What can luxury brands teach us about customer service and after-care?

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Customers have never been as demanding as they are today and expectations continue to rise rapidly. In the past few years alone we’ve seen personalisation, targeted ads and a seamless multi-channel experience become must haves rather than nice to haves, and the level of personalised attention consumers expect from brands is now staggering. It is also easier than ever to share this satisfaction (or indeed dissatisfaction). Brands need to ensure that they live up to these expectations to fuel positive word of mouth in this increasingly demanding society. But this is easier said than done. 

Continuing the service

One way to go above and beyond and prove to customers that they really are valued is to continue the service - and conversation - after they’ve made a purchase. 

The type of after-care expected, and indeed required, differs depending on the retailer. Customers popping down to their corner store for a loaf of bread and some milk will not expect the same service post-purchase as a customer purchasing a handbag from Louis Vuitton.

For a cornerstore shopper, good service will involve being open at the most convenient times, implementing relevant promotions, or doing a door drop highlighting the best deals. For a high street shopper, service after-sale is about feedback opportunities, easy online/offline returns policies, and the knowledge that they can get hold of a customer service member easily should they need to. For a luxury retailer, such as Louis Vuitton, the after-care will focus on following up on the experience and providing attention and care to the customer post-purchase – demonstrating to the customer that they are not only valued at the point of sale, but building a connection over time.

It is a very different story when shopping for other products such as clothes or electronics in the high street, where competition between stores is stiff, and choice proliferates.  Here, it makes very little sense not to continue service post-sale, given that this can be sufficient to nudge preference or loyalty, and result in repeat purchase. Retailers also need to bear in mind the old but true adage that it costs less to retain an existing customer than it does to attract a new one.

The luxury sector is arguably leading the way when it comes to meeting these rising consumer expectations. Luxury brands have had to prove their value to customers far more extensively than other brands, by providing an entire 360 experience that justifies the price. In the luxury sector, quality of product and service go hand in hand, and this is what makes the luxury experience so positive.

Luxury is leading the way

In an effort to differentiate by enriching the brand experience, luxury brands are extending the focus of the brand-customer relationship beyond pre-purchase encounters and shopping experiences to come after the sale.

Luxury brands are a promise of quality, born of expert craftsmanship, the finest materials and meticulous attention to detail. For consumers, the concept of luxury is changing as luxury brands seek to make themselves more accessible, and worldwide volumes are increasing. 

As a result, ‘true’ luxury brands are turning back to ideals of discernment – creating desire with distance and targeting “the chosen few” in an effort to set themselves apart from “masstige” brand connotations.

Most often, execution of these messages has been via retail. Stores have become ultra-sensory “temples” of luxury, where brands showcase products and materials in unique settings to create an individual and unique pre-sales and purchase experience. Excellent, personal service underpins the retail encounter, and it’s this lasting impression that forms the foundations of the customer’s relationship with the brand. Putting a focus on extending this encounter beyond the shopping experience helps luxury brands differentiate to engender better customer relationships and deeper brand loyalty.

The holy trinity of the retail experience

Spending time to check customer satisfaction with both the product and the experience, communicating brand and new product news in a relevant and personal way and working sensitively and efficiently to solve any queries or issues, are all vital tools brands can deploy post-sale to achieve a full and loyal customer relationship. Pre-sale, purchase and after-care are the new holy trinity of the (luxury) retail experience, and it’s brands that activate this that are the ones seeing the results.

Ways to bring this into your campaigns

For those brands looking to shore up the post-purchase customer relationship with great after-care, the toolkit is straightforward. Applying the same meticulous attention to the details of post-purchase communication and customer support as is afforded to the sales and retail experience is mandatory. Knowing each customer as an individual and ensuring to keep this information fresh and the relationship live will support ongoing communications. But above all, ensuring that after purchase the customer experience is commensurate with what the customer has come to expect from the brand will ensure the relationship pays for itself in time to come.

Case study: Alfred Dunhill

Alfred Dunhill's homes around the world (see Bourdon House in Mayfair) blend product and materials in a relaxed retail environment, putting the focus firmly on the creative mix with experiences such as a whisky bar, screening room, barbers and cafe.

After purchase, customer data is used to inform and fire an integrated, video-heavy BTL communications strategy comprising social, email, direct mail and events, which are all, in themselves, pieces of the brand. You don't have to be in a buying mood for the brand to want to interact - in being there for the relationship, when it's time to buy, the brand is right there.

Pitfalls to avoid

The road can potentially become rocky when product faults can't be dealt with immediately or to the customer’s satisfaction. Stories of customer queries being passed (and lost) to "head office", or of product faults going unfixed and un-refunded are the stories which are most amplified in social media, and can be most sales and brand-damaging.

Of course, there are challenges with executing such a customer care-focused strategy. Good after-care requires resourcing with strong service personnel empowered to make good decisions on a personal customer level so that if mistakes happen, complaints can be turned into success stories. Furthermore, planning a comms strategy that differentiates existing customers down to a personal level requires its own thinking and resources.

Retaining customers isn’t rocket science – it just takes a bit of hard graft

The results of activating a more care-focused strategy can be measured immediately. Registration for warranties to protect high value goods has often been overlooked but should be integral, providing insightful data. Starting a conversation with a compelling narrative at this early post-purchase stage keeps your brand front of mind for subsequent purchases and gifts.

The old adage holds true, and in an age where customers expect so much and have a huge choice of providers to select from, brands need to work increasingly hard to retain their fickle customers. Continuing the pre-sale and purchase experience beyond this is an obvious stepping stone in gaining loyalty, and therefore returns, from customers.  

Helen McCall is account director for digital engagement agency Tangent Snowball.

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