Surprise and Delight High-Value Customers

  |  July 10, 2009   |  Comments

Tips from the luxury brands to help you keep your best customers.

When it comes to treating high-value customers well, most luxury firms really have it down to a science. They know customer service is everything.

Every company, in every vertical, should have a similar emphasis on going above and beyond. Most mass brands simply do what they think is good enough, and rarely surprise and delight.

Today we'll discuss what lessons we can learn and apply to other industries from my recent experience with one of my favorite high-end clothing lines. Most of these tips don't cost extra money to execute. They simply require someone who cares enough to do them.

An Amazing Shopping Experience

When I was in Boston last year working on a client, my favorite store became the Hugo Boss Orange store in Copley Square. The Orange line is one of Hugo Boss's more casual lines, and this is the only store that carries Orange exclusively.

Over the course of my three-month project, I bought quite a bit from the store. Each experience was great, and they clearly understood customer service.

Fast-forward to last week, over a full year since I've been in Boston and the store. The jeans I bought there (and wear constantly) are getting holes in them, and I wanted a new pair -- an identical pair, as they're the best jeans I've ever owned. I live in New York, so returning to the store wasn't an option.

I called the store and described the jeans to the sales associate who answered the phone and asked if he had more. The gentleman asked my name, and looked me up on his computer. Within moments, he knew exactly the jeans and size I was talking about. He told me he would search the store and all the other Hugo Boss stores in North America and would call me right back.

When he called back, I learned the sad truth: those jeans were last season's hot seller, were sold out, and are no longer made. I expected our exchange to end there. But he said something I wasn't expecting.

In the time it took between the first call and the second (probably 15 minutes), he had done more than simply search the inventory of his store and others in North America. He also pulled this season's version of the jeans I owned and photographed them for me (in both wide and detailed shots), along with the four other jeans that have a similar fit to the ones I own. He photographed each of them and had already e-mailed me the photos.

When he told me to check my e-mail, I was floored. I eagerly looked at the photos and decided on the jeans I wanted to buy to replace my well-worn pair. I e-mailed him back, and the next day the jeans arrived on my doorstep via FedEx.

In the package was a handwritten note from my sales associate. He expressed his gratefulness that after all this time I still thought to call his store (there are several Hugo Boss stores in New York, and all carry some of the Orange line).

Additionally, he included the Orange line's look book for the season and had folded down the corners of all the pages that showed models wearing the jeans I had purchased. This achieved a few different things.

First, it increased the value of the jeans, as I could see them in a high-gloss, high-fashion spread. Second, it gave me ideas on how to accessorize for different looks (casual, dinner party, nightclub, etc.). Third, it reminded me I look nothing like Boss' models.

Lessons Learned

What lessons can we learn from this amazing shopping experience? Here's a quick rundown:

  • Maintain a robust database. This interaction went a lot smoother because my sales associate knew who I was, everything I bought, what sizes fit me in various lines, and what cut and style of jeans I prefer.

  • Take ownership of the customer's problem. He could have easily told me there are three Hugo Boss stores in New York and I should call them. Instead, he took over my quest and did the legwork for me.

  • Find opportunities. I had actually gone to a Hugo Boss outlet store in Massachusetts while visiting my family, in the hopes of finding these jeans. That's how this story really began. The store had them, but not in my size. The sales associate apologized and checked the other outlets' inventories and found nothing. The difference between this interaction and that with the Orange store is the Orange store didn't give up. No, the jeans weren't available, but there were other jeans that I might like and that have a similar fit. My sales associate took the time to pull these jeans, photograph them, and e-mail them to me. The outlet store certainly had other jeans there, but no one ever considered showing them to me.

  • Know your products. Had the sales associate not really understood his product line, he couldn't have made honest recommendations of other products based on the attributes of the jeans I already owned.

  • Use multiple channels when convenient. When he e-mailed me photos, he was using another channel of communication that was effective for the task at hand. He told me I could e-mail him or call him with questions or to place an order. I was able to communicate over whatever channel was convenient for me.

  • Surprise and delight in the last mile. I was already delighted by my experience with Hugo Boss Orange. When the package arrived, I was overwhelmed. I had expected a handwritten note, as I often buy designer clothes, and this is de rigueur for a high-end brand. What I hadn't expected was the look book, with pages earmarked for me to look at. It blew my mind to think that my sales associate, after making the sale, went through and folded over pages for me to look at.

Only for Luxury?

Can only luxury brands attain this level of proactive customer service? Of course not. More mainstream companies can achieve this on their mass scale.

While it wasn't as detailed or overwhelming, customer service people at a local Wal-Mart-type store have also gone above and beyond to help customers. More often than not, however, we have the opposite experiences with mass brands. Typically, their credo (or at least the reality of the situation) is to be good enough at customer service, not to excel or be proactive about it.

It comes down to corporate culture, salary structure, and brand training. Customer service people tend to be the lowest paid contingent and the furthest removed from corporate.

But these are the people who directly interact with customers. They aren't indoctrinated into your brand well enough, and they don't have the financial incentive (or possibly personal pride of working for your brand) to really go the extra mile to help customers. Those people closest to the customer deserve much more attention from corporate, as they're the brand stewards in a way that corporate brand marketing never will be -- in a personal way.

While I obviously can't change your corporate structure, hopefully these pointers will at least give you basic steps to up your company's game.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Leave feedback below!

Until next time...

Jack

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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