What the Greeks Taught Me About Luxury Customer Service

20150721_152228My 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”

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.

Please don’t be rude!

rudeMilton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute recently confirmed, “Luxury brands lose half of their top customers every year. The biggest reason why a consumer won’t come back is not the product—it’s a rude or inattentive salesperson” (The new face of luxury: breaking down the myths and stereotypes of the luxury shopper). On the surface this statement seems to contradict the finding of a recent study titled, Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand (October 2014 Journal of Consumer Research). The study (co-authored by Dr. Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the Sauder School of Business and Prof. Morgan Ward of the Cox School of Business) found customers who receive poor treatment from sales associates in a luxury retail environment are more likely to make a purchase.

Luxury brands lose half of their top customers every year. The biggest reason why a consumer won’t come back is not the product—it’s a rude or inattentive salesperson

Continue reading “Please don’t be rude!”