Boyden Executive Search

Building close customer relationships across digital and physical spaces has become a full-time job.

Customer expectations now take a commanding role in the luxury sector, marking a complete turnabout in an industry that has traditionally dictated style and expected consumers to follow rather than lead. Understanding and meeting expectations depends on closer, more personal customer relationships. With this new focus has come a wave of new consumer-centric director- and C-level roles, such as chief consumer officer and chief experience officer, once found primarily in industries such as hospitality or banking.

For Nicolas Sala, omni-channel and client experience director at French jewellery house Maison Boucheron, meeting expectations means making “sure that the customer gets a personalized service both online and offline and that there is no point of friction between the two.” Sala’s role exemplifies the greater emphasis that luxury brands and retailers now place on creating a seamless experience between digital and physical stores.

Gucci went one step further by creating “Gucci Connectors,” whose mission is to transform the luxury retail experience and “connect clients to Gucci in a new, emotional way”, according to the company’s website. The “experiential” store it opened in New York earlier this year features an app with augmented reality that allows customers to experiment with product customization. As Luke Timmins, Store Experience Manager at Browns Fashion in London explained, “Being able to connect the online and physical customer journey is key in creating a seamless experience that puts the customer first by being personal, efficient and inspiring across all channels.”

In recruiting for new, consumer-centric C-level roles in the luxury sector, companies are also experimenting with different types of candidates. Some fit the expected profile, coming from luxury retail, ecommerce and technology backgrounds, tailored to customers who shop on their phones first. But in venturing into what is largely uncharted territory for luxury brands, there is also a willingness to tap candidates from outside the industry. Laure Baume, for example, joined Moët Hennessy as Chief Consumer Officer with no experience in luxury goods. She does, however, have some background in hospitality, which has always been about the experience.

Some industry experts say these transitions could be difficult, the New York Times reports. “I am wary of catapulting people from the technology and engineering worlds to executive positions as they come from a different corporate culture, which means that they might not be easy to integrate,” said Marie-Aude Stocker, Director People, Development and Prospective at Van Cleef & Arpels.

Moving into organisations with slower, more hierarchical decision-making processes could be especially challenging for candidates coming from a Silicon Valley or start-up culture, for example – especially when their goal is to transform the customer experience. This involves delivering change, and the old guard will have to allow change to come about.

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