Steve Altman

Steve Altman

January 4, 2021

Why luxury retailers must go above and beyond on service

“When you serve the customer better, they always return on your investment.” – Kara Parlin

Call me fussy. Call me demanding. Call me a luxury shopper. All three are true.Maybe discriminating is a better word than fussy, but you get the point.

As a research consultant to luxury and lifestyle companies I too am in the service industry. I need to serve my clients. And I like to think, without sounding arrogant, that I hope I achieve this in a professional and responsive manner.

I also hope to expect that same level of courtesy and professionalism from luxury brands of which I am a consumer. So, why don’t I always get it?

Without naming brands, I had bought a clutch from one very well-known French luxury brand in London. Basically, after a few uses, the stitching all came away. Slightly embarrassing as I was then covered in bits of silver glitter at an Art Foundation gala. The brand in Hong Kong offered to repair the clutch with no charge and had records (through a very efficient global CRM) of all my purchases. I then had a call around one week later to say that the clutch cannot be repaired, ‘sorry’ and to please come and collect the item. Verbatim. I asked that to be elevated to a senior level. Same response. I guess it is easier to say ‘No’ than ‘Yes’.

I am an understanding person, but this is not service. Nor was it communicated well. Communication is all too powerful. My initial reaction to this is to never buy from that brand again. Essentially, they have lost a customer. As the old adage goes, if you have a good experience you tell five people. If you have a bad experience you tell 25.

On two recent occasions, friends also told me of very poor experiences with luxury brands. One, relative to a watch, the brand was so irresponsive in after sales service that this person decided to take back the watch without repair. And that was at a regional level. They have not only lost a customer but many more potential customers. After sales is an important factor, and discriminator, for luxury brands.

The other had ordered, and pre-paid for, a limited-edition shoe from a luxury fashion brand, only to be told that the shoe had accidently been given to someone else (a more important VIP). In fact, they had never even placed the order. Furthermore, they refused to refund the money. It took around 6 months of negotiation, hassle and an escalation to regional management to finally settle. This makes no sense.

Luxury should be about service. Research also shows that service IS a key brand differentiator. And can create strong brand advocation.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is. It is what customers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook

I also understand that not everyone is ‘suited’ to service, especially in luxury, where consumers’ do tend to be more discriminating (including myself!). Expectations are far greater and post-Covid I believe that these expectations will be even higher as the luxury industry evolves.

That is no matter if the purchase is offline or, increasingly, online. Digital and digital engagement is key. The question, and challenge, is how can luxury brands re-create the offline luxury experience, to consumers with high standards of service, to a personalised digital experience?

Offline will of course still be there. Relative proportions will be different, however. That is also the reason that sales associates need to have an even greater understanding of the luxury consumer.

The sales associate IS the brand ambassador, but often I see sales associates who seem either lazy, or very nonchalant in their approach. Not that one needs to be greeted by an over excited labrador, but you see where I am going.

In some cases, they are also arrogant. This does not work. Being proud of who you work for, most definitely, but that should not be translated in to one of arrogance.

The luxury consumer, in particular, needs to feel valued. Appreciated. And it does take a certain skill set to make that happen. Sales associates need to be trained to deal with different and difficult situations. They also need to show a sincerity.

“Treat the customer as if you are that customer.” – Gena Lorainne

Maybe luxury brands can think of more creative ways to hire such sales associates? Have luxury brands thought about employing an acting coach to help train such personnel, as example? Different perhaps, but certainly worth thinking about. New times demand new approaches.

Experience, with the growth of ‘experiential’ is critical, particularly in luxury and in creating those experiences that others will talk about. Service is key. This is particularly pertinent as I feel that successful luxury brands will go in one of two ways; ultimate luxury and a more ‘mass’ (for want of a better word) luxury, with those in the middle suffering.

A perfect example is Louis Vuitton’s new bespoke fragrance service. Customised. Personalised. As if you had been to Grasse itself. Creating a sensory experience and service that lasts in the mind of the consumer forever.