2014 Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe
Luxury. The dark side spells opulence, conceit and gluttony. Luxury can also be associated with excellence, majesty and worth. Using the handle to revere an automobile, abode or aperitif implies a sense of refinement and elegance. It is the choice of the wealthy and the aspiration of wannabes. Technavio Research predicts the luxury market will grow to $33 billion over the next five years. Branding luxury has lassoed the attention and budgets of countless enterprises striving to increase their share of market of this lucrative segment.
“Luxury is fundamentally a state of mind,” says John Scott, former president of The Orient Express’ luxury passenger train. It is foremost an expression of distinction reflecting acts that exhibit fine craftsmanship, evident pride, superior training and perpetual attention to detail. And there are protocols that, if honored, help ensure the experience is distinguished for the discerning patron.
Luxury service is not just the purview of an affluent customer, although it is typically the target market. Most wealthy customers can recognize the subtle features of luxurious quality—gilding on a chair or thread count on a sheet. But even the blue-collar worker enjoying that long-saved-for special occasion at a swanky hotel can sense luxury when he feels it, even if he can’t detail exactly why. Walk in the lobby of The Raffles Hotel in Singapore or board the Oriental Express train in Paris bound for Venice. You instantly know the setting is carefully crafted from the playbook of a palace butler.
This does not mean a familiar banter or a repeated pattern that typically governs most service experiences in the disciplined, branded world of commerce. Luxury-seeking customers want unique, not uniform. “Luxury customers,” says James Brown, CEO of Brownstone Hotels & Resorts, “seek stimulation, not standardization.” Luxury customers avoid cookie-cutter experiences shoehorned into a venue like an economy tour group. What are the features customers label “a luxurious experience?
Here are five features luxury-seeking customers expect.
Luxury Service is Magical and Subtle
The Pebble Beach Lodge and their Golf Links near Monterey, California, are carefully maintained after bedtime, so guests never see them being manicured. The Las Brisas Hotel in Acapulco uses manual hedge clippers and push mowers, so hotel guests never hear the unpleasant sounds of maintenance underway. Many Rolls-Royce dealerships use the same bull hide leather on their dealership chairs as in the vehicle; the table on which new owners sign papers is constructed of the same Malabar teak wood found on the vehicle’s dashboard.
Part of the magic of luxury service is that it happens at the right time, never late or early. And it is in sync with other time-bound events that surround the experience. Wait time is choreographed to ensure a guest never endures their experience as wait. The exotic Saison Restaurant in San Francisco, for example, serves guests the chef’s special appetizer, a complimentary filler to help patrons remain enchanted as their meal is prepared before their very eyes since the kitchen is in the center.
Moet & Chandon champagne
Luxury Service Invites Experimentation
Luxury service-seeking customers are not daredevils. While they are passionate pursuers of novel thrills, their risk-taking propensity is borne of education. They are willing to trust the service provider to guide them through a new experience if they know there has been close attention to quality and a constant focus on safety. Special knowledge opens previously unknown vistas and opportunities. It is not a pathway to “first on the block” bragging rights; it is about elevating their lives.
“Today’s luxury explorers crave places with a personality that embraces their surroundings or tells a story,” says Jack Ezon, Founder and Managing Partner of Embark Beyond. The Burj Al Arab in Dubai, some rank the top luxury hotel in the world, is also the home of the Dubai Turtle Rehab Project, which has released 1,600 sea turtles into the Arabic Sea. The Shou Sugi Ban House spa in Water Hill, New York, offers sound therapy with tuning forks and intuitive painting.
Luxury Service is a Unique Sensory Experience
A luxury service experience can use rare, unusual, or difficult-to-get components. For example, order a fruit plate at the Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood hotel in Los Cabos, and you are likely to find included passion fruit, unique figs, or slices of a cumquat. “When I discover we have a real music fan staying with us,” reports Steven Boggs, The Beverly Hills Hotel’s director of global guest relations, “I’ll take them up to the roof from where they can recreate the classic photo of the Hotel California Eagles’ album cover, which features the hotel’s unmistakable façade.”
The Spa at Cap Juluca Resort in Anguilla, BWI, not only blends a particularly fragrant flower (like Jasmine) into the oil used by the masseuse, but it also places a small sprig in the bottom of the guest’s locker, so the unique fragrance is “worn” by the guest after leaving the spa. The spa at the Borgo Egnazia Hotel near Bari, Italy, has on staff an artist therapist, a psychologist-composer, a scent master and a hair doctor.
Luxury Service is the Pinnacle of Comfort
Luxury service provides psychological comfort by being reliable and personalized. “Personal relationships with clients are what matters most to us. We have worked with some of our clients for 20, 30, even 40 years and have become their friends, confidants, and trusted advisors,” says Richard Lambert, senior partner and head of sales for Burgess Yachts. “Some clients are on their fourth or fifth superyacht, and we have grown this repeat business by delivering time and time again. It is not just about going above and beyond, but about listening and giving each client the close attention they deserve.”
Few organizations weave comfort into the service tapestry like Steinway and Sons. “Purchasing a piano over $50,000 is rarely done frivolously,” says retail sales manager Steve Tunnell of Steinway Hall in Dallas. “We help our customers discover they are purchasing not only a piece of beautiful furniture but are investing in an important musical heirloom. We try to make their experience with us comfortable by responding to their unspoken wishes. It means being part musician and part psychologist.”
Luxury Service is Elegance without Arrogance
Luxury service begins and ends with the “guardian of the experience,”—the server or service provider demonstrating enormous pride in artistry. However, the server must also exhibit deep respect for the customer. “Valuing transparency and honesty as your primary core convictions is tantamount to success in establishing long term partnerships with our clientele,” says Heath Strayhan, General Manager of Avondale Premier Collection in Dallas, sellers of brands like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston-Martin and Maserati.
Luxury service is the product of employee ingenuity. That customer-centered inventiveness comes from a clear-eyed vision of distinction. It demands high, unrelenting standards and imagining the customer experience as a 13, not simply a ten on a ten-point scale. It involves leaders who show employees the same respect they expect them to demonstrate to customers. And it requires leader-follower relationships that function as zealous partnerships in pursuit of excellence.
“Wealthy clients expect competence and confidence,” says Wealth Management Advisor and Senior Vice President Tom Berger of the CBC Group of Merrill Lynch. “If you have a culture of respect and partnership, those two features are byproducts clients feel.” Where there is the passion and courage to serve well, luxury service will emerge; where there is supportive leadership, luxury service will remain.