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Think BR: CRM and a sledgehammered Lamborghini

For luxury brands, getting the basics right is the bare minimum, writes David Rolfe, client services director, Snowball.

David Rolfe, client services director at Snowball

David Rolfe, client services director at Snowball

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Having spent half a million pounds on a luxury car, what would it take for you to pick up a sledgehammer and smash it to smithereens? I imagine you’d need to be pretty upset.

But that’s just what one [former] Lamborghini owner recently did in China.

According to the story, his car stopped working following a service and, after the garage responsible allegedly ignored his pleas, he recruited a gang of people, armed them with sledgehammers and then invited the press to watch them destroy the car, ensuring the story spread across the globe.

But why did this happen?

Buying a luxury car, or any luxury brand for that matter, is not something that’s easy to rationalise.

You buy such a car largely because you love it, and want the prestige associated with such a brand. It’s a ‘dream car’, and something you may have imagined buying for years. 

So when the car - or customer service - fails, you’re losing something more than a mode of transport.

Whatever really happened to that customer’s car, a potential life-long relationship was destroyed when the owner, rightly or wrongly, felt that Lamborghini hadn't got its customer management right.

The story highlights the importance of CRM for luxury brands. With luxury cars, a brand relationship can begin well before your customer is even old enough to drive; posters of Ferraris and Lamborghinis are plastered on the bedroom walls of boys around the world.

So from the moment a customer enters the dealership, if the experience doesn’t match up to the huge expectations, then torque and top speeds don’t matter - the dream starts to be destroyed.

The retail experience is of course a crucial first step in building the foundations of a customer relationship.

But once a sale is made, there’s a huge element of post-purchase dissonance to overcome. 

A luxury car can take months to be produced and a brand needs to reinforce the decision that has been taken so a customer doesn’t get cold feet.

Right from this point, communications need to start to personalise the brand and give the customer ownership of their purchase. It’s not just about buying ‘a luxury car’, it's about owning ‘my luxury car’. 

Alongside traditional media, a brand could even opt for genuinely personal communications; how about letters from the engineers working on the car, Polaroids of the build, or a weekly email update on how the car is progressing?

But it’s once the car has been driven away that the positive reinforcement has to continue.

The brand can’t become pedestrian, and at every turn needs to reinforce its core messages and ‘keep the magic alive’.

For a luxury brand, this isn’t about reinforcing things like ‘reliability’; these attributes are (or should be) a given.

Unfortunately for Lamborghini, some basic line of communication failed - and ultimately, whether the brand or garage or neither were genuinely at fault, images of one of its cars being smashed by a disgruntled customer reflects badly on the marque - that drove the customer from loving to genuinely hating his car.

Things will go wrong - nothing is perfect - but handling complaints well should be a 'pillar' running through any premium brand; a well handled complaint can turn negative sentiment into positive very quickly.

For luxury post-purchase communications it’s normally about pure branding - the thrill and excitement of owning a brand that you’ve dreamed about forever needs to continue.

And post purchase, this branding takes place within the customer relationship. The term CRM is certainly not glamorous, but it's crucial - managing a relationship with a customer when that relationship is your most important asset.

Direct mail, email, exclusive events, customer magazines - all can keep the excitement alive. A luxury brand’s biggest sales tool is a happy customer, and within this sector, retaining the thrill of the posters on your wall and the years of dreaming is priceless.

Keep your customers happy and they will love their purchase forever, eulogise about it to everyone, and be far more likely to buy again.

Upset them and you could have several angry buyers, an annoyed CEO and a large PR clean-up job on your hands.

David Rolfe, client services director at Snowball

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