Craftsmanship in luxury

Craftsmanship is the cornerstone of the luxury goods industry. The obsessive focus on the art, the cultural roots, the societal context and the history not only preserves and enhances the heritage, but also helps tell a unique story and find markets for luxury goods, increasingly in countries far from home.

However as emerging markets not only demand goods as consumers but also slowly develop their own brands in luxury, how does the slow and steady pace of craftsmanship reconcile with the speed of globalisation?

The answer is deceptively simple: the historically well-established brands become evangelists for craftsmanship.

The craftsmanship and long heritage distinguish some of the most coveted luxury marques from the luxury upstarts. Such evangelism manifests variously: from Tod’s commitment to La Scala for the special project titled The Italian Dream, to Bottega Veneta’s opening of Scuola della Pelletteria to train the future generation of master leather craftsmen.

Is this bad news for emerging markets and emerging market brands?

Well, not really.

It does, of course, benefit immensely and strengthen the European luxury brands with a long heritage to showcase. But it also potentially levels the field, somewhat, for emerging markets — notably those with a rich history and creative treasures that are underexplored as sources of inspiration.

Think about what a Chinese brand could do drawing upon the history of the Tang dynasty to create beautiful products!

As some of you know, I am also a co-founder of the British jewellery brand, Livyora.  At Livyora, we created our Overture Collection by drawing upon Mughal Art and Architecture, that can be seen in India’s capital city and surrounding regions. We abstracted a visually stunning artifact of Indian heritage, to create stunning, handcrafted pieces in gold and precious stones. A wonderful story could once again be retold.

Craftsmanship still rules. All that is required is a new lens to look beyond the luxury marques of yore.

How to use "process" to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (3)

This third story is the last in this series but not the last one in the big schema by any means. Late last week, one morning, my phone rang with urgency and the following conversation ensues.

Caller: I am phoning from XYZ Bank’s mortgage centre.

Me: Yes, good morning.

Caller: I believe you have spoken with our mortgage advisors last week and I am calling to say that you need to call another number to confirm your acceptance.

Me: I telephoned yesterday already.

Caller: I know but I need you to call another number for your acceptance. (My “process” bells are already ringing!)

Me: Ok. Would you be giving me the number I should ring the number on the offer letter again?

Caller: Before I give you the number, I need to ask you some security questions. Can you give me your date of birth please?

Me: Seriously? You called me, right? I am supposed to take your word for it that you are calling from my mortgage provider’s offices. And then you say you need to ID me? This is not in the interest of the security of my personal information. How about you give me your number? I will then call it, ID you before I discuss anything? Does that sound fair?

Caller: I am afraid I cannot give you the number to call before I have asked the security questions.

Do you know that some of your processes may be illogical and making it hard for your customer to keep her part of the contractual obligations to you? Do you care?

Me: I am afraid I will not provide identifying information to an inbound call where I cannot see who is calling and where I have to go by what you say. Sorry.

Caller: Please hold one second. I need to ask my manager.

Me: Sure. (On hold).

Caller: Thanks for holding. My manager says it is ok to give you the number to give your acceptance without the security questions.

Me: Oh really! Thanks. I am so grateful.

This was a completely surreal conversation. Banks hold customers responsible for the safe keeping of their personal information. But then they turn around and set up these inane processes for identification that seem to make it impossible for the customer to keep the information safe. Either way the bank is safe. The customer is simply hopping mad, not to mention prone to fraud and other joys.

I then proceeded to ring the 0800 number provided where I was on hold for 23 minutes listening to REM’s “Everybody hurts” playing as hold music. It caused me some amusement but it may not to many callers to the mortgage centre. But then perhaps this is part of some process we are supposed to understand too?

The aim of this trilogy has been to highlight that:

1. Unbeknowst to managers, employees could be using narrow interpretations of “process”, telling customers how to bypass processes that they deem silly instead of telling their managers, being unimaginative about making quick revenue/ profits or just driving the customers around the bend.

2. In the process, they may be losing revenue and destroying goodwill, neither of which a business should really have to experience.

Do you know what’s going on at the coal face of your business?

Related reading:

It’s when you deliver that counts…

Is your business missing a trick?

How to use “process” to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (1)

How to use “process” to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (2)

How to use "process" to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (2)

The second story in this 3-part series illustrates how being in financial hot water can not and does not always compel organisational change.

I try to support small British businesses as much as I can. In late June, I ordered some things, including perishables, from a small business in SW England. It was due to reach by July the 1st.

On July the 1st, I arrived home to find a Parcelforce card dated “31/06” (31st June! – see picture) that said they had tried to deliver the package. There was a cross-mark across “the package has been returned to our depot”.

Did they really attempt to deliver this parcel on "31st June"? (c) Me
Did they really attempt to deliver this parcel on “31st June”? (c) Me

The recorded message on the helpline number at the back of the card says that if they had attempted to deliver the package on a weekday, there was no need to book a re-delivery as the package goes out the next day automatically for a second time. So on July the 2nd, I waited for the package. It did not arrive. At 630pm, I telephoned them and this time spoke with a human being. This is how the conversation went.

Instead of telling you about the processes they deem silly, are your employees telling your customers how to bypass those processes?

Me: I was expecting this package to be delivered today but it has not arrived. What can I do next?

Parcelforce CSA: Madam, did you make a re-delivery arrangement?

Me: Well, I phoned but your recorded message says there was no need to do that and it would go out automatically.

Parcelforce CSA: That is just a recorded message. That is just process. Don’t pay attention to it. You should have tried to talk to a human bein’.

Me: Just a recorded message? See you talk to customers, your managers don’t. Have you tried telling them how frustrating this is for your customers? What would you do if you heard that recorded message when you telephoned?

Parcelforce CSA: As I said it is just a recorded message. Personally I would ignore what the message says and talk to a human bein’.

The CSA was beating a recorded message in repeating information. I resisted telling him that I had patiently listened to their IVRS 4 times, without pressing any buttons, to bypass it and get to a human bein’. I have suffered the Parcelforce IVRS before and learnt that getting to a human bein’ is nigh on impossible.

Me: So now I am talking to you. What should I do? My package number is 202.

Parcelforce CSA: It should begin with a set of letters.

Me: Well, it does not and for good measure, also shows the date as 31/06!

Parcelforce CSA: Ok what’s the post code? (Checks) The parcel went out today but it is 645pm so I don’t think it will come today.

Me: Oh, thanks for telling me. The package has perishables. I fear they may smell by tomorrow.

Parcelforce CSA: Well, I can put it on pre-noon but if it smells, return it to the sender. You don’t have to take it.

Seriously? He was now telling me that the small business in SW England, their customer, would pay for Parcelforce’s interpretation of its articulated  process. Is it not enough that the small business is already suffering because their delivery partners stymie its efforts?

Royal Mail, the parent company of Parcelforce, is in such dire straits that one hopes they may want to do something extra to keep existing custom and goodwill. This experience gave me no hope in that direction.

The package arrived the following day after 3pm. So much for the CSA putting it down for “pre-noon” delivery. The mangoes in it were wilting but not smelling.

Related reading:

It’s when you deliver that counts

Is your business missing a trick?

How to use “process” to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (1)

How to use "process" to destroy goodwill and lose revenue (1)

Recent experiences with some well-known businesses have made me wonder if managers know how their organisations suffer from their employees’ interpretation of their “process”. And if they care. Here is a series of 3 short stories.

After attending a trade fair in Bangalore recently, I returned to London on a British Airways flight, leaving at 650am on a Monday morning. The flight was quite empty. A senior colleague was returning as well, but in a different class. So I thought, let’s ask for a possible upgrade for him. This is how the conversation went.

Me: Hi. My colleague and I were both here on a British trade delegation. So we fly BA naturally. Is there a way for you to upgrade him so we can travel back together?

BA CSA: Madam, the flight is quite empty. So we have no need to offer any upgrades.

At 5am, it took me a couple of seconds to figure the logic of this explanation. The airline would bump up some travellers if the lower cabins are over-booked and customers need to be accommodated. Of course, one could also be amongst those who get bumped off the flight altogether from an over-booked flight because it may serve the airline’s need. But we shall leave that aside for the moment. So in an empty flight, there is no need to upgrade anyone.

Business logic also tells us that once the plane is committed to a route, the operating cost is more or less fixed. So this was clearly a chance to be nice to a regular customer. Besides, we had not ruled out paying, but the CSA presumed we would not pay. So I persisted.

A recession is the time to work harder to keep the few customers you still have.

Me: I understand that logic but to someone who does not know how your industry works, it can sound odd. Of course as a trade delegation, we fly BA as much for the symbolism as for anything else.

BA CSA: Madam, we have no need to offer upgrades because the flight is quite empty. But if you can get me a signed authority from someone, I can do an upgrade. That is the process.

By now we had heard twice about the “airline’s need” to offer or not offer upgrades. We were then offered “hierarchy” as possible mitigation by way of “process”. At 5am. I gave up. This was a negotiation I was not going to succeed at.

I must however admit I admire the tenacity of the BA CSA. Her business logic and stick-to-it-iveness were impeccable. But on the other hand, the CSA also missed an easy chance to make a neat profit by selling an upgrade to a customer, who had woken at 330am to make the flight and would have relished a chance to stretch out and sleep.

And what about goodwill?

Especially at a time when BA is making losses? Of course BA is cutting costs. But is it naive to expect that they would focus as much on try to retain the paying custom they still have? Never mind the chance to make revenue that was lost. Ironically, I had travelled on a promotional ticket while the colleague had paid for his.

Related reading:

It’s when you deliver that counts

Is your business missing a trick?