White table cloth? The Top 3 Rules for Feedback

Note: Customerville works with retailers and restaurant chains. Though this post was originally targeted more at retailers, several white table cloth restaurant operators pointed out that much of this applies to them as well. Enjoy!

As we wrote last week, luxury retailers everywhere are fighting to reconfigure themselves to survive and – in a few cases – prosper in the new, austere economy. One of the first things they’ll need to do is overcome a historical discomfort with asking their customers for feedback. Here’s how they’ll do it.

There are two things that every luxury retailer in the world thinks each morning when they awake. First, that ballooning consumer debt has forced consumers to divert funds away from consuming in favor of paying down credit card bills.

The second is that people are not diverting that spending away from the grocery store or the kids’ dentist.

In the downsized economy, luxury retailers everywhere must do everything they can to retain and expand long-term customer relationships. That starts with addressing a historical discomfort with asking their customers for feedback.

Last week I discussed the reasons why this discomfort exists, and its economic costs. This week, we’re pleased to unveil our Top 3 Luxury Retailer's Rules for Feedback – how smart luxury retailers can finally leverage the technologies available through the web today in ways that don’t clash with their luxury brand experience.

Rule #1: Use your CEO or Creative Chief – Personally.

Luxury brands must always bank on their cachet. We’re the first to admit, though, that asking for feedback via the web can seem a bit low-brow. That’s in part because the technology and business systems around live customer feedback really came into their own in quick-serve restaurants and Main Street retail.

Your first job in luxury is to bring the feedback loop up to your level, and nobody in the organization is better suited to do that than the face of the company. Your customers expect high-touch. In the same way they would be thrilled to be recognized and greeted personally by the likes of Ralph Lauren or Blake Nordstrom in public, you can leverage your leader’s image and add fresh shine to the idea of customer feedback by making a personal ask direct from the head of the organization to your customer.

Here are a couple of examples, where we’ve illustrated how Spain-based luxury A-player Loewe might leverage the star appeal of their very talented Creative Director, Stuart Vevers.

I’d even take that a step further. As we kicked this idea around, it occurred to us that we might advance the idea of the CEO (for instance) showing the customer behind the curtain a bit by having some call-outs explaining why she’s interesting in getting feedback, which you can see in the second sample.

Rule #2: Never be on defense with technology.

There are two critical reasons why you must you use the web gather feedback from your customers – aggressively.

First, your customers are already using it. Joe Skorupa’s excellent wrap-up of 10 top retail luminaries’ predictions for 2010 was saturated with the message that the economy will continue to push retailers to find ways to engage customers using technology – if only because those customers are already embracing technology to share their thoughts about you with everyone else in the world through the medium of social networking.

Second, being as effective as possible at keeping and growing your brand’s followers in your stores absolutely requires that each store knows exactly and objectively how customers feel about their experience in each individual store. You must connect many customers’ feedback to the right people in your organization.

Accomplishing this means harnessing your customers’ existing willingness to give feedback via the web and channeling it right to your associates. The end result should be making positive employee behavior changes a daily, company-wide occurrence.

Rule #3: You must put your own stamp on customer feedback.

The fundamentals of creating a vibrant feedback loop between customers, managers and employees are the same in luxury as they are on Main Street: Ask, Listen, Learn…and repeat.

Especially when it comes to the asking bit, Luxury must make sure that the creative talent in your organization has a strong role how you ask for this feedback; otherwise it’ll fail to click with everything else in your stores, ads and online presence.

A key example is a customer incentive. Avoid traditional enter-to-win drawings and bounce-back coupons like the plague for the obvious reasons – they are far too blue collar for your brands.

Instead, try a warm message written directly by the CEO (featuring a candid photo) offering that each year you hand-pick guests who give feedback and fly them in to meet your artisans and designers. The price tag on that type of award is nearly identical to traditional enter-to-win drawings, but the overall feel will be far more in line with your brand. And take it from us, you will create tremendous buzz.

As luxury brands reconfigure themselves to survive and – in some cases – prosper, a vital element will be learning to find ways to measure and disseminate their customer experience in ways that are congruent with the larger brand experience.

The good news is that they're closer to successfully doing so than you might think.

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