by James D. Roumeliotis
During my days in the mega yacht charter industry, I recall dealing frequently with assertive clients who were judicious with their expectations and utterly demanding with their occasional extraordinary requests. As a case in point, a VIP couple was cruising on a chartered mega yacht in the Aegean and during one morning, unexpectedly, insisted that an additional stewardess be brought on board to increase the service level. He also requested five cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne. Despite the minor challenges, both requests were fulfilled within a few hours. My staff and I arranged for a stewardess to be flown in from Athens to the island where the yacht was docked that particular day. As for the champagne with its limited supply, I couldn’t locate all the quantities from any major purveyor in Athens. Consequently, I secured the remaining cases from Salonika – a city 188 miles (304 km) north of Athens. All five cases were eventually delivered to the yacht on the same day. It goes without saying that the client was elated.
The “discerning”, also referred to as the “discriminating” consumer, is characterized as showing careful judgment and savvy especially in matters of taste and judgment. This person is finicky and possesses an acquired taste habitually for premium products and services. Essentially, he/she falls short of a compromise. Going above and beyond the call of duty to meet and, at times exceed, expectations is an important principal to apply.
An Inside Look at the Discerning Consumer
More often than not, the discerning client typically possesses a high net worth. This translates to owning financial assets not including primary residence) in excess of US$1 million (source: CapGemini, “2009 World Wealth Report”). High net worth individuals (HNWI) cherish their time and know what they want, to such a degree that they would rather spend their funds for efficient results than waste the limited resource of time. They value time as a luxury, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them.
In a nutshell, the discerning client can be generally described as:
- To a greater extent, belongs in the “affluent” (an investor with less than $1 million but more than $100 000) and “HNWI” (in excess of $1 Million) category;
- Seeks a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
- Fussy in nature;
- Values his/her time;
- Often requires customized solutions to mirror his/her lifestyle – whether a product or service;
- Takes pleasure on getting extra attention;
- Expects to be offered unique choices and experiences;
- Desires value for money under all circumstances;
- Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which he/she is willing to pay for;
- Aspires an aura of exclusivity;
- Craves an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
- Seeks products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance.
- Wants to feel in command of his/her purchase decision without any buyer’s remorse.
Moreover, what he/she purchases is a visual extension of his/her personality, individuality and lifestyle. A well crafted product, for example, reflects his/her individual call to beauty.
Discerning vs. Demanding
There is a clear distinction between a “discerning” client and the “demanding” type.
A discerning client is one capable of good judgment. This client will typically:
- Appreciates the difference between quality and quantity;
- Carefully considers what his/her requirements and needs are and be able to prioritize them;
- Value good service and products, and acknowledge them;
- Be able to judge which consultant can be trusted and be relied upon to do great work;
- Understands that there are other clients and other priorities beyond himself/herself and his/her own.
Thus, the discerning client appreciates what is really required and feasible to obtain, understands the concepts of quality and function, and appreciates the value of good products and services.
On the other hand, a demanding client is one that could, in the worst sort of instance, be summed up by the word “demand.” This type of client could typically display one or more “imperfections”, for example:
- Simply wants everything he/she feels he/she wants or needs to be done;
- Wants everything done promptly;
- Persists in making additional requests for further work (products, changes, etc.) while reluctant to consider the issues of impacts on other factors of function, schedule, cost or quality;
- Expects a lot of attention on demand;
Hence, the demanding client expects plenty, regardless of the true value of it, whilst failing to properly appreciate core concepts such as quality and value. Additionally, his/her behavior is typical of someone who is self-centered and selfish.
Catering to the Discerning Client
It takes skill, patience, resolute and a good understanding of needs to cater to discerning customers – most notably in the luxury sector. It takes an even greater effort to keep them coming back repeatedly.
To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, the organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
- Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
- In retail and hospitality sectors, exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
- Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
- Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
- Utilizing a hands-on approach;
- Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – know their motivations;
- Earning their trust and confidence;
- Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions;
- Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
- Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
- Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
- Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
- Offering customer loyalty programs – a great way to make them feel special and that they’re getting something extra;
- Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences and ways to improve those experiences – they’re typically strongly opinionated and relish giving it;
- Implementing the latest technology with all touch points (where applicable).
In addition, keep your brand offerings constantly refreshed. Give discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with you. Macy’s in New York, considered the world’s largest department store, is going through a four year $400 Million makeover. Product will be organized by lifestyle to help customers create looks and build wardrobes across categories.
Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discriminating clients crave and gladly relate to. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, on the same marketing page.
Occasionally, organize exclusive by invitation only events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.
Create an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which includes noteworthy information on the brand – either in an environmentally friendly print form and/or online.
Putting it All into Perspective
Discriminating customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service and value for money. Some will argue that discriminating customers also consider transacting with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.
A key difference between “discerning” and “demanding” is that the former requires what is important and expects it when it can be reasonably obtained, whilst the latter requires everything regardless of other considerations.
A brand which is involved in the business of offering a luxury and/or premium product or service should be well prepared to cater to a discerning clientele and avoid complacency. As a result, the entity will benefit through repeat business, as well as a word-of-mouth angle, since such customers are likely to tell friends and relatives about their experiences – especially in the world of social media.
Your views are encouraged.
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