It’s National Customer Service Week!

Professional Association for Customer Engagement

It’s National Customer Service Week!  I thought I’d share one of my all-time favorite movie clips from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  It’s the scene where Holly and Paul try to purchase something at Tiffany for $10. Though the salesperson  asks a few too many closed-ended questions, and Tiffany really won’t engrave anything not purchased there, the spirit of excellent customer service still shines through:

Though it’s called National Customer Service Week, we know the real secret for exceeding customer expectations is to turn customer service into customer experience. Here are some guidelines for creating an exceptional customer experience:

  • Create some magic
    Whether I’m purchasing a designer dress, dining at a posh restaurant, or checking into a four-star hotel, create a little magic for me! Sales associates at Louis Vuitton don white gloves before presenting a handbag. Harry Winston offers you a glass of champagne as you peruse their diamonds, and Ritz-Carlton instructs its employees never to say ‘no’ to a guest. Think about how to make the customer experience magical and unforgettable.
  • Make me the center of your universe
    Of course you have other customers; of course you have paperwork to complete; but while I’m your customer, I should have your complete attention. Ask the right open-ended questions to better understand what I want, and then listen. Sounds simple, but I cannot tell you how many sales associates talk more than they listen.
  • Be the brand
    Your attitude, dress and language should reflect your brand’s image. Your passion for the brand should come through in your actions and words. Is your vocabulary consistent with your brand’s message? Share a bit of history, express excitement about your latest product, or tell me how much you love what I’ve chosen and why. I like your brand; that’s why I’m here. If you’re not crazy passionate about your brand, consider working somewhere else.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency!
    Everything the customer sees and hears—from the décor, to the background music, to the way the purchase is presented—should enhance the experience. Carefully consider every design choice to ensure it exemplifies the brand. Pay attention to every detail. The Tiffany bow is never askew! Remember, the customer experience goes beyond the store. Advertising, websites, social media, corporate responsibility, and after-sales service—all need to align with the brand promise.

On October 8, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 6485 establishing the first week of October as National Customer Service Week™.

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.

Those Little Things Really Do Count

tea-cup

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.

Continue reading “Those Little Things Really Do Count”

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.

Continue reading “LuxeCX Roundtable: Transforming the Customer Experience Means Transforming the Sales and Support Teams”

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.

Continue reading “Are You a Luxury Customer?”

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!

 

 

 

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.

bali2

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.

bali4

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.

GoldenCircle

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”

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.