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Customer, who are you, where are you?
Point of View

Customer, who are you, where are you?

Monday, 02 May 2011
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Franco Cologni
President of the FHH Cultural Council

“Talent demands effort, dedication and hours spent perfecting a gesture which, day by day, becomes a gift.”

An entrepreneur at heart, though a man of letters, Franco Cologni was quick to embark on a business career that would lead him to key roles within the Richemont Group.

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A survey by Confindustria, the Italian organisation of employers, estimates that in 2015 there will be 201 million well-off – even wealthy – Chinese: the population of France, Germany and Italy combined. A figure that is expected to rise to 424 million in 2020. This is a tremendous opportunity for every luxury brand, including those in Fine Watchmaking which demonstrate an authentic and competitive approach to this market. To take a more fundamentalist tack, one wonders if every brand that equates China with Cockaigne will make contact with this new and attractive clientele in the most appropriate way.

China: so much is contained in that one word. The People’s Republic of China is almost a continent in itself. It assembles diverse ethnic groups, cultures and ways of being, not to mention languages. An entire continent on Beijing time, which the well-off all want to read on a distinctive watch. A continent where a lot of money can be made, and where one can easily get lost in the chaos of this new gold rush. Because this particular “gold mine” isn’t quite ready to welcome every prospector. On the contrary, the Chinese customer wants choice. He needs reassurance; someone who will explain, listen to and understand him. Someone who will guide him towards the best possible purchase, be this in monetary or symbolic terms.

Of the brands/companies that are rushing to China, how many remember to pack a dictionary and a compendium of poetry in their samples case? The customer is neither a jukebox nor a vending machine. He has a passion for luxury, but one should never underestimate his knowledge, taste or the importance he justifiably affords to history, values and aspirations. The same can be said of any customer. The market’s real kings are frequently underestimated and sometimes frankly ignored. Customers aren’t “citizens of the world” but people whose life reflects where they live.

For the forthcoming Forum de la Haute Horlogerie, I looked around for a sociologist, political scientist or philosopher who could speak specifically about the customer, their importance and how they have evolved. In vain. Hence why I must address this question myself, hopefully evoking an amicable presence and not some unknown spectre. Once again I’m forced to repeat that the customer is someone we must welcome, listen to, and understand. Today’s customer is yesterday’s principal: the one who can provide us with valuable information so that arts and techniques can continue to progress. He isn’t an “Indian” but an “individual.”

How many are willing to pay heed? How many have the courage to re-tailor their service to a new clientele of principals, and establish a dialogue that isn’t steeped in condescendence and superiority? We’ll find out soon enough: those who are already thinking along these lines will be first to succeed. As for those who take after the grasshopper in the fable and spend their days singing, let’s hope they still have time to become an ant, and gather sufficient understanding to put the customer back centre-stage, never giving up on style and creativity, but adding a vital element: identity.

This is an era not of conquistadors but ambassadors. As Marco Polo already knew.

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