The Art of Details

How does putting a pen a certain way in your luxury store make a difference? It does make a huge impact. The key is in details...

By: Jean-Claude Roustant, Consultant-training expert and coach in the luxury business

Posted on: August 10, 2011

How does putting a pen a certain way in your luxury store make a difference? It does make a huge impact. They key is in details…

“A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.”

About 16 years ago, I was looking for a subject that would excite the experienced store managers of a famous luxury brand. I worked with some high level specialists - a famous semiotician (a person who studies signs and symbols) and a specialist of detail in paintings. Together, we created a session that was inspiring for the attendees. It is difficult to share the exact experiences we created, but it is possible to discuss about how one can use details to mobilize a team, to go the extra mile for the customer, to reach excellence. Pascal says it best with his statement: “Quand on lit trop vite ou trop doucement on n'entend rien” - “When we read too fast or too slow, we don’t hear anything”.

What’s in a word?
Detail. Let’s explore this word.

Mastering detail makes the difference between good and excellent, between a job well done and an exceptional accomplishment. The traditional Western attitude is that details are unimportant. We have to change this attitude, to the point where they are considered to be that little extra that makes all the difference.

Etymologically, detail means portion. Its first meaning implies cutting: detail, or the cutting of a piece of meat, for instance. From ‘portion’, the word’s meaning evolved toward something of little or minor importance, a definition that is not given in the Littré, a 19th century French dictionary. Today, detail has come to mean accessory, superfluous, unimportant....But defining the word detail is not easy, as there are different kinds of details. We can distinguish between good and bad details.

Regarding good details, we think of details as a luxury, we think of our affection for details, of authentic details, of the reverence of details, of the cherry on the sundae… For bad details, we think of being lost in details, of the fatal detail, of Murphy’s Law, of detail as a mere accessory, secondary, superfluous…

When you come to think of it, details are everywhere. In art, we talk about personal touch, style. In fine cuisine, we talk about a bit, a pinch, a touch, a drop, a dash. In perfumes, we talk about scents, aromas. In music, we talk about a crotchet or quaver rest, sharps and flats. We understand that details are everywhere. We can even see the place of detail in history. Pascal said, “If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the face of the earth would have changed”.

Understanding ‘Detail’
Details are everything and we need to consider how we can use this in a retail environment. We all know that what is always at stake is customer satisfaction.

In the luxury business, the real objective is to go from a satisfaction figure of say 80 per cent (the level expected by the customer) to 90 per cent (a very satisfied customer). The first level expected by the customer will usually transform her purchase intention into an actual purchase. The second level ensures loyalty. This transition will only happen due to a genuine attention to details.

Let’s take two examples in the hospitality business. What could we expect from a parking valet? What makes the difference when he brings around your car after a stay at the hotel? Of his own initiative, he decides to clean the interior of the vehicle, (re)adjust the seat to the customer’s size (which he diligently took note of), put a fresh bottle of water in the car in summer, or turn on the car’s heating system in winter.

What are the details that a chambermaid can emphasize in order to make the guest’s stay a perfect experience? The chambermaid can take note of the many details that may appear superfluous for some people - such as the customer’s favourite fruits, so that when she changes his fruit basket he will be particularly happy to see his favourite ones; items of furniture that the customer has moved during his stay, so that when he arrives the room is arranged according to his wishes, a desk moved closer to the window, a clock placed on the right hand side of the bed, a picture frame with pictures of his loved ones…

There are details that underline, that isolate, that announce, that leave their signature, that connote, that alert, that denote, that contradict, that reveal, that differentiate, that authenticate, that cry out, that specify, that reveal, that amuse, that mask, that open, that identify, that disorientate, that suggest, that symbolise....

Detailing detail
If we take the example of details that alert, it will be the little something that will ring a bell in the customer’s mind - the little thing that does not fit with the whole. Many examples come to our minds, like the commercial and artificial smile of a sales person when we are entering a store, even if the store is perfect and reflects luxury.

An example of a detail that leaves its signature is when a sales person accompanies elegantly a customer to the door waves him/her goodbye.

Details that reveal, could be the little something forgotten by the sales person. In fine watchmaking boutiques, often a small calculator is forgotten on a desk, showing to the customer that he is in a store where one can ask for a discount!

Some details are key to the customer’s perception of quality. Details will also differentiate your store or your way to consider your customers.

For instance, the way some brands organize rituals. The welcoming ritual at Six Senses Spas is interesting. A hostess will welcome you and offer you a ginger organic tea with honey, so that you have time to relax and fill in a form.

Some Sofitel hotels have developed the ‘candles ritual’. At sunset, a team of staff will ‘play’ the lighting of beautiful candles in the lobby, giving it a different aspect and ambiance.

There are ‘essential’ details that help to live a different experience. For instance, it will be the smell of a boutique, with a fragrance adapted to the brand, and sometimes adapted to the time during the day, or the type of atmosphere the store wants to develop. Some brands spray their perfume on the tissue paper when wrapping a product.

The music also in a luxury boutique can have an impact on our mood. Bonpoint, the well known brand of children clothes, has developed a musical ambiance, reminding the mothers of childhood music.

What is a detail for some people could be essential for others. We know that the customer does not have the same perception of detail than the staff. A small detail for a very busy sales associate, may be essential for a client as they arrive, like a box forgotten on a presentation desk, or a dirty glass display case.

To create the WOW effect, devote special attention to detail.

What is today a detail will be important tomorrow. For instance, clients at luxury hotels are increasingly demanding some aspects that were earlier considered as details: Hi-fi system, easy internet access, quality and smell of the pillows. Previously, two pillows were enough. Today check the number of pillows available in five-star hotels! Working on detail will make the difference with customers who always have ever-increasing expectations.

Details also tell a story to the customer. It is the accumulation of the right details in the sales presentation that will tell the customer that he is making the right purchase. Those details could be the words used by the sales advisor with a few comments on what could be of particular interest to this customer: an anecdote, talking about the designer or some history about the product.

A passion for detail is a way of showing one’s professionalism. Like a drop of water on the surface of a lake, sending out ripples in all directions, we must pass on our passion and love of details, our intellectual curiosity, so that we can continually improve and transmit values of excellence.

Jean-Claude Roustant is a consultant on training in the luxury business – probably one of the very few providing this expertise. He has worked as the retail training director at Louis Vuitton for 13 years. Today he provides expertise to luxury brands like Caran d’Ache, Relais et Chateaux, Sofitel Worldwide, Maurice Lacroix and fine watchmaking businesses in Switzerland.

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