Why providing good service is important

By Zoe Walker

Viva talks to the faces we see in store to find out why personal service matters.

Cheryl Raymond in World Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens
Cheryl Raymond in World Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens

Often, they're the face of fashion, the familiar figures working on the front line making fashion available to the masses. Good retail assistants prove the importance of service, building relationships and friendships with loyal customers, and often, helping to develop the personality and aesthetic of a fashion label. The designer may be king, but the person on the shop floor is usually all the customer sees. And in a time when assistance-free online shopping keeps growing, good service is even more important. So what makes good service? We talk to local retail professionals who disprove the theory of the dippy "shop girl".

CHERYL RAYMOND
Manager of World Britomart, has worked in retail for more than 25 years.

What originally drew you to World?
I found I was intrigued and inspired by the playfulness in World design and the beautiful finishing and tailoring of the garments.

What appeals most about working in retail? The social aspect? Helping people and making them happy? The clothing discount?
Being around people makes me happy.

I am fortunate that I have ticked all the boxes. People, fashion, and in a beautiful environment with a great company which I respect. This incorporates the people who are World, who think outside the box, and the beauty of being within a New Zealand-designed and made fashion brand.

What makes good service?
To provide good service, firstly you need to love what you sell. If you believe in something you will truly show passion towards your work. Good product knowledge is essential.

What makes a good customer?
Those who appreciate your advice and are not scared of trying something different. People often find they are pleasantly surprised and then learn to trust you.

Is the customer always right?
Course not! However, the customer must feel comfortable in what they are in... we can suggest, and tempt; however the customer has the last word.

Can you tell if someone isn't going to buy anything when they walk into the store - and does this matter?
No. As the saying goes, "you can't read a book by its cover". It doesn't matter, as it is our job to get to know the customer.

Loyalty is key for fashion and luxury stores. How do you build up such loyalty and trust with customers?
Customers become loyal when a rapport has been built over time. It is how you engage with that particular customer, as not everyone has the same personality, therefore you deal differently with certain people.

Your funniest - or weirdest - customer moment?
During a very busy, busy day, where the store was full, we were fortunate to have one of our VIP customers in store, who most graciously stepped on to the floor to assist us. Just gorgeous.

How do you deal with delicate situations - a customer trying on something too small for them, for example?
Being truthful. It is important to tell the customer on how the garment is fitting and looking. World prides themselves on styling a customer so that they feel and look good. We also have the privilege of having our workroom on hand to alter if necessary.

How do you find shopping elsewhere? Does working in retail make you hard on other stores' service?
Yes. I always expect good customer service. I am perplexed if I don't receive this and get annoyed.

The boutique retail environment is in a state of change at the moment, with the effect of high street stores and online shopping all having an effect. Where do you see retail going in the future?
Companies have to be more innovative and inspire the customer.

What are your thoughts on online shopping?
Not my style. I have no time for that and I'm the sort of person who needs to touch and see something in the flesh.

How do you dress? Do you only wear brands available at the store?
Yes. World has such a diverse range, from T-shirts to couture.

Do you dress in a specific way when you're on the shop floor?
I have fun with World fashion. I love the colour and strength of character in the design. One day I may wear more casual wear and then another day may be a couture-designed jacket. Whatever my mood feels like.

ENUAKE SIRIKIGE
Menswear manager for all Workshop stores, has worked in retail for 16 years.

What originally drew you to Workshop?
In all honesty, it was my favourite label when I was 14 years old (and still is today) and you would be the coolest kid in town if you had a pair of Workshop jeans and some type of Standard Issue knitwear.

What appeals most about working in retail?
The social interaction. And working at Workshop means I work with great people, get involved in events and projects like print design and Workshop's artist collaborations. I've worked closely with [artists] Max Gimblett, John Reynolds, John Pule and Martin Poppelwell. And of course there are the clothes...

What makes good service?
Communication, listening, going above and beyond, paying attention to detail, and being honest and real.

What makes a good customer?
Anyone can be a good customer; it all depends on providing a level of service that makes them feel relaxed and comfortable.

Can you tell if someone isn't going to buy anything when they walk into the store?
You should never assume that you can read a customer when they walk into the store. Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt and receives the same level of service.

How do you build up loyalty and trust with customers?
It all comes down to communication and providing the best service that you can. For me it's about being honest and valuing them as a person as well as a customer.

Your funniest - or weirdest - customer moment?
What goes on at Workshop, stays at Workshop. Discretion is key.

How do you deal with delicate situations - a customer trying on something too small for them, for example?
With subtlety and compassion.

Does working in retail make you hard on other the service in other stores?
Funny, it actually does. I'm very aware of the service in other stores.

Where do you see retail going in the future?
There's a trend toward online shopping but nothing can compare to good customer service and physically being there in a beautifully designed store, touching the garment and being able to try it on, getting styling advice and having the whole store as your wardrobe.

What are your thoughts on online shopping?
It's shopping right at your fingertips and great in that you can purchase anything you like, but online stores cannot take the place of personalised retail service. There's a place for both.

How do you dress?
Urban utilitarian with high fashion influence but still maintaining a street edge. I mostly wear brands from Workshop because it fits my aesthetic such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Common Projects, Puma and of course Workshop Denim.

Do you dress in a specific way when you're on the shop floor?
I have such an expansive wardrobe of Workshop garments that it's hard to get it wrong.

VAL FARAC
Retail assistant at Ponsonby Rd boutique Adorno. Has worked in retail for 15 years.

What drew you to work at Adorno?
I have always loved fashion retail and the opportunity came up as myself and my sister have been clients of [Adorno owner] Jenny's for years.

What appeals most about working in retail?
I love the process of our customers having a great time and making themselves look and feel fab.

What makes good service?
Going the extra mile to listen and understand what the client is looking for without making them feel intimidated or overly pushy and keeping in touch with them about new product that is continually coming into the store.

What makes a good customer?
Someone who is positive and polite.

Is the customer always right?
Not always but it's very necessary to make them feel they are.

Can you tell if someone isn't going to buy anything when they walk into the store?
Generally you can get a vibe but I like every person who walks in to have a pleasurable experience.

How do you build up loyalty and trust with customers?
Being honest and as helpful as possible and listening to understand what the client is looking for. Also ongoing contact to let them know when new stock is arriving.

Your funniest - or weirdest - customer moment?
A gentleman wanting to try on an evening couture dress.

How do you deal with delicate situations - a customer trying on something too small for them, for example?
It does not normally happen as by that stage I have interacted with the client and put them in the right size.

Where do you see retail going in the future?
I think if you go the extra mile with clients there will always be room for beautiful stores that people can enjoy and have a pleasurable experience.

What are your thoughts on online shopping?
I am tactile so love the experience of seeing lovely things in person.

How do you dress?
It depends on my mood, from tailored classic to great jeans and jacket, can even do a little boho.

Do you dress in a specific way when you're on the shop floor?
Since I love Jenny's clothes, I generally am wearing something from the shop (fatal; I can spend more than I earn!). I love J Brand jeans - comfortable and slimming - and a silk shirt and jacket always feel good.

JO GOULD & MADELINE HEALY
Owners of Newmarket boutique Muse, they opened the store in 1998.

You own and work on the shop floor, giving you a unique perspective on service. What appealed most about working in retail?
We started Muse in March 1998 and, with five boys between us ranging in age 1 to 9, we can only assume we needed an escape from our male-dominated families. We wanted to be involved in something that combined our love of fashion and the challenge of a new business. We have always loved the social aspect and take great pleasure in seeing our customers walk out happy and feeling great about themselves.

What changes in retail service have you seen since opening the store?
When we opened 16 years ago there was no social media. We relied on phone calls, written invitations to special in-store events and direct advertising. Now we have our website which is constantly updated and it directs you to our Facebook page which has great photos of exactly what is available in store. We have a 26-year-old fashionista who does this for us.

What makes good service?
We are lucky to have had great girls working alongside us. They love fashion, they love people and they are passionate - a great recipe for good service.

What makes a good customer?
We love cheerful customers. And if they are open to suggestions that's always a bonus.

Is the customer always right?
Absolutely.

Can you tell if someone isn't going to buy anything when they walk into the store?
You can't tell if someone is going to buy or not and it definitely doesn't change how she is treated. It should always be a positive experience.

How do you build up loyalty and trust with customers?
You naturally build up a relationship/friendship that is based on honesty and trust. We call them when new pieces arrive in-store that we think will suit them. We travel regularly and are constantly looking for new labels and then edit the collections to suit our customers and their lifestyles.

Your funniest - or weirdest - customer moment?
Probably the gentleman who wanted help tying up the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.

How do you deal with delicate situations - a customer trying on something too small for them, for example?
We would probably try to steer them towards something else that we felt would flatter, but ultimately it is their decision.

How do you find shopping elsewhere?
We have a store full of clothes of course, but definitely when we travel we love to browse or buy. However, we are probably difficult to help as we are experienced shoppers.

Where do you see retail going in the future?
Retail shopping is fun. It's a social experience which can be a welcome relief from our very busy lives - they don't call it "retail therapy" for nothing. It's an immediate buzz. You just can't get that sitting in front of a computer.

How do you dress?
We mostly wear clothing from Muse as we love what we buy. We carry about 25 different labels, such as DvF, Tibi, Rebecca Taylor, Elizabeth & James, so are totally spoilt for choice. The collections are delivered as they arrive into stores overseas, so although we are opposite seasons, we buy the trans-seasonal pieces so that customers have access to the latest fashions.

Do you dress in a specific way when you're on the shop floor?
We all have our individual styles and that's to be encouraged.

- NZ Herald

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