My early experience of luxury client service was with the client service team of a coffee brand that was well-known for a series of commercials featuring a handsome and famous film star. No prizes for guessing who.
When I asked them to describe some of the emotions that the films generated, they used adjectives like warm, funny, sophisticated, relaxed and charming. When I asked them if they felt their customers would use these words when talking about their client service experience, they shook their heads.
They felt this would be wrong. They believed that for an affordable luxury product, the client expectation was only about politeness and respect.
The eureka moment came when they understood that the words clients use to describe a brand are the words that are also applicable to the client service experience. After all, if you are selling warmth and charm why not apply those characteristics to the client service experience?
When you make the connection between marketing brand voice and the tone of voice used by client service you unlock a huge engagement opportunity. Not only do you differentiate your brand from the competition, but you have a far higher chance of achieving the holy grail of client service – brand advocacy.
What better recommendation is there than clients telling their friends about their amazing client service experience? That’s why great luxury client service is the best marketing a brand can have.
How Marketing, Brand Values, Management, and Channel Characteristics Influence Perception
In luxury client service there is often an internal perception that the correct way to speak to a client should be polite, courteous and formal. Yes, it should. However, if your goal is to establish a rapport and a long-lasting relationship this kind of thinking is limiting.
The internal and external perception of a brand are two different things, ones that are influenced by the interplay between marketing, brand values, management and the characteristics of different channels
Being aware of how they interact is an important if you want to make sure that perceptions are all aligned.
- Marketing generates awareness and a desire for the product.
- Brand values are what your organisation stands for, values that are triggered subconsciously by marketing.
- Management are the internal interpreters of this, hopefully for the benefit of everyone working in client service.
- Channels are what you use to engage with your customers.
The characteristics of different luxury client service channels
It is the different characteristics of each channel that produce complexity. For example a telephone call offers immediacy and when handled expertly a great deal of trust.
Email by contrast is distant and slow. It requires an ability to write with clarity and concision, often with a different tone of voice to spoken communication.
Social Media, whether Facebook or Twitter, is perceived (mistakenly) as instantaneous and due to the public and micro nature of some of the conversations full of risk as well as opportunity.
Live Chat is where the expectation of a quick resolution is at its highest.
Jake: Thank you for getting in contact regarding this thoughtful gift. I’ll be happy to help. Do you have any items in mind?
Paul: Maybe something like a scarf?
Jake: Okay sure, that sounds perfect. Can I know how much you are looking to spend?
Paul: 150 – 200 GBP would be okay for me.
Jake: Let me have a look and see what I can recommend. I’ll be a couple of minutes.
Paul: No problem.
Jake: Thank you for your patience. Although we do not have any scarves in this range, we have a Slim Silk Scarf inspired by the Henry Moore prints of the recent runway collection.
Live Chat is the most conversational of channels.
As a channel that’s associated with Text and What’sApp, it also carries with it the highest expectation of informality.
Adapting tone of voice to different channels
All this highlights the importance of understanding the differences and similarities of each channel and why tone of voice needs to adapt to each. Get this right, together with an understanding of the role of marketing, brand values and management and you minimise the risk of having conflicting perceptions.
Phrases such as ‘How may I assist you?’, ‘Would you be so kind as to wait a few minutes?’ or ‘Please be assured that I have brought this to the attention of…’ might be perceived as correct internally. However, externally they may give a conflicting impression, one that is at odds with the brand image.
Too often there is an over-dependency on such expressions and insufficient effort to use language that is in line with the brand, the channel and the demographic of the client. This is one reason why so many brands sound the same.
Ideally, you want to create a sense of the personality behind the brand, one that genuinely cares; not an advisor who appears to be going through the motions.
The words advisors use influence 30% of customer priorities
The UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) in 2018 reported that Retail (non-food) is the strongest performing of all sectors when it comes to customer satisfaction. The extent to which luxury brands were included is unclear. Although significantly it found that 26% of customers would pay more for excellent customer service.
The UKCSI is based on the customer’s top 20 priorities. Take a close look at these and you see that seven of them are influenced by tone of voice.
This is relevant as it shows that over 30% of the customer’s priorities are influenced by the words that advisors use.
- Competence of the staff (Over the phone)
- Helpfulness of staff (In person)
- The handling of a complaint
- The attitude of staff (Complaint)
- Helpfulness of staff (Over the phone)
- Product / Service Quality (Over multiple channels)
- Friendliness of staff (In store, on the phone or online)
As we live in a relationship economy where personalisation has a huge impact, an understanding of language, in particular TOV, is an essential part of developing an exceptional client service experience. This has added significance when one considers the growing influence of AI and Chatbots.
The report also found that 84% of customers believe that staff need more training. If so, then developing better TOV skills must surely be a part of this?
Making TOV congruent with marketing
Having a tone of voice that is congruent with what you stand for as a company is an effective strategy to make your client service team memorable and effective.
The Swiss company, Patek Philipe, is the last independent family-run watch manufacturer in Geneva. Visit its website and you quickly have a sense of heritage and how every watch is treated with care, precision and respect. An ethos that it shares with its clients together with a strong emphasis on ancestry and family. These are the things that stand out in its marketing too.
I’m not fortunate enough to own a Patek Philipe watch, but everything I read, see or hear about them gives me a very strong sense of how I would be treated if I entered one of their shops or became a customer.
Gucci on the other hand, is more casual, irreverent and enthusiastic. Its imagery suggests that it wants to connect with more liberal and younger audiences.
History and heritage appear less significant. Instead, it playfully blends the traditional with the contemporary and the scruffy with the elegant. It intentionally challenges what is perceived as luxury and in doing so unlocks new ways of communicating with customers at a client service level.
How luxury client service connects with brand imagery
All luxury brands create a demand for their products through brand imagery, advertising and a distinct brand voice. They emotionally connect with their customers in order to make them really desire that bag, scarf or watch.
However, when the customer has to connect with the brand via its luxury client service channel, too often the brand voice they associate with their purchase is very different.
To correct this, client service needs to:
- Talk to those in marketing and brand engagement and have an on-going dialogue
- Understand what tone of voice means to them as team and their own sphere of activity
- Learn how communication and product values influence the way marketing creates awareness
You then start to remove the disconnect that exists between marketing and client service. The larger the brand the more time and resource goes into writing about and describing products. As they use specific words and expressions it’s logical that the client service team should know what they are.
Often these types of conversations unlock hidden ‘tribal’ words. These are the words that are unique to a brand, the kind of words that clients are familiar with and which, when used correctly, bring them closer.
What we mean by Tone of Voice
Tone of voice is an expression of the people behind the brand. It’s the way advisors use words to create an emotional feeling with those they engage with, whether on the phone, email, live chat or social media.
The more confident an advisor is about the tone of voice of the brand and the values that underpin it, the more likely they are to communicate in an effective and engaging way. Naturally, this will depend on their verbal and written communication skills as well as their sense of order, rhythm and pace.
- Funny v Serious
- Formal v Casual
- Respectful v Irreverent
- Enthusiastic v Matter of Fact.
This is a useful way of understanding and recognising how tone of voice works.
1. Funny v Serious
Humour is always a hot potato in luxury client service. What is funny in the eyes of the advisor is not funny for the client and so it is nearly always avoided. However, it you establish guidelines for when humour might be a good thing, it can be extremely powerful tool to establish rapport.
Being serious is safe and low risk. Some instances merit a serious tone of voice, but generally it’s not good for business if clients always perceive you this way.
2. Formal v Casual
How formal are you as a brand? We live in an increasingly informal world and so how do you balance this with the need to sound professional? To what extent does millennial (1980 – 1994) behaviour and buying power influence this?
Sounding over-formal and old-fashioned on digital channels does not always sound right.
Good Evening, Ms Lewis. We would like to invite you to join us on Live Chat (a private line) to leave your contact details in our inbox so we can further discuss your enquiry. Please find a link here https://bit.ly/2Uo2Taf. If you prefer, you may contact our Client Services on 0209 837 5400.Politely formal on Social
Kind regards, Pierre, Luxury Client Services.
Towards the end of the casual spectrum, perhaps the use of emoticons goes too far? However, never say never. Like humour there is a time, a place, a client and a channel where they might, just might, work in your favour. Not necessarily like this:
Laura Grant: Love your new advert but my fav is the one when they are walking through the airport and he says ‘I need to change my ticket’ – what was the song again…can you give me the link?Too informal on Social for Luxury
Howard May: Hey Laura, yes, it’s a cool track. It was ‘Relax’ by Frankie. Here you go!
3. Respectful v Irreverent
Using words to make you sound respectful is safe territory. However, how do you strike the balance where you are respectful but also interject informality? The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice often overlap and so working out where you want to be on the scales is an important exercise.
Clearly, no brand wants to appear irreverent. Satire and luxury are not natural bedfellows. However, I once came across an example where an irreverent and casual approach taken by an Argos advisor produced an extraordinary result.
Immy ‘BADMAN’ Bugti wanted an update on ‘ps4 things in moss side’. The advisor decided to reply to him using Immy’s street argo. The result was 6,051 Re-Tweets and the BuzzFeed article in which the story appeared was shared by over 28,000.
Is mirroring how your client writes irreverent? And whilst no self-respecting luxury band would dare do such a thing, it does highlight both the risk and awareness opportunity associated with social media client service.
Was the Argos advisor was fired or praised?
4. Enthusiastic v Matter-of-fact
If someone smiles at you, you will naturally smile back at them even if you don’t know them. Enthusiasm works in a similar way. The challenge for some luxury brands is that they confuse enthusiasm for being casual and instead opt for restraint.
Advisors who come across as enthusiastic as well as warm are often the ones who are good at selling products. They are also able to swap enthusiasm for empathy so that they emotionally connect with the client when dealing with a tricky situation.
Freya: I’m just wondering if I should go with my normal size?
Sophie: Yes, I can confirm that they are true to size. They are marvellous. A real favourite in our office. You have excellent taste in shoes!
Freya: Aw, thank you Sophie. I love how classic but modern they are.
Sophie: I think you will find them very special and comfortable.
Freya: Perfect. I’m just going to grab my husband’s card and place an order haha. Thank you so much for your help today you’ve been great.
Sophie: Lucky you! If you need further help, please do not hesitate to contact me again via Live Chat. I know you’ll love these shoes.Conversational and empathetic enthusiasm.
At the other end, being matter of fact always has its place, especially where it is factual information the client wants. However, being matter of fact is more to do with knowing how to be clear and concise as well as the ability to provide the relevant information quickly.
Luxury Client Service Tone of Voice Opportunities
When you are proactive in developing a tone of voice related to the brand identity you unlock a variety of powerful opportunities. You establish a communication thread running through the organisation that ensures your client service team are connected to marketing and brand engagement. So much so that you can legitimately claim that client service is marketing.
You are in a position to develop a client service tone of voice that is an expression of the people behind the brand. This is because they know what the brand stands for and how clients perceive it.
You start to master the quest for professional informality – an ability to strike the balance between being professional on one level but informal on another. Whist professional informality will vary from company to company, mastery of it delivers exceptional results.
Members of the client service team have a better sense of their own identity and the role they play in growing brand reputation. They are happier and more fulfilled. Automatically this leads to greater brand advocacy.
You narrow the gap between the instore and the digital client experience. As a result, you sell more products and services. Clients like talking to your advisors, whatever the channel, and they trust them. Like all pleasurable experiences, they are willing to repeat it.
Cumulatively, these benefits are extremely powerful. Not only do they lead to better overall client satisfaction but they add to the profitability of the organisation. They are an investment in the long-term future of the business.
Narrowing the gap between instore and online experience
At their best, luxury client service teams know how to generate brand loyalty, advocacy, better product awareness and revenue.
Today the gap is narrowing between the experience to be found in a luxury store and the one found online. For client service teams this represents a huge opportunity. People with disposable incomes and who lead busy lives or live in remote areas cannot always travel to Bond Street, Via Montenapoleone or Avenue Montaigne.
So long as they can have an experience that is congruent with what they want and expect from the brand, they will be satisfied. And if they are more than satisfied, they will return again…and again.
First of all, you have to remember that in the competitive luxury market, ‘How may I assist you?’ will only get you so far.