Finding sales personnel who will represent your brand to potential customers is half the battle won. But if the talent isn't up to the mark, not only the brand, but consumers also suffer.
By: Karishma Parkash
Posted on: November 10, 2010
Finding good and talented personnel who will represent the brand to potential customers is half the battle won. But if the talent isn’t up to the mark, not only the brand, but the consumers also suffer.
They acknowledge you with a smile and proudly strut forward with confident strides welcoming you into the place they worship. The shiny name tag and impeccable outfit matches the clink of the shoes and completes the appearance. Hopefully, that makes you feel well looked after. But try engaging them in a few seconds of conversation. Complete knowledge about the product range, previous collections and offering expertise isn’t something that sales personnel offer today. Not because they are busy, but because they have absolutely no clue. The talents employed by many big brands today limit their function to a mere Hello and Yes/No answers and oh yes, providing you with a fancy bill at the end.
Many consumers who have shopped for various luxury brands from around the world may find themselves in a situation where they seem to have more knowledge about the brand than the sales executive. A complete horror for any brand.
It is not the big bad monster named ‘Global Recession’ that is keeping top notch professionals awake at night, but the growing lack of talent in most sectors today. The luxury goods industry is no exception. The growth of India as a luxury goods market and its emerging potential can be gauged by the increasing number of premium luxury brands entering India. The luxury goods market in the country is set to touch a mark of USD 14.72 billion by 2015 (Source: CII – AT Kearney Report) and one of the prominent bottlenecks would be unskilled workforces.
Millions of dollars over the world are spent in hiring the right personnel and further training them in order to give customers the perfect experience. Whether it is the hospitality and service sector or the fashion industry, acquisition and retention of good talent is a necessary mandate.
Vincent Hoogewijs, General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, pointed out that the Indian luxury industry, which is lower than five per cent of the global luxury market, is still developing. According to him, the talent interested in this segment will slowly increase due to the aspirational value associated with the highly competitive market.
Rahul Jain, Managing Director of Mosaiko Watches Pvt Ltd, said “It has proven very difficult to get a person with requisite product, marketing and English speaking skills. If you’re lucky enough to find someone of that profile, their salary expectations tend to be unrealistically high.”
Roasie Ahluwalia, GM - Marketing & Communications, Genesis Luxury, had a more positive outlook on the same. According to her, there was a general lack of talent in the Indian luxury industry a couple of years back when international luxury brands just entered the Indian market, but now the situation has improved vastly thanks to training initiatives taken by brands themselves.
Anjali Pai, Brand Manager, Kiehl’s, which is all set to open its doors to the Indian public this November, proudly states that all the employees hired at the store are Indians from a retail background. The KCRs (Kiehl’s Customer Representatives as they are often called) are the main aspect of the Kiehl’s customer service.
Realizing and maximizing the true potential and power of a brand definitely goes a long way in the success of the brand. Ahluwalia and Hoogewijs both agreed that the brand value remained unscratched by the lack of talent (thankfully) and that the true growth of a luxury brand lies in the culture that company promotes through its employees. Adding to this opinion was Jain who laid emphasis on the need to be personally involved to a great extent and manage the communication from start to finish.
Try and try until you succeed
Every brand is unique and has different values and sentiments attached to it. Training the team correctly to further these values to the clients is of great importance for the brand. “We have an extensive training regime with regard to the brand culture followed by on the job training with the relevant department. Any problem area noticed is further addressed through appropriate training till perfected,” shared Hoogewijs.
Taking this thought forward was Ahluwalia who shared that Genesis Luxury has a very thorough training process in place. “All new recruits are given the right induction and mentoring processes required to help them fit into their desired roles.” Even Pai, for whom the entry into the Indian market is a big step, lays enough emphasis on training. “All our KCRs have been educated on the brand, products and the unique Kiehl’s approach to customer service. We also conduct a module on store operations and each country adapts the selling skills training based on country specificities. Superior service standards and our core distinguishing values are the foundation of the entire education curriculum. Education at Kiehl’s is ongoing. We conduct seasonal seminars for KCRs, and we encourage self-study habits throughout the year. When we are not in an education seminar, we are working at the store, supporting and guiding our teams there.”
On a precautious note was Jain who said “We ensure that we only partner with retailers who have sophisticated and appropriately trained staff in their stores. In addition, we hold orientation sessions for counter sales staff to familiarize them with our brands and their unique attributes.”
To build relationships
First impressions last a lifetime and often add the extra touch desired in the luxury industry. A professional consultant who doesn’t take the time to maintain a professional appearance presents a negative image which doesn’t help the brand from any angle. If you look and behave like a highly trained and well-groomed professional, chances are that you probably are! A fresh haircut, spit-shined shoes and a crisp suit go a long way in establishing a professional demeanour.
According to Ahluwalia, it was very vital for the store personnel to look the part as they represented the values and image of the brand. Adding to this opinion was Hoogewijs for whom the first impression was a crucial step in the entire buying experience. He stated that the sales personnel, after all, were a reflection of the brand and must ‘walk the talk’. Even Jain agreed that the sales staff was the face of the brand and as such must reflect the premium nature of the brand. A professional, well-groomed appearance is an absolute requirement.
Going the extra mile and building on a personal relationship with the consumers was another attribute that both managers laid emphasis on. Wouldn’t we all want to associate with brands that make us feel special? The answer is yes and everyone knows it. “We at the Four Seasons try to exceed expectations, not just meet them. We try to create “wow me” moments for our clients which will go a long way in any business,” said Hoogewijs. Ahluwalia too emphasized on the personal touch and stated, “It is building relationships, understanding needs and exceptional service that will draw a client back. Maintaining this relationship is the key to success in this industry.”
Honesty is the best policy for Jain who stated that it was essential for the sales staff to provide honest advice to the clients. “We don’t want our customers to be persuaded into buying a product they are lukewarm about. We’d rather not make a sale than have a customer with buyer’s remorse. Therefore our sales staff makes an effort to understand the personal preference of our customers and help them make a purchase decision that they’ll be happy for years to come. In addition, our sales staff tries to remember the buying habits and patterns of clients so they can immediately offer them products of interest during their next visit.”
Man to man, Indian to Indian?
There was a time when national identity was a major driver of business performance, but not anymore. Today we open our eyes to an era where successful global companies come from a variety of countries, and no nationality dominates across sectors. In many industries, success seems to originate from a fortuitous alignment of strong national cultural characteristics combined with distinct historical competencies, but it may not be true in the case of the luxury sector. While some consumers find it easier to connect with a salesperson coming from a similar nationality, some are indifferent as long as the help received was efficient and quick. Accent, cultural heritage and knowledge about the latest trends could be seen as points of comfort for most consumers.
“Yes, our way of business is ingrained in the cultural way of developing a personal relationship first. Once the trust is established, working with any business partner is an easy flow,” said Hoogewijs. Of different opinion was Ahluwalia who put more emphasis on the quality of service provided to sustain the client relationships irrespective of the nationality.
There is no question that today’s emphasis on good talent is more than just a management fad. Research in organizational effectiveness has repeatedly validated the view that good talent is valuable to every brand and organisation. However, after the initial acquisition of good talent, the training can be done right or wrong. When done well, good talent can bring a lot of good to a brand and make customers for life. When done poorly, they suck the soul out of a brand faster than anything else. Ineffective talent is a bad sign for the future of any brand and must be paid heed to. As Abhay Gupta, Executive Director, Blues Clothing Company rightly puts, “Yes, it is difficult to get the right manpower, but you have to find them, train them and retain them.”