- A customer relationship is just like a romantic one, in that if one of the partners does not feel valued, loved, and appreciated, they will break up and move on.
- Most luxury brands aren’t loving their customers digitally, as their websites are not personalized, are extremely transactional, and have insufficient technologies that can’t maintain one-on-one relationships.
- One negative interaction, after many years of loyalty, can destroy a customer’s trust and end their brand relationship. But they won’t move on silently and will tell everyone how badly the brand treated them.
In many of my luxury masterclasses, I’ve compared luxury to a love relationship. In the beginning, most people are skeptical about this concept and ask, “Why should luxury and love be similar?” But after discussing it in-depth, many in the luxury business now understand how they are making fundamental mistakes that destroy customer relationships.
The word “relationship” in this context is of utmost importance. What a luxury brand needs to establish, ideally, is a lifelong relationship — one that is nurtured permanently. Just as in a romantic relationship, if one of the partners does not feel valued, loved, and appreciated, they will break up and move on. The fundamental difference between a luxury brand and a normal brand is that, in luxury, we create extreme value. As a result, customers come to desire the brand. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of the world’s leading luxury group LVMH, often describes luxury as desire.
When we desire a brand, we develop a deep appreciation for it, as in a love relationship. A brand must understand that relationship to keep the desire alive. That is where, in my experience, most brands fail.
Let’s start with the digital journey. Most luxury brands are extremely transactional. Their websites are not personalized, and they have insufficient technologies that can’t maintain a one-on-one customer relationship. As an example, when you order a pair of shoes online at practically any luxury shoe brand, there will be zero individual interaction. The shopping experience is similar to Amazon or Walmart.com but with nicer pictures. In luxury, that is not enough.
For most brands, email newsletters are not personalized, so they lack the experience of an interactive human exchange. Why is that? Technologies using artificial intelligence-based personalization have existed for years, and luxury brands need to step up their games dramatically if they want to create a lasting love relationship with their clients.
I also don’t understand why almost no luxury brand has a dedicated staff to assist customers along their digital journeys. As such, digital interactions are transactional and not emotional. That does not create any value and will destroy brand equity over time.
Physical customer journeys for most luxury brands are flawed, as well. At a recent car dealership experience with a European luxury car brand, I was shocked at the transactional nature of the visit. The salesperson tried to pressure me into a sale, and my schedule was not respected. They demanded I follow their protocols, and there was little respect for my needs. Unfortunately, this is quite typical for many luxury brand experiences.
Many brands still underestimate the customer experience. They don’t invest enough into training staff and don’t empower salespeople to create true relationships by growing a “yes” culture. Instead, they force staff into saying “no” again and again, which is not what someone wants to hear in a romantic relationship.
That will lead to a breakup. I know a person who is one of the best customers of one of the top three luxury brands in the world and has spent millions of dollars on the brand’s bags and clothes. But it took one negative interaction in a store to destroy her decade-long love relationship with the brand. Every time I have a meeting with the person, she brings up the brand and tells me how badly she was treated. One negative interaction, after many years of loyalty, destroyed her trust, and the relationship tanked. In other words: She broke up with the brand. But she did not just move on silently. Now, she is on a mission to tell all her friends not to buy the brand and go through the same thing.
Breakups are costly for luxury brands, especially when they happen with your best customers. Before you know it, they will turn from loving you to hating you. Don’t let it go that far. Make sure your customers feel loved throughout their customer journeys with your AI-powered systems and the luxury training you’ve provided for your team. After all, luxury is love.
Daniel Langer is CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the professor of luxury strategy and extreme value creation at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults some of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Follow @drlanger