By Adam Guy, COO/CFO, AWC – International Merchant of Fine Wine & Spirits and Levi Hensel, Director of Marketing, AWC – International Merchant of Fine Wine & Spirits

Many luxury brands often feel protected by their name, under the assumption that longevity, heritage and history will automatically be perceived as quality. However, in today’s increasingly competitive and fast-evolving marketplace, no brand can rest on their laurels, regardless of whether they are FMCG online offerings or bespoke, luxury retailers; companies of all sizes and sectors launch and fold on a regular basis. Today’s ‘next big thing’ is tomorrow’s forgotten brand name. Customer loyalty is never a given, and these days, choice is so wide and varied that switching allegiance has never been simpler.

Adam Guy, AWC
Adam Guy, AWC

This is where quality of service comes into play. When price is the priority, that is all that matters, and brands can entice customers with discounts and loyalty points. However with premium brands, superior, bespoke products have to go hand in hand with service and if there is one key philosophy it is that ‘discount’ is the death knell word of true luxury. Research out earlier this year found that poor customer service encourages as many as 50% of all UK consumers to switch to another brand*. Chances are, once these customers have left, they won’t be coming back. It is far easier to nurture and hold on to the customers you have than to find new ones.

This is why it is essential to listen to your customers, ask them what they think of your company, your products and your services and to modify your business plan and practices accordingly. Too many companies would rather bury their head in the sand than acknowledge they might not be performing 100%. However, as businesses are nothing without their customers it is essential to regularly understand what it is customers are looking for. Requesting customer feedback not only helps analyse what isn’t working, it helps to establish what aspects of your offering are valued, and which should be built on by rewarding members of your organisation who are performing well.

Levi Hensel,AWC
Levi Hensel,AWC

Earlier this year at AWC we undertook a survey through Investors in Customers (IIC) to do just that. We polled more than 150,000 individuals in our active and prospective client database to establish their opinions of what is and isn’t working for the. The objective was to gauge which of our current operations are succeeding or need attention, and to evaluate new avenues aimed at delivering improved fine wine options and related services in the future. We were pleased to hear that the majority of respondents felt that we offered “outstanding service”, 80% stated that our staff were “knowledgeable about the products and services they provide”, and a further 8 out of 10 felt they “trusted AWC staff to behave with fairness, integrity and honesty”. This was valuable information that we could share with the team, and a good morale builder.

Our record for going the extra mile to satisfy clients was commended, with many individuals citing the company’s flexibility in accepting payment in multiple currencies and its commitment to delivering wines to hard-to-reach destinations around the world. However, the survey also gave customers an opportunity to state areas that potentially needed improvement and AWC is already acting on this feedback in a number of ways. This has included revaluing some of our most popular wines to ensure that they deliver the best value available globally, making a number of key new staff appointments to our Purchasing and Logistics/Operations teams to ensure seamless transactions, and investing in additional systems, training and mentorship of staff.
In business, one can never second guess what customers are thinking. High street stalwarts such as HMV and Woolworths were accused of not listening to changing customer priorities or responding adequately to new technology and they suffered as a result. In just the past couple of months Tesco has faced similar trials and falling customer confidence, with a direct impact on their bottom line. It would be well advised to poll its clientele in a similar fashion for feedback. Of course, luxury brands do not face the same challenges as high street stores – customers are less likely to be price-driven and they will be more inclined to react positively or negatively to the service they receive, whether it is merely phoning a client when you say you will, or going the extra mile to deliver a product to an out of the way destination outside of office hours.

awc logoCustomers expect more from luxury brands. They demand meticulous levels of detail and they will go elsewhere if they don’t receive it. It is not just about pre-sale, but also post-sale. It is not just about a transaction, but also about a memorable experience. While Tesco was voted the worst supermarket in the UK based on customer satisfaction last year, spending at the chain still accounts for one in every £10 spent in the country. At this level, it is assumed that it is only the price that matters. However, given Tesco’s recent difficulties, perhaps it is not the only factor in gaining and retaining happy, loyal customers. Meanwhile, brands such as ours need to continually work harder when it comes to service and there is no margin for error. Whilst we pride ourselves on our service, we are never complacent and we continuously monitor satisfaction levels, rather than take them for granted or assume they are stable. Loyalty is a rare concept in today’s cut-throat consumer market, and it is crucial for all brands – regardless of their size or offering – to establish how their service is performing, what is working and what isn’t, in order to continue to deliver.
*New Voice Media, 2014

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