By Paul Russell co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, www.luxuryacademy.co.uk.
A favourite quote of mine about the luxury market is from Oscar Wilde: “I have simple tastes, I’m always satisfied with the best,” as for me it encapsulates the luxury mind-set, what customers want and expect from the industry. Lots of people want to get into the luxury market and it is easy to see the appeal. A $200 billion industry where trends originate and flow down to the masses and where unique, experiential offerings are the order of the day.
People often make quite incorrect assumptions about me when they meet me for the first time, thinking that because I work in luxury now I have little understanding of the ‘other side’. However, I grew up in India and witnessed the terrible depravation and inequality that existed and continues to exist in the country. India is changing in its attitudes to luxury, the industry has truly exploded, yet I can always understand the drive and determination from an individual wanting to improve themselves, to become a better communicator, to enhance their employment prospects and succeed.
At twelve, I came to the UK for school and to a country with a completely different culture and etiquette to India. It was perhaps at this time as I adjusted to my new surroundings that I began to really observe the behaviours of others, interactions, how culture forms attitudes and behaviours and the subtleties of communication. The obvious choice for university was psychology and I undertook both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Workplace Psychology and Occupational Psychology. For me, this is always the correct approach in the luxury industry; to approach it from a socio-psychological perspective.
This is often where newcomers to the industry go wrong, they underestimate it and think that the same rules for the mass market apply. They don’t. Luxury is so complex because it is intrinsically tied up with meaning. The meaning we attach to specific brands, products or experiences, both on an emotional and a symbolic level. After working around the world for the luxury multinationals I appreciated this instinctively, yet it was nigh on impossible to find someone to train my staff who understood the luxury world intimately. Luxury Academy was founded in 2012 and we have gone from strength to strength. But it was based upon real market need, built on solid understanding of luxury and designed specifically for the luxury market.
When we train staff in the luxury industry we always have an appreciation that we all come to the training room with different life experiences, attitudes, behaviours and ways of seeing the world. We spend a great deal of time working with staff to enable them to view a service encounter from the customer or guest’s perspective, and giving that empathy and understanding of their position. It is easy for us to dictate ‘this is what you must say’ but without that empathy, the interaction will never be at its optimal level. One of the best parts of the job is seeing that lightbulb moment for staff when they begin to think like their customer.
My absolute favourite training to deliver in the luxury market though has to be Body Language, Assertiveness and Presentation Skills. It still astounds me that these skills aren’t taught at schools as the difference you can see in an individual over three days is immense, how they carry themselves, the inner confidence and belief. The type of skills that allow the staff member to engage with their luxury customer with grace and to deliver the experiential elements of the brand experience that will enable an interaction to be classified as truly luxurious.
Luxury is constantly evolving and adapting, it has to, and to operate in the luxury industry you have to be ready to do the same. Customers are constantly searching for the new and exciting and it is down to the suppliers and brands to deliver it with aplomb.
About the author
Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, www.luxuryacademy.co.uk, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.