Pascale Hayward speaks to Paul Russell, co-founder and director of the Luxury Academy London, providers of specialist soft skills training for the luxury market
LM: Tell us about your past experience in staff training and in the luxury industry?
PR: I’ve always been interested in people, what makes them tick and how they relate to each other, so transferring this to a work setting was a natural progression. I grew up in India, and after university in London for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in psychology and occupational psychology, I was keen to get started. I started my career in the luxury industry as a trainee manager with the Savoy Group and from there worked in various management positions within luxury hospitality for companies like Four Seasons, St Regis, Renaissance Hotels and Marriott International.
As a hotel manager a large part of the role is training and developing staff, something I was really drawn to and this continued through senior executive positions where I was lucky enough to live in some fantastic places such as New York, Mumbai and Hong Kong, developing my skills in staff training across various cultures and contexts.
LM: What gave you the idea of starting Luxury Academy London?
PR: Quite simply because I noticed a huge gap in the market. I was looking for a training company who specialised in luxury to train my staff, but I couldn’t find one. There were a lot of companies who perhaps had luxury companies as clients but they didn’t understand the industry to the extent that I wanted them to. I believed that they should understand both the clients within the industry and the staff who served them.
I set up Luxury Academy London alongside my business partner Shanine in 2012 and we were fortunate in that many hospitality brands embraced us and the concept very quickly. From here we have developed into new markets and grown with the addition of two new offices in India. In my opinion, if you are delivering training to luxury brands, you must have an intimate and exhaustive knowledge of the luxury market- which we have.
LM: Luxury Academy offers a huge range of courses. Which are most in demand and why?
PR: Our most popular courses are the Luxury Ambassador Programme, Selling Luxury Properties to HNW Clients and the Polished Professional Programme. Something I hear regularly from potential clients is that they want their staff to understand the luxury customer and their lifestyle, there is often a huge disparity; the Luxury Ambassador programme does this by teaching employees how to engage with the luxury customer on an emotional level. Similarly, clients with staff selling property at the high end need them to be able to speak the language of luxury and offer the level of service commensurate with the product. Our Polished Professional Programme, however, is extremely popular with more senior executives who are looking to work on aspects related to communication, etiquette and diplomacy. I believe these particular training courses are so in demand because they are specific, unique and because they provide real results.
LM: You provide an ‘accelerated training course in an hour’. How is it possible to train an individual in just one hour?
PR: We utilise accelerated learning techniques which enable the individual to learn the skills required for a specific topic such as assertiveness or customer service within a short period of time. Accelerated learning is a proven strategy for retention of information, meaning that participants don’t just hold onto what they’ve learnt short term but retain it long term. We ensure presentation is optimised for maximum engagement within the hour; accelerated learning is not just about listening but doing too. The response from clients for the hourlies has been strong, and we are steadily increasing our range.
LM: In what way does leadership training for the luxury industry differ from training in other market sectors?
PR: The leaders that we train are running the best hotels, the most exclusive shops and the most desirable brands. They are serving customers with discerning tastes that demand flawless customer experience, day in and day out. It is down to these leaders to deliver exemplary service through effective management of their teams. Luxury leaders need to know how to inspire, educate and motive their staff, how to create a vision that each team member buys into. Similar to luxury, leadership is not a one size fits all approach but there are certain skills and are absolutely essential for any leader of luxury.
LM: What are the most important skills a salesperson must have to successfully sell a luxury brand?
PR: My top three skills would actually be communication, observation and storytelling. A salesperson, or luxury Ambassador, should be able to utilise observation to enhance the customer’s experience, noting a customer that requires assistance before they have to ask, adapting to the guest who is short of time without them having to state the fact. They should have excellent communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal that help them to interact effectively with their customer and a large part of this comes in their ability to listen and respond in an efficient and appropriate manner, utilising effective questioning strategies. Finally, as luxury is so experiential, the art of storytelling enables a vision of a lifestyle to be painted. Through these skills a luxury Ambassador can develop strong relationships with their customers.
LM: Tell us about your trainers. Who are they?
PR: Our trainers all come from luxury backgrounds at management level. The majority of the training team are British, but we also have American and Indian trainers. All six of our Indian trainers possess MBA’s. Our trainers are also qualified in the subject that they are delivering training on, which may sound obvious but you would be surprised at the number of ‘experts’ who are actually entirely unqualified in the topic. We have a qualified image consultant for example and our behavioural science courses such as body language are delivered only by degree educated psychologists.
LM: You offer a programme called “Teachers First”, a professional development programme for teachers in India. What does this involve?
PR: Teaching in India is quite different to the UK in terms of demand, attitudes and even perceptions of the profession. When you think about the skills that a teacher needs, many relate to presentation and delivery, the ability to present information in an interesting way and how to engage an audience for example- this is the central tenet for the Teachers First programme. Our trainers teach communication skills, body language, learning styles, public speaking and group dynamics amongst other areas.
Luxury Academy London – Where and how?
Luxury Academy London
16 High Holborn
Telephone: +44 (0)20 3603 9085