The Customer Service Imperative


Imran Amed | September 10, 2009

Deeply-embedded customer service mindsets and operating models enable luxury businesses to stand out from copycats and mid-market also-rans.

Deeply-embedded customer service mindsets and operating models enable luxury businesses to stand out from copycats and mid-market also-rans.

LONDON – As we head into the busy autumn season, our Luxury Society correspondents have been at work investigating what may be the most salient means by which luxury businesses can fight back against difficult economic conditions that, while no longer worsening, are still far from sanguine.

How many times have we walked into luxury boutiques, high-end hotels or gourmet restaurants only to be sorely disappointed by the service? Service is something that many of us in the luxury industry fail to offer consistently to our customers, even though it is the one aspect of our shared interaction that they will never forget, for good or for bad.

In luxury, the customer truly is king. Our fortunes are increasingly dependent upon our relationships with consumers — from the moment a product is launched to the after-care provided years later. Only deeply-embedded customer service mindsets and operating models will enable luxury businesses to stand out from copycats and mid-market also-rans.

To get us started this month, I spoke to Carolyn Clark, SVP of Human Resources of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, to learn about their Service+ model, an outstanding, world-class benchmark to which all luxury companies — not just those in the hotel business — should pay attention.

Time and again, Fairmont has been recognised as one of the top service companies in the world. As Carolyn explains, the company’s highly-integrated and rigorous service culture begins and ends with its employees — the ambassadors who interact with hotel guests every single day.

Indeed, in his report from Berlin, Sameer Reddy insists that luxury companies must make each employee a brand ambassador, from those in official public roles to the customer service personnel at the frontline.

But good service does not rely on employees alone. In order to deliver optimum service, says Helene Leblanc, companies need to back up their service promise with the technology, mindset and culture that will enable and empower employees to go the extra mile.

One such technological tool is the sometimes-dreaded acronym “CRM” — or Customer Relationship Management. This month, Robb Young analyses how luxury brands can best make this technology work, while not losing the personal touch or prestige.

And, reporting from Tokyo, W. David Marx describes how Osaka’s Hankyu Men’s department store is doing this in practice, creating an entirely new service model for the ailing Japanese department store market, built on the most personalised of customer service approaches.

And finally, it’s already been well documented that, more than ever, luxury consumers are shopping for experiences, not for products. This month’s expert guest contributor, Mark Tungate, gives us a personal account of how unforgettable service experiences, bolstered by technology and the human touch, add richness and meaning to what otherwise may be just another transaction.

And with that, I invite you to dive into another rich issue of intelligence from Luxury Society. We look forward to your feedback and continued support in building our ever-growing community.

Imran Amed

P.S. I look forward to seeing many of you in November at the upcoming IHT Techno Luxury Conference in Berlin. Luxury Society has an exclusive, discounted rate especially for our members. You can read more about the conference in our Events section