“Give them what they want, when they want it, how they want it."
This quote that I picked up at the recent Inner Circle Experiences conference in Bal Harbour, Fla., pretty much sums up customer service in the new economy, at a time when the definition of luxury has massively changed.
Luxury is now a whole new ball game, what with the rise of female self-made millionaires and young millionaires and the influx of wealthy foreigners visiting the United States.
To me, luxury always conjured up Arthur, the hero of the 1981 Dudley Moore film, coming out of a Rolls-Royce with his latest lady friend draped in fur and dripping with jewels, all while a tuxedoed driver stood at the ready. No longer. It's really about companies just setting up things to give customers "what they want, when they want it, how they want it.”
Related: Advice for Making the Luxury Sell
If I’m craving a cheeseburger (junior size, with raw onions, with just a little bit sauce), with fries and an iced tea from my favorite haunt, Pie ‘n Burger, I just want it. And before I order the burger I will ask to taste the three kinds of cake there to see if they are worth the calories: I crave chocolate cake baked one day prior, without so many slices cut from it that the inside is dry. If the cake on offer isn’t what I’m imagining, I might order the regular size burger and a chocolate shake instead.
Hyperspecific, yes, but am I that out of the ordinary? Not so much. Gone are the days of that scene in When Harry Met Sally seeming unique because a specific order took 10 minutes. To me and tons of others like me, it’s all about getting things how I want it.
Why? Because I have no time. And neither do most people, at least in their heads. Everyone feels like a hamster on a wheel. When someone does get a break, be it 20 minutes for lunch at the desk or a two-day quasi vacation riddled with email, he or she wants it to be “worth” it.
The luxury market has rebounded, which at first seemed very odd to me. Now, it doesn't seem so much so. If I’m going to work super hard, as a single mom of three kids, keeping the oldest in college and the youngest with her iPad charged, I naturally have less and less time.
Therefore, I need to be sure to always use every service possible to move the needle forward on my efficiency. That includes taking advantage of apps, virtual assistance and having prescriptions delivered vs. making a stop at the pharmacy. Everyone is just plain strapped for time, and therein lies the opportunity.
Want to compete in the new luxury market? Follow these five tips:
1. Clearly define the new Arthur.
Arthur no longer represent the greatest segment of luxury. Does he still exist? Of course, Arthur types represent a smaller proportion of the luxury seekers.
Trying to capture part of the luxury market but don’t drive a Maybach yourself? No problem. It's important to meet members of your customer audience where they are. Sam Walton famously drove around in a pickup truck. I would imagine that anyone who had wanted Sam Walton as a client wouldn’t have fared that well by showing up in Prada and driving a Tesla. That would have been too much of a disconnect.
2. Assess the size of the market.
Luxury goods and services now appeal to a broad swath of the population. Decide if the market for your products is large enough or spending enough to make appealing to this segment worth your while.
3. Do what you know.
My dad always taught me that it’s much easier to succeed at doing something you already live and breathe. If you truly are the jeans and boots entrepreneur and you're comfortable with marketing Sam Walton's version of luxury, run with it. But if you're the vintage Chanel type, by all means target the country club set. Just note how even that group's characteristics are shifting.
4. Solve customers' problems.
Help your customers with their problems even if you don't think they are problems. My father's favorite mustard, bar none, is Kosciusko. Any party, dinner or holiday I’m even sort of involved with better have that blasted mustard. And it’s not always easy to find. I remember mentioning this once to my father, and he replied, “That’s your problem, not mine.” And he was right. So I’ve built my business around that principle.
My dad, who works a lot, takes this position: If he wants a certain kind of mustard, then the least someone can do is get it for him.
If I wander into Pie ‘n Burger craving a junior cheeseburger, with raw onion and no tomato, and that's what’s going to make me happy, then the staffers should provide it to me. Does it cost them extra to do so? No, at least not in terms of food cost but staff wise, maybe a little because the owner, Michael, might have to hire someone of a certain temperament to get these details right.
5. Hire the right people and become one yourself.
Five seconds into serving luxury-seeking clientele, one customer with the wrong attitude will set even the cheeriest employee down the cranky path. Instead, be grateful. Appreciate the fact that your quirky customer trusts you to handle her silly requests, which will in turn make her very loyal and cause her to return over and over become an evangelist for your brand.
Supersatisfied people who finally land a service provider who “gets it” don’t tend to stray very far. Why? It takes too long to get the Michaels of the world to understand how we like our burgers or our mustard. And once Michael is on board, why would I ever go anywhere else?