For several years, on BrandWatch, I have defended the idea that the arrogance shown by luxury brands is no longer acceptable in the 21st century. These brands, in their race for development, have constantly expanded their customer base - for the last 20 years we have entered the era of what I call "Luxe Populi". This democratization of luxury has come at the expense of customer relationships and quality of service. These new customers have, for a long time, accepted the poor service, disdain or even lack of consideration of certain brands. However, the context is changing under the pressure of two factors: the consumers' / clients' consciousness of their own power ("consumer empowerment") and the use of the Internet as a tool to air their grievances.
Let me illustrate this, using two very different examples - both involving automobile brands:
In 2006, an American client of Mercedes, a marketing specialist, wrote a series of posts on the Internet telling of his troubles: "Mercedes - a case study on how to squander a great brand". They are part of a series entitled "Worst Practices" where we find, for example, "Being in "HP Hell"", "Alaska Airlines Sucks! (WARNING: DO NOT FLY!)", "Why are companies thinking that it's OK to trick their customers?", "Bruegger's Wins Award for Worst Customer Service", "Why Is customer service at Starbucks consistently great - while The service at most other take-out joints sucks ?"... Just run-of-the-mill complaints that would have remained confidential - if they had not found a relay.
A few weeks ago, the Chinese owner of a Lamborghini Gallardo, furious about the problems he had with this car, decided to destroy it in public:
"In one instance, the Lamborghini wouldn't start, so the owner had it towed to the local dealer. Upon arrival at the service bay, the owner found that the car had been damaged in transit. No one would claim responsibility and the original non-starting issue still wasn't fixed. The Gallardo owner attempted to escalate the issue within the Lamborghini family, ultimately trying to reach out to Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann. No response or solution has been offered so the owner has become decidedly frustrated. So frustrated, in fact, that he decided destroying his Lamborghini in public would be the best way to garner attention." (Source: Autoblog)
Two points are worth noting here:
- The car owner had it destroyed on "World Consumer Rights Day", saying, "luxury brands are exploiting China and not delivering the same quality and service as they do elsewhere in the world".
- The story gave rise to 180,000 citations on the Internet, and a video shot on the occasion and posted on YouTube was viewed 700,000 times...
These two stories have nothing trivial about them: they show how, in the space of 5 years, the Web has helped the development of consumer power - and that China may prove to be an expert on the subject. Luxury brands should make certain that they do not underestimate Chinese consumers.