Last Christmas I tried to buy some posh cheese biscuits in a very nice tin for some American friends from a very famous high-end UK department store. And this being modern life I ordered online and deciding to save on the delivery I opted to click and collect because I was going to be in London.
Typically, my plans changed and the day I was supposed to collect I found myself in deepest darkest Dorset.
So I rang customer services to ask them to deliver them instead. All fine so far. A bit annoying that I couldn’t change my plans and arrange delivery online, but no matter, I’m happy to pick up the phone on occasion!
But that’s where it all went wrong.
The first and second time I rang the customer services helpline the operator put the phone down on me.
The third time I rang the phone simply rang out.
The fourth time I rang (at 5.30pm, immediately after putting down the phone from my third effort) I was advised by a recorded message that the store was now shut.
Somewhat annoyed by this point I put calling the store on my mental to do list … and promptly forgot.
I finally remembered my biscuits a few days later. I checked the time – conscious of my previous disappointments - it was the middle of the afternoon so I was pretty confident the store would be open. Finally I got to speak to someone.
Unfortunately that someone couldn’t have been less helpful.
I explained what had happened but they said I had come through to Head Office and I needed to speak to the store where I was supposed to have picked up the biscuits.
Did they have a number for that store, I asked. Of course not, the reply. That’s what Google’s for apparently.
After a few minutes spent tracking down the St Pancras Station branch phone number I finally reached someone in the store, only to be told I needed to speak to head office as my biscuits, having not been picked up within the allotted 5 days, had been returned there.
Oh good another call to Ms. Helpful.
I was joylessly informed that because my biscuits had been returned I was going to have to reorder them. And, no, she couldn’t just issue another tin of biscuits out for delivery.
Naturally, as I had her on the phone, I asked if she could reorder them for me.
You guessed it - no. I had to do it online or in-store.
I did point out that if I was in-store, I could have just purchased them there and then. By this point the whole conversation was becoming farcical. And we hadn’t even addressed the issue of a refund for my aborted biscuits. But she wasn’t able to do that either, instead she advised me to send an email to finance (she did at least provide me with the contact details this time) and they would process my refund.
Digital is no add-on
Reader, I did not reorder the biscuits. My friends got a very nice bottle of wine instead.
Expecting my somewhat Dickensian experience to be the exception, not the rule, I recounted my awful experience a number of times to anyone who’d listen. To my surprise I was met with nods of recognition and tales of poor service, byzantine process and let’s call a spade a spade - first hand experience of life at the Victorian Tradesman’s Entrance when dealing with very traditional luxury retail stores.
Given the premium charged for products and the onus placed on face to face service how could they get digital integration and the concept of seamless, ‘servantless’ (thank you Julia Child) self-service so badly wrong?
And therein lies the answer. Many luxury brands are so focused on their in-person customer experience, the advent of digital and the mould-breaking shifts in behaviour and expectation it ushers in has all but passed them by.
Whilst many luxury brands such as Gucci, Chanel, Ferrari, Jumeirah etc. were busy with digital transformation looking at how digital touchpoints and channels could enhance the customer experience (such as Chanel’s Fake detector app or Gucci’s AR advertising campaign) the more staid, traditional luxury brands were concentrating on maintaining their core brand experience - hoping quietly that digital would turn out to be a blip.
On realising that digital wasn’t going to go away they were left to play catch-up and inevitably implementation was tactical, not strategic and rushed.
The key to digital integration, no matter how far along the adoption curve you maybe – a digital native business such as M.Gemi or a traditional bricks and mortar business like Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols etc. – it is crucial that you align digital transformation with the end-to-end customer experience. Considering individual missions and journeys and applying their own brand of customer service - irrespective of location or device.
Just having a click and collect function is not enough.
I can’t have been the first customer not to have picked up my order and if everyone had the same experience trying to buy then any brand’s equity must soon be eroded - what was supposed to add value could instead prove to be very damaging indeed.
Digital is not an add-on. Nor is it a linear journey. It needs to reflect everything an individual customer wants to do - and deliver a premium, seamless and personal experience wherever and whenever our 24/7 365 Global Luxury customer chooses to do it.
Richard Calvert, co-founder and strategist, The Thread Team
Image Credit: M247