In recent years, luxury has been too democratized, very much due to globalization, hypermodernity and trade up phenomena. Consequently, brands increase sales, but slowly and over time luxury products and services become more similar to one another and lose value. The new antidote against the democratization of luxury brands seems to be a clear investment in employees that convey genuine warmth and charm as a way of providing pleasure and happiness to customers. Quo vadis, Luxus?
Thomas L. Friedman in his book The World is Flat, analyzes the phenomenon of globalization and the increasing leveling of the different regions of the world, regarding the development of societies and their access to goods and services in general.
Gilles Lipovetsky, contemporary French philosopher, who was my teacher and with whom I have talked a lot about the sociological evolution of luxury and the ideas in his book The Eternal Luxury, was the first to realize that the hyper-modern society of hyper-consumption, has led to the rise of different levels of luxury and its democratization.
Michael Silverstein and Niel Fiske, American experts in consumer marketing explain in their book “Trading Up” how the middle classes around the world, but especially in the United States have redirected in recent years their search for premium products, which provide them feelings of prestige, self reward and emotional involvement.
These apparently loose phenomena have contributed in some way to make luxury products and services a little more homogeneous than they were before. But true luxury is unique and makes consumers feel special. Designer Silvia Tchessari says that “luxury is the maximum expression of effortless elegance and therefore it is something intangible.” Absolutely, dear Silvia.
And the latest trends in the luxury market follow that path, indeed. The intangibility is provided essentially by the moment and by the interaction with the brand employees, who are the true ambassadors and do everything within their power to make the customer live memorable experiences.
A few years ago, the trend-hunting house Des Faits Des Actes owned by Saguez & Partners agency was the first to promote the Smile Attitude. This way of being in business has been adopted and interpreted in different ways by various brands, always aiming the customer well-being.
Then, the Kaplan Thaler Group, a New York advertising agency, have launched The Power of Nice book, encouraging genuine kindness, common sense and positive attitude as a way of delighting customers.
Guy Kawasaki, world-class, inspiring thinker in the world of management, entrepreneurship and technology, has written Enchantment, a fantastic book on the art of creating emotion and winning attitudes in business. Recommended reading for everyone who cares to delight customers.
And Monocle magazine, the bible of lifestyle trends, has also published a while ago about charm and its importance in businesses and brands.
The ingredients of Charm
So what is charm? It is normally conveyed by the elegance, eloquence, sobriety, genuine kindness, conviction, authenticity, instinct, savor-faire, opinion, integrity, impeccable appearance and effortless passion of those who work for such brands and deal with customers. Charm is not measurable and cannot be copied by the competition. It must be nurtured and cultivated. It cannot be purchased. It is always delivered by people, in order to provide the true luxury of making the customer feel unique, special and happy.
The Luxury Institute in NYC confirmed the trend and invite luxury brands to deepen their Customer-centric Culture, which is to be performed by emotionally-intelligent, customer-centric people. Some surveys performed by this American organization show evidence that luxury brands can increase customer retention and loyalty, when their employees use charm, warmth and sincerity in the whole process of interaction with the customer.
The Luxury Institute reminds that competitors can copy products and services but they cannot copy the attitude of those who live the brand values and pass them on, while selling to their customers. TLI further suggest a set of actions that premium and luxury brands may develop in order to strengthen such ‘customer culture’, of which, the following are highlighted:
the importance of recruiting customer-centric people, who know how to build relationships;
develop a culture based on values and create standards that allow employees to live these brand values;
design small daily rituals that enhance employee motivation and keep that flame burning with a system of rewards and celebrations which are consistent with the values that brands breathe.
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, talent management expert and partner of recruitment multinational Egon Zehnder International – whom I met a few years ago at a Management Conference in Madrid – argues that emotional intelligence, rather than intelligence quotient, is the most valuable feature to look for and recruit when we seek customer-centric people to work in our brand.
And I remind you of a very interesting concept, which I have already written about in a previous article: the job of the CHO – Chief Happiness Officer.
Premium and luxury brands, in this context of globalization, hypermodernity, market turbulence, rampant competition and growing homogenization of products and services, need to develop more intangible value. Brands should invest in someone who smoothly combines technical expertise and talent to think, organize and manage the entire process that ensures the happiness of employees, but above all, that of customers when they are buying a product or enjoying a service.
And that someone must be the Chief Happiness Officer 🙂