Delivering Luxury Customer Experiences in the Boutique
A Conversation with Fabrice Tavel-Besson & Frederik Schreve of Face2Face Retail Training Consultancy
Q: Fabrice & Frederik, you and your teams at Face2Face have worked with over 50 brands for over 6 years, training retail teams to create luxury customer experiences in the store environment. What is it that defines the luxury customer experience in a boutique?
Fabrice: A luxury experience is about emotions, generating positive emotions. These emotions are what make the difference between a forgettable transaction and a memorable experience, and this happens only when the service surpasses the consumer’s expectations. If customer expectations are met, they’ll be satisfied, but they won’t feel that they’ve experienced luxury.
Frederik: Exactly. You have to create an experience that’s a level above what they anticipate when they walk into the store. The first step, the bare minimum, is professionalism, but that has to be enhanced with a real human empathy and a deep sense of luxury aesthetics.
Q: And what is the role of the sales advisor in surpassing these expectations?
Frederik: It’s more than the individual sales advisor; it’s the whole sales team.
Fabrice: A big part of our philosophy centers on developing the competencies of the boutique manager, because you need the customer experience focus to become part of the work culture in the store. You don’t want to have to rely on outside trainers to come in all the time; that’s actually less effective. So although we do work with the sales team, we also do a lot of leadership training with the boutique managers.
Q: In your experience, what is the most common reason that luxury brand stores fail to deliver luxury experiences?
Frederik: I think the number one reason would be too much focus on immediate sales. Of course sales are important and the sales advisor should always make some attempt to close the sale, but modern consumers often visit a boutique during the exploratory phase of their shopping, when they want to learn about the brand and experience the brand’s world. With these kinds of non-buying customers you actually have a great chance to surpass their expectations and create an emotionally engaging experience, because their expectations aren’t very developed yet. A sales associate who is focused on short-term, quantitative objectives will miss these opportunities to start building a relationship, because they won’t engage with customers they don’t expect to buy during that visit. When the culture is too focused on immediate sales transactions , we often see that sales associates come to believe that building a relationship with clients is a waste of time, when in fact with many modern consumers, trying to do a “hard sell” is actually more of a time-waster.
Fabrice: Of course, sales associates don’t develop this kind of culture on their own. It often has to do with how they’re trained. A lot of retail training focuses on the “what” of the selling ceremony, but not the “why” or the “how”. Without those, you end up with sales associates who only use transaction sales techniques, which is the opposite of creating a luxury experience.
Q: So how do you change the culture? How do you get the new behaviors you teach in your training to “stick”?
Fabrice: Part of it, as I said, is developing the competency of the boutique managers. We also focus a lot on measurable results and accountability: we work with our clients’ HR teams to develop a customized evaluation system tailored to their needs and specific situation, so assessment and follow-up can continue long after the training has been completed. When Face2Face training is paired with an Albatross Store Performance Evaluation program, it creates an ongoing cycle of evaluation and improvement.
Frederik: We also provide digital learning tools that can be used by sales associates, on their mobile devices, to review the content and self-test their learning.
Q: What else sets the Face2Face approach apart from that of other retail training programs?
Fabrice: First of all, we’re experts on the luxury sector and in creating meaningful customer experiences for luxury consumers. Almost all of our trainers have a deep personal experience of working in luxury retail, and through our connection with Albatross we have access to their years of research on luxury consumers and the luxury market. This allows us to have a very deep, but also a very pragmatic view of the industry, and our pedagogy is built on that.
Second, we provide highly customized, highly localized programs. Every training program we conduct is created specifically to match the needs and business goals of the client. Moreover, when we go in to conduct training sessions with the retail team, we always have trainers who can work in the local language and address the local culture, who can act as effective translators between the brand standards and the realities faced by the team on the ground.
Frederik: Additionally, it’s very important to us that everything we do is measurable. There is always an assessment and follow-up program in place after every training module, which ensures that our clients can see real results in terms of both better customer relationships and increased sales.
Q: Okay, so let’s get concrete: how much of an increase in sales do clients usually see after implementing Face2Face training?
Fabrice: Our clients capture an increase of 3-5 percentage points in conversion rate during and after training; that’s the low end. But we’re proud to say that some of our clients have seen as much as a 600% improvement in sales from some boutiques after working with us. Because we’re always measuring the impact of the program, that means we can continuously adapt and improve it to make it more effective. Our programs work because they don’t stop when the training session ends; they keep going until results are achieved. That’s the difference between a training provider and a training consultancy partner like Face2Face.
To find out how Face2Face can help your retail teams, contact:
Managing Director - EMEAE / USA