Opinion: How can luxury brands create deeper connections with their clients?

    Luxury is pure emotion and inspiration. When this is forgotten, even the most loyal customers will leave.
    Photo: Getty Images
      Published   in Retail

    One of the most challenging aspects of managing the luxury client experience is creating deeper connections with clients. For many luxury salespeople, the focus is on the next transaction but not on the long-term client relationship. While the goal of almost all organizations is to foster loyalty, auditing real-world experiences tells a different story.

    A dilemma that many brands face is that, despite rigorous training on the basics of client engagement and interactions (being friendly, proactively approaching the client, memorizing and repeating their names, etc.), client satisfaction is often less than 80 percent. Many salespeople actually perform well on these trained markers, meaning that clients are looking for something beyond the obvious.

    And this makes sense. Luxury is about extraordinary experiences. By definition, these cannot be standardized. I always remind the audiences in my luxury masterclasses that being friendly and receiving great service are the minimum expected expressions of a luxury experience. If people are unfriendly and not proactive, an experience will never feel luxurious. A friendly service is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to make a client feel extraordinary.

    This has profound implications. When expectations are high, a client may be disappointed even if the performance of a salesperson or client manager hits all the standard checkmarks. The main reason a loyal client breaks up with a brand is due to dissatisfaction with the client experience, more than any other factor.

    In fact, luxury clients typically don’t break up with their preferred brand because another experience is better. They break up with them because their expectations are higher. And in 100 percent of all breakup cases, human-to-human interaction played a critical role.

    Luxury clients don’t break up with their preferred brand because another experience is better, but because their expectations are higher.

    A script is necessary#

    So, how can luxury brands create deeper connections with clients? It all starts with the brand storytelling.

    When the brand story is not clearly defined, then there is no script for the experience. And this is fatal. I often compare the client experience to an opera play. If you put the 10 best opera singers in the world in a concert hall and ask them to just improvise whatever comes to their mind while reminding them to be great, the result will be a disaster.

    Creating an extraordinary client experience follows the same rule. A brand needs to have clarity on how their experience should differ from all other experiences with clear emotional markers.

    Even the best salespeople will be like the opera singers sans script. And the result will be random, which means it will most likely become a disaster over time. This is why I can’t stress enough that luxury brands need to work on their brand storytelling. And this is not just part of an advertising campaign but a fundamental definition of the business’ value creation model.

    Most existing brand stories are not precise enough to create a relevant experience in a world disrupted by millennials and Gen Zers. Client expectations are higher than ever before, yet many brands persist in employing storytelling techniques that may have sufficed a decade ago but no longer resonate in today’s world, where desire is cultivated through cultural capital.

    I will never forget the top salesperson of a luxury brand that I was shadowing. Not once did he use the brand story. When I asked why, his answer was, “No one believes in the brand story; it’s just marketing bs. This is why I don’t use it.” A brand story is the most important driver of value in luxury, yet the reality for many brands is what I observed in this example. We had to significantly upgrade the storytelling and ensure that it was understood and lived by everyone within the organization.

    Turning the emotional key#

    An optimized brand story is critical to unlocking the emotional key of a client. In my sales classes, I see how hard it is for even the most experienced salespeople to achieve this. Humans tend to focus on the tangibles, but the emotional key is intangible. Yet, it is the only way to forge a deeper connection with the clients. Luxury is pure emotion and inspiration, and in the client-facing process, this often gets forgotten and leads to brand breakups.

    To create emotional connections, salespeople can try asking icebreaker questions that help them understand their client’s emotions, aspirations, and dreams. For example, in the context of a high-end home appliance brand, a question could be, “What does the perfect morning or evening look like for you, and how do the appliances you use fit into that picture?” It is critical to understand their lifestyles and what is important to them in life.

    To create emotional connections, salespeople can try asking icebreaker questions that help them understand their client’s emotions, aspirations, and dreams.

    Because I travel in an extreme way for my work, my luggage is not just functional; it’s my home away from home. It is what personalizes every hotel room I am in. That’s why this is a category I am willing to spend much more on. If a salesperson does not understand this as my emotional key, he or she would never be able to inspire me and create desirability or even a connection.

    Luxury is about creating extreme value for clients. It is unlocked through creating an emotional connection and generating understanding. This makes empathy, listening, and asking the right questions critical skills. In my experience, luxury brands are not putting enough emphasis on this in their training programs.

    The extraordinary is never the result of standardized approaches. It’s about breaking out of the conventional and creating a genuine human connection. In the future of luxury, where we will be in an even more digital world, this will become the most critical enabler.

    This is an opinion piece by Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at NYU, New York. Daniel has authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker.

    Daniel conducts masterclasses on various luxury topics across the world. As a luxury expert featured on Bloomberg TV, Forbes, The Economist, and others; Daniel holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, and has received education from Harvard Business School. Follow him: LinkedIn and Instagram.

    All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.

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