Above: Neiman Marcus
Designer: Christopher Collins
Customer service is the springboard for successful public relations and marketing strategies. Anyone can act as the “customer.” Whether someone is a fashionista shopping for the newest pair of Manolos or a journalist shopping for a captivating story. Building and maintaining good relationships is key to public relations.
Nordstrom is probably the best example of placing customer service at the forefront of their business model. They even have their own urban legend about someone returning a set of tires!
During the current economy, department stores are slashing prices and high-end labels are creating lower priced lines. Now, luxury boutique stores are even throwing away their snooty image and starting to place importance on customer service.
Ray A. Smith at the Wall Street Journal explains, “as the luxury goods industry suffers a massive slump in sales – many sales clerks at designer stores who were famously haughty and patronizing suddenly have changed their styles.”
Smith also reports that “some [stores] do acknowledge that they’ve instructed their sales clerks to be less abrupt, spend more time with customers and refrain from being pushy. At Neiman Marcus, sales associates are being encouraged to be “more patient” with customers. “We have seen that customers are more anxious and there is some concern out there,” says Ginger Reeder, a spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus. “So it behooves all of us to remember to be a little more patient.”
If you care about your customer, the customer will care about you and keep your brand secure. As I have said before, in a time of recession, consumers are looking for brands they trust. They want to know that the companies are looking out for them and have their best interest at heart. Fashion brands will gain and retain business while setting themselves apart once they place more importance on customer service.
True, public relations practitioners need to be aware of these trying times but might we find diamonds in the rough? Brand perception means everything to companies right now because consumers are reluctant to buy. People are purchasing trustworthy brands and seeking out product information to make the best economic decisions. Public relations is the key to garnering this consumer trust.
Brand perception is the most important element to a company’s success rather than slashing prices. “I see a lot of people in my industry who are over-reacting. Stores that are over-discounting, designers who are creating collections for the price and what sells rather than to reflect who they are,” says Anna Wintour in New York Magazine’s The Cut.
The Fashion Rag reports that luxury department store, Neiman Marcus, plans to open a new store in Bellevue, Washington, at The Bravern in March 2009 and a three-story store in the Macerich-owned Broadway Plaze in Walnut Creek, California.
I recently had a discussion on Twitter about Neiman Marcus’ behavior. Jordana Bruner, fashion blogger for Clutch22, explained that “their primary customers still spend $$ in spite of the recession. It’s similar with some other luxury brands.” Pierce Mattie Public Relations replied with, “It’s just interesting that when other brands are being cautious, they are going full throttle. Do they know something we don’t?” This is an interesting question to ask and I hope it will be answered in the near future.
I urge companies to keep pushing forward because their business is what drives our economy. Also, know that investing in public relations will build trust in a company’s brand perception to drive business. Stay strong and remember that public relations will save the day!!!
How do you think brand perception affects business in a recession?