‘I Am Not Your Server’: Luxury Brands Will Self-Destruct By Alienating Their Best Clients

Since the pandemic, many companies have lowered their standards while increasing prices. There is a tipping point — where once loyal customers can simply no longer accept this. 

During a recent restaurant visit to one of the seemingly fanciest restaurants in town something unexpected happened. The dinner reservation was supposed to be the icing on the cake of a wonderful day I spent with my partner. She and I were enjoying food and wine and, at one point, we wanted to order two more glasses. No server to be seen anywhere. We waited, waited, and waited longer. 

Finally, to our delight, a waiter showed up. He approached us and with relief we thought we could place our order. His reaction: I am not your server. And he disappeared. When, finally, our server did arrive, we learned that the kitchen had closed while we were waiting for her and that we could not get our wine order anymore. Hence, the service issue caused by the restaurant ruined an otherwise beautiful experience.

Delta team sends their best clients emails constantly to tell them how valued they are, but the real-world experience is dramatically different. Image: Delta Airlines

Fast forward to this weekend, when we traveled to a conference on Delta airlines in first class. I have the highest status with them due to my frequent overseas business travel and a lounge membership. No issue at the departure lounge, but upon arrival the person at the check-in insisted I did not have the membership and refused to let us in. Again, an incompetent and unempathetic employee destroyed what should have been a luxury travel experience.

When I shared this with other conference participants, which included the who’s who of the US, one other Delta Diamond member told me a similar story. He was treated badly upon boarding the plane and when he tried to tell the flight attendant that he was a Diamond member, she snapped back at him that “I could not care less about your status.” He was so furious that he told me that he would probably block any of his employees from flying Delta again. 

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While Ed Bastian and the Delta team send their best clients emails constantly to tell them how valued they are, the real-world experience is dramatically different to the point where the best clients feel that they don’t matter at all. At the conference the consensus was that the moment there is a better alternative, we would immediately switch airlines. The risk brands like Delta or the restaurant run is that their best clients silently leave because they understand that there is a fundamental mismatch between the brand promise and the service provided. My personal experience is that since the pandemic many brands have lowered their service delivery standards dramatically, especially in hospitality and airlines, while they have increased prices drastically. There is a tipping point — where customers will simply not accept this anymore.

These examples show that the leaders of the past may not be the leaders of the future. Once brands become complacent, issues grow exponentially. The need for labels to audit their experiences and challenge their underlying brand storytelling has never been bigger not only as clients become more impatient, but also as Gen Zers enter the market with higher expectations. A recent study by Adobe indicated that 50 percent of luxury clients right now are at the edge of leaving brands they were previously loyal to. Without drastic action, many existing companies will see a dramatic business decline. It’s time to act. 

This is an op-ed article that reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Jing Daily.

Named one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch,” Daniel Langer is the CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults many of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several best-selling luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses on the future of luxury, disruption, and the luxury metaverse in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Follow @drlanger



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