Opinion: The key to unlocking luxury brand loyalty is empathy

    Empathy in luxury is about making consumers feel genuinely understood, valued, and cared for. But when it comes to sales staff, this is often missing.
    Photo: Shutterstock
      Published   in Retail

    In the rapidly changing landscape of luxury, the formula for winning is no longer just the quality of products or the allure of heritage. It has decisively shifted towards the unique story-based experience brands deliver, and at the heart of this experience lies empathy.

    I have conducted many training sessions for the leading luxury brands in the world on empathy, including cultural empathy, which is a critical enabler for the success of brands. Luxury is an ecosystem where emotional connections and experiences are critical.

    Luxury, by its very nature, is not just about the tangible aspects of a product; it's about how it makes clients feel. Empathy in a luxury context means understanding and anticipating the deeper emotional needs and desires of clients. It’s about creating a bond that goes beyond transactional interactions, where clients feel genuinely understood, valued, and cared for.

    Still, at the most critical juncture where clients are interacting with sales staff, empathy is often missing, and clients are often treated with indifference or even arrogance. In Équité’s recent luxury experience audits in luxury automotive, jewelry, hospitality, and fashion, there was one recurring theme: The client was not the center of focus in most interactions.

    Sales and front desk staff, due to lack of luxury training and clear guidelines on brand experience, often perform well in internal surveys but catastrophically when it comes to studies on client satisfaction. Despite being one of the fastest issues to fix, many brands neglect the power of creating unique brand-specific experiences and training staff regularly. Training is seen as a cost. However, the true cost is the billions of lost revenues for the luxury industry as a whole.

    Training staff is seen as a cost. However, the true cost is the billions of lost revenues for the luxury industry as a whole.

    Why empathy matters more than ever#

    In today's hyper-competitive luxury market, products are often replicable, but experiences are not. Clients seek validation, exclusivity, and a sense of belonging. They crave experiences that are not just personalized, but also emotionally resonant.

    This is where empathy comes in — understanding the client's story, their motivations, and their aspirations. When a brand demonstrates empathy, it’s telling its clients that their unique experiences and feelings are paramount.

    Empathy in luxury is about creating a bond that goes beyond transactional interactions. Photo: Shutterstock
    Empathy in luxury is about creating a bond that goes beyond transactional interactions. Photo: Shutterstock

    In a recent training session, I tasked the sales staff to provide me with strategies on how to deal with what they thought were “difficult clients.” Upon closer inspection the issue was not with the clients but with the staff who lacked empathy in understanding the needs of VIPs and ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) who have a completely different lifestyle, the highest expectations, and don’t compromise.

    In a recent study by Adobe that I helped to design, 100 percent of dissatisfied clients who broke up with a brand mentioned failures in the human-to-human interaction at the point of sales. In times where luxury clients pivot to brands that create extreme value, this is an oversight that is gambling with the future of many brands.

    The empathy training imperative#

    Given the critical role of empathy in crafting luxurious experiences, it's essential for luxury brands to train their teams accordingly. Sales associates, customer service representatives, and even marketing teams must be adept at reading emotional cues, understanding diverse cultural contexts, and responding with genuine care and personalized attention.

    Transforming client interactions#

    Empathetic engagement transforms client interactions from just sales opportunities to moments of genuine connection and long-term client relationships. When clients feel understood, they develop a deeper emotional attachment to the brand. This leads to increased loyalty, repeat business, and often, a willingness to advocate for the brand within their circles. This is an opportunity that many luxury brands neglect.

    Creating a sustainable competitive advantage#

    Brands that master the art of empathetic engagement enjoy a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s not just about the immediate sale; it’s about building a lasting relationship that can weather market fluctuations and changes in consumer trends. In an era where clients are inundated with more choices than ever before, the brands that resonate on an emotional level will be the ones that stand out.

    The future of luxury is empathetic#

    For luxury brands aiming to elevate their client experience, the path forward is evident. It's time to make empathy a key differentiator. Understand your clients, connect with them on a deeper level, and watch as this investment translates into lasting brand loyalty and unparalleled client satisfaction. Remember, luxury is pure emotion.

    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.” Executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and professor of luxury at NYU, New York, he’s authored best-selling books on luxury management, and is a respected global keynote speaker and sought-after luxury expert, appearing on platforms like Bloomberg TV, Forbes and The Economist. Holding an MBA and a PhD in luxury management, Langer has received education from Harvard Business School. All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.

    Follow him: LinkedIn: Instagram: @drdaniellanger

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