The art of great customer service, according to Sue
Sue leads the Womenswear team at our Cheshunt store, ensuring they deliver exceptional service to customers and driving sales. As she explains, her career at M&S has covered a variety of different roles.“I have been with M&S for 27 years, starting as a temporary seasonal advisor at Christmas in foods. I took on a permanent role and moved to the Customer Service Desk, where I worked for six years. Then I was promoted to Deputy Supervisor in Homewear, before moving into Womenswear, where I became a Section Manager. So, I like to think I’m a good example of how you can work your way up within the business.”
On a typical day, she walks the sales floor to see how her team are delivering great service. That involves leading by example and dealing with customers herself.
“I genuinely think ‘Customer First’ in every decision I make in-store. I think it gives a positive example to my team. One day recently, I got talking to a customer who was looking for blouses. She told me she lives in London, but makes the trip to Cheshunt every month because she loves the store environment and how welcoming the team are here. It’s always good to receive praise for the wonderful service we provide.”
She believes her leadership style ensures her team continues to provide this level of service. What does her approach involve? “I like to listen to their feedback, celebrate success and praise performance within the team. I think this really drives their performance and it’s the kind of open and honest relationship that makes them feel valued.”
As well as leading her team, Sue’s role as a Section Manager also involves meeting with other leaders in the store, for example to plan for upcoming promotions and events. “For something like our Summer Event, I will discuss our needs with the Commercial Manager and Visual Manager in advance. This involves walking the shop floor with them and planning any moves that need to take place, ready for the event. Then I need to plan with my customer assistants when and how we will deliver the launch.”
She says she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. “I am really happy in my current role and at some stage I’d like to pursue other opportunities at my current level. I also love having my staff discount card. It’s a real benefit – although I need to keep an eye on what I’m spending!”Inside M&S
ST PATRICK’S DAY – A DAY TO HELP OTHERS
If you want proper balance in your life, you’ll find it in Navan. The town is situated some 40 miles from Dublin city centre, and many commute into the capital every day, but the tranquillity of rolling hills can be found just five minutes away. The M&S store in Navan offers Food and Clothing & Home products plus a Café. It has a family feel, but even if the community is relatively small, everyone is big on one thing… celebrating St Patrick’s Day.
But it’s not just about having a good time as Lorna, Store Manager, explains: “All the M&S team will be wearing green over the weekend and raising funds for our local charity, Jigsaw, which provides vital support for young people with mental health issues. Our store will be a hive of excitement, with small children (and us big kids!) getting ready for the Saturday afternoon parade in the town.” The M&S team has ‘greened out’ the store décor, had T-shirts printed and arranged green takeaway cups for the Café – and it’s times like this that make Lorna proud to be Irish.
Lorna is relatively new to the store, but has already seen how the team supports others. “Last year, we refreshed and painted the local Jigsaw centre and the feedback from the charity team was amazing. I feel at home in Navan – and as Easter approaches, we’re the only store in Ireland that can say some of our Easter eggs are made just down the road!”
Not that Lorna is new to M&S. Back in 2001, she watched a documentary about the development of our Per Una brand and was hooked. “I couldn’t get over how passionate everyone was, and since M&S was a name I had grown up with, I felt lucky to get a glimpse of how everything works.”
Throughout a career in which she has moved from Section Manager to Commercial Manager roles, the M&S values of quality, innovation and trust – and the way we all share them – have shone through for Lorna.
“I love the challenges and successes that every day brings. It’s that feeling of all us working together towards a goal – and either celebrating or dusting ourselves off to start again.”
And Lorna’s biggest inspiration? “My team! They inspire me to be better every day, to strive for success and learn from any mistakes so we can be even better in the future.”Inside M&S
Difficulty choosing mum a gift? Fear not, Sally is here
Mother’s Day is around the corner, and to Sally, it is always an exciting time. The celebration of mothers and motherhood goes back thousands of years and today people from across the globe still uphold these traditions. It’s important to show mums the love they deserve - but choosing the perfect gift can be a challenge. What’s more, anticipating what kind of gifts will be popular each year and making sure customers have plenty of options to choose from is no small-feat.
To Sally, M&S Buyer, Mother’s Day is always an exciting time. Sally’s career journey has definitely made her an expert at predicting what products people will be on the lookout for each year.
“I come from a Product Development background. Before I started at M&S, I worked across jewellery, accessories and bags. The places I worked at were supplying M&S, so I got to know the M&S team very well and became interested in the Buyer role,” Sally explains.
And what does it mean to be a Buyer at M&S?
“Being a Buyer is something else. It’s for the bold and the adventurous. You have to be reactive, quick on your feet and consistently push the boundaries in your ranges. What’s more, you have to know your trends, know your catwalks and understand your price ranges. You also have to be a team player - teamwork is essential across our function because we work alongside Press, Marketing, Visual Merchandising and others, to deliver the key messages and strategy each season.
"Jewellery peaks for Mother's Day and it's an amazing feeling, knowing the smiles your product will bring. This year we have looked at how we can highlight our amazing products so we have put beautiful display tables to showcase the perfect gifts to our customers. We have also introduced a new customisation range, a capsule collection of ‘Create Your Own’ jewellery. What this means is, you can choose from a necklace or bracelet and add one or more charms and initials to make a special personalised gift.
These are the kinds of ideas we spend a long time developing leading up to the day. The biggest reward is when your new ranges launch in store, and you start to see sales and customer reaction.”
From all of us at M&S, we wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.Inside M&S
Mother’s Day at M&S
Thanks to Frances’ family, our M&S stores have never been short of a wise and caring matriarch. In 1969, her mother joined our team, who was eventually followed by her big sister. And that’s not even mentioning all the aunts, nieces and cousins of hers that have helped us over the years. Then, in 1982, Frances got a Saturday job here to make some extra money while she was still at school.
“36 years later I’m pleased to say I’m still here!”
Frances is Food Section Manager in our Malone store, Belfast. And her daughters have gone on to follow in her footsteps. Her eldest, Sarah, works as a Section Manager elsewhere in the business, while her youngest, Clare, works alongside her mum as a Section Coordinator in Malone.
“I feel very proud of my girls and what they have achieved; it’s great to see them grow as individuals.”
With such a strong, loyal customer base in Malone, Frances reveals how she and her daughter try to make every moment special for them.
“I take pride in what we do – we always try to work as a team, which as a Simply Food store is crucial to our success. We are in a quite affluent area of Belfast, so our customers expect the best standards of presentation and service.”
Despite Belfast becoming a vibrant tourist attraction, Frances says all the warmth, friendliness and tremendous ‘craic’ has remained in the community. And that feel good factor will carry into stores on Mother’s Day.
“There are four sets of mothers with a son or daughter in my store alone – quite a lot from just 60 colleagues! We’re planning a special weekend treat for our in-store mums!”
And as well as all the fun, families and co-workers will spend time together giving something back to those in need.
“On Mothers’ Day weekend, we’re holding a special ‘bag pack’ in aid of our store charity, which is in memory of a colleague who sadly passed away last year.”
At M&S, there’s time for laughs – and maybe the odd tear – but ultimately it’s a place where you can build a career, do something that matters, and share special moments with people you care about. Frances says it all.
“I was able to enjoy seeing my children grow up at a point where I wanted to a progress within the business. If you’re prepared to work hard, the opportunity to learn and succeed is there!”Inside M&S
APPRENTICESHIPS AT THE SHARP END OF RETAIL MANAGEMENT
Jamie completed the M&S 12-week A-Development Programme. After he was appointed to a live role as a Section Manager, the next step was to take the M&S Retail Leader Level 3 Apprenticeship. Over the programme’s 18 months, he’ll be in the thick of things and taking real responsibility to develop the skills to be an effective and inspirational team leader.
Ashbourne is a large format Food Hall and Jamie is Finance & Operations Section Manager. “I lead a team to deliver a smooth store operation and manage costs to protect profitability,” he says. “I could be hands-on with my team in the warehouse, undertaking personal development reviews, probing sales figures or looking at stock or till losses.”
What Jamie loves about his job is that every day brings a fresh challenge. His role can be quite technical, with responsibilities ranging from cash management and warehouse operations to food safety. This gives both Jamie and his team the scope to stretch themselves – but his role can evolve beyond finance and operations.
“At any given time, I could be duty managing the store,” he explains. “That would mean taking responsibility for the safety of customers and colleagues and responding to incidents, which can range from the routine to the more serious.”
No-one is better placed to weigh up the merits of taking an Apprenticeship or going to university than Jamie. “As it goes, I did attend uni and worked in the field in which I trained. However, I had to change my plans to care for my family and took a part-time job at M&S, which really sparked my interest in retail. Now, I love the flexibility of my Apprenticeship and how it allows me to work, earn and learn. It gives me access to the career I want without doing a degree.”
Jamie was attracted to the pace of retail, and to M&S in particular because of our history and culture. “M&S was always the brand I associated with quality when I was growing up, whether I was buying my first suit or a dine-in to impress a girlfriend!
When I joined, my expectations were linked to my experiences as a customer. I’ve discovered we’re not just about turning a profit. What counts is that we do business in a way that is ethical and sustainable, putting the customer at the heart of everything and delivering amazing service.”
Jamie’s grateful for the support he’s been given on his M&S journey, whether that’s encouragement from his managers on the A-Development Programme, time away from the shop floor to focus on his Apprenticeship, mentoring, coaching or workshops. Now he’s giving his time to others.
“I try to inspire my team to develop themselves and I’m really pleased that two of my direct reports have successfully applied for advancement in the business. I’m proud that my passion for M&S has rubbed off on others.”Inside M&S
THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR ON-THE-JOB LEARNING
Sarah originally wanted to be a primary school teacher. So she chose the right A-levels and won a place to study for an Education degree at Nottingham Trent University. Sarah loved the teaching placements, but found the pace of the course very slow.
In sharp contrast to the part-time job she was doing to fund her studies. “I started working as a 24-hour-a-week Customer Assistant at our West Bridgford Simply Food store. It was a big store, so fast-paced, a fantastic first retail experience,” she remembers. “So I made the decision to leave uni, took a Section Manager Coordinator role, passed my assessment for Section Manager and then started my Level 4 Apprentice in Retail Management to climb further up the ranks.”
It was a big decision to leave uni and change her career ambitions. So does Sarah have any regrets? “Uni is expensive and doesn’t always lead to a ‘graduate’ job,” she muses. “Work-based skills and experiences matter increasingly these days. If an Apprenticeship provides training tailored to your needs, you’re in a win-win situation and fortunately my training is relevant and applicable day to day. But a word of warning: you need the commitment and drive to see it through, plus the time management and organisational skills to meet deadlines, especially at Level 4.”
Sarah loves the intensity of retail and the ever-changing environment of M&S. As a Customer Assistant, she found there was lots to get her teeth into – and if uni is supposed to be a hotbed of learning and development, so too is M&S especially with the number of stores and store formats, products and services. “I’m lucky to have experienced five different stores and three different store formats, working with around 800 colleagues on both the food and clothing sides of the business,” she says.
Sarah’s now Relief Commercial Manager at our Lincoln store as she completes her Apprenticeship, acting as ‘No.2’ in the store and as Foods & Hospitality Commercial Manager. It certainly keeps her on her toes. As ‘No 2’, Sarah duty manages the store: “I do a full store walk to check we’re safe to open, meet managers to discuss priorities, plan commercial events, liaise with my team and support the service proposition – after all, we’ve always been known for quality products and exceptional service, and I’ve had a customer make a special return visit to thank us for finding her an outfit for a special occasion. But I’ll even roll my sleeves up to help out in the café if needed!”
Sarah sees herself as a future Store Manager – either in a Food Hall or on the high street, she’s open to ideas. She’s learned lots on the job and seized opportunities to gain new experiences, but she’s appreciative of the help she’s been given to help her achieve her goals.
“Managers have been so supportive in making sure I have my 20% study time each week and there are lots of experienced colleagues to learn from. The M&S culture is very people-orientated, so if you’re hardworking and passionate about excellence, everyone will help you to get on.”Inside M&S
Meet Naomi, Head of Insight
As women represent 72% of our employees and 62% of our customers, they are pretty important to our business success. No one knows this more than Naomi, our Head of Insight.
"When I was asked for this interview ‘what makes you tick’, I asked my husband. His reply was ‘difficulty’. And he’s right. I’m a do-er and will get done whatever it is that needs to be done, irrespective of the circumstances that it needs to be done in. So, in my last role, when I needed to speak to a Chinese retailer at their convenience, I did so via Skype in business dress from the waist up and pyjamas from the waist down. From my kitchen. At 4am.
"Before I joined M&S, I’d worked with several major UK and international retailers, as well as brands and telecommunications companies, so the transition to M&S was an obvious next step. Customers are at the heart of everything we do at M&S. It’s an approach I believe in wholeheartedly. I’ve built customercentric capabilities for many companies – and customer data and insight have always been my starting point.
"This wasn’t the only thing that made us a good fit. There was huge appeal for me in the complexity of working for a big retailer and the diversity across food and clothing & home with the multi channel aspect of how we engage our customers both here and in our international business.
"My team and I are here to find out what customers really want and need. We analyse what they tell us, interpreting data from an array of sources such as shopping transactions, online browsing, social & digital engagement, research as well as sourcing market data which helps us understand the context for how people live, where they spend their time and money and how our competitors are executing their strategies. Bringing the picture into focus calls for analysis using multiple analytical disciplines ranging from data science, to data analytics to research but also some judgement and our experience. It’s about providing market and customer insight while also keeping a close eye on the broader strategic projects that deliver competitive advantage.
"We are structured to align each member of my team with a specific Business Unit and function since all this insight is no use to us if we don’t use it to improve our decisions. We’re involved in most big initiatives and in supporting teams day-to-day. The best thing about Customer Insight is that our work is extremely varied and meaningful – we all have a direct impact on customers’ experience of M&S. It’s very rewarding work and I consider it a privilege.
"In Food, for instance, we helped to evaluate the impact of changing decor in stores. The results of our trial told us we could remove decor, and customers and sales were not adversely affected. We also support Food with strategies for specific groups of customers we want to protect from competitor threat.
"A great Customer Insight professional must have a number of strings to their bow. You need to be a commercial thinker who understands what the broader business priorities are and how you can support them by asking the right questions. Once you’ve identified what these are, being a strong capability specialist comes into its own. This means knowing how to analyse data and deploy the most appropriate methods to produce the most useful, informative answers.
"Insight specialists are one of the few teams to benefit from a genuine overview of total business performance. Knowing how to pull all the levers that drive customer loyalty is an invaluable skill, particularly if you make every effort to hone it to perfection.
"My advice to a new joiner would be to keep an open mind. Don’t be so fixated on what you think you want that you miss what you really want. Some of my worst career experiences – horrible locations, terribly dull work, painfully long hours – taught me tenacity and I did end up learning skills that I’m grateful I now have. The more variety of experience you have, the more authentic you’ll be as a leader. You can spot issues, side step risks and be more helpful to everyone if you have personal experiences you can draw on.
"As for what I do in my spare time, in all honesty, I don’t have a great deal of that. But that’s probably more to do with the fact I have three young children and a fairly chaotic household. However, when I do, I love to run and I’m currently training for the London Marathon, which is the first time I’ve attempted 26.2 miles in one go! I also bake. A lot. My children will tell you that I never (ever) buy a cake. That being said, when my children were very little, the M&S café used to be a godsend. It was the only place where I could comfortably feed a baby – whom the other customers loved to entertain whilst I had a coffee and the cake was pretty good too!"Inside M&S
SEEING THE TALENT, NOT THE GENDER
At M&S, we have always been a fervent supporter of International Women’s Day, which this year is issuing a global call to #PressforProgress towards gender parity. That’s something we’re passionate about, and we’re proud of our record of supporting women on their career journeys and the way we promote on ability alone. Alice is a case in point.
Interested in retail since she worked in her local post office while at school, Alice originally embarked on a retail consultancy career. That is, until she took on an assignment with us – and decided to ‘go native’. “In my six years at M&S, I’ve enjoyed a very exciting and varied range of roles,” she says.
Always interested in ‘the next big thing’, she joined our start-up New Channels team. “The team was doing such exciting things in the tech space. Like developing our first mobile phone app, designing the touchscreen order points for stores, trying out new technology such as AR and VR. I wanted to be part of this hugely promising frontier of retail.”
But after 18 months Alice had a hankering to work abroad and was seconded to Mumbai to work with Reliance, our joint venture partner in India. There, she launched a new store concept called ‘Lingerie & Beauty’, took our brand to a major online fashion marketplace – “and did a lot of travelling, exploring and eating amazing food,” she adds!
On returning to the UK, Alice headed up the Operations Development team within M&S.com, which focuses on cost reduction, strategic planning, project governance and financial control. After taking a year out to have (and get to know) her first child, Edith, she took on the new cross-functional role of Head of Customer Experience. Alice provokes conversations about how we can put the customer even more at the heart of our business, and looks at how we can become more digitally minded and work in an agile way to deliver step-changes for customers.
“My new role has given me a chance to work at a strategic level – writing board papers, examining our operating model and reviewing business-wide governance structures,” she says. “I’ve also had the chance to deliver a customer experience pilot project called ‘Fit & Style Studio’. This was designed and delivered in a very agile way. It’s given us useful insight into future opportunities for our business around styling services, in-store technology, and online and offline customer journeys.”
Alice has her own way of balancing the competing priorities of looking after her family and having a successful career. “I know my limits. I work a four-day week and rarely do any events in the evening. I pay my cleaner more than the minimum wage and she helps me out twice a week. My daughter is in a super nursery school, and my husband and I share the drop-offs and pick-ups evenly.”
So, Head of Customer Experience and a mother. Does Alice have time for anything else? “I’ve always enjoyed long distance running, open water swimming and travelling. Fine wine and black coffee have always been passions, but not any more… not when I have another little one on the way!”Inside M&S
It’s a family affair
There are a few people with family connections in our store. So myself and my family aren’t especially unusual in this regard. We all work in different areas of the business but all of us feel that M&S has family values at its core. I’m the Section Manager for the Children’s Wear, Lingerie and Beauty department and I love working with the public across these three distinct areas. It gives myself and the team a great opportunity to ensure that every customer interaction is special. It also means that no two days are the same.
The variety in my role is what I love best about it; there’s always something new to learn and I enjoy developing my team's knowledge too. This enables them to pass it on to our customers. I’d say that we’re a pretty close-knit store and we’ve forged great ties with the local community. I’m in the process of setting up a link with the local MacMillan Centre to allow us to give the right support and advice to our customers as they go through a challenging time in their lives.
We like to get involved in fundraising too, for example, and we’ve decorated a local women's refuge and lent a hand with beach cleaning. We’re also keen supporters of the Plan A waste initiative, which is a company-wide drive to minimise our impact on the environment.
There is a genuine passion and friendliness about the store. We pride ourselves on giving a warm, welcoming experience to our customers. For Mother’s Day, for instance, we’ll make sure that all mums visiting us on the day are wished a happy Mother's Day and we’ll be giving out a few treats to make them feel special. This extends to our own staff too. We’ll have an afternoon tea in Café Refresh for all those mums who are working. At home, many of us will be treated to lunch or dinner on the Sunday.
Inverness is such a beautiful city, it’s great for bringing up your family and has seen such growth in the last few years. It really is the place to be. After 26 years here, I can honestly say I have never had a single regret about joining M&S. The core values that we represent have ensured that it’s a great place to work and your ambitions can be realised from the ground up or through the graduate scheme.Inside M&S
Giving Chelsie the tools to grow
At M&S we believe that apprenticeships are the future. Not only are they a great way for people to get on the right career track and progress quickly but they present an amazing opportunity for businesses as well. They allow companies like ours to attract and develop diverse talent, nurturing the skills we need to for future growth. We place significant value on our apprentices, supporting their professional development and ensuring they have a clear and direct career path ahead of them, in order to create the leaders our business will require in future.
Take Chelsie for example. She first joined M&S Bath in 2012, starting as a summer temp working in the Café. Seven months later, she was put forward for a section co-ordinator assessment which led to a role in the menswear team. In 2017, Chelsie was keen to further develop her role, and enrolled on our Level 2 Retail Apprenticeship programme, which provides colleagues with the ability to grow their careers in the business by undertaking modules that include everything from learning more about running sections in-store through to marketing, merchandising, sales promotions and team management.
“I have found the apprenticeship so interesting. It’s given me the tools to grow my career in retail, which I hope will inspire others to try to get an apprenticeship when they leave school. I’ve received enormous support and have managed to develop my skills across a range of disciplines from visual merchandising, clothing and home, food, and head office. So far I feel like I have learnt so much that I am excited and confident about the next step in my apprenticeship journey,” says Chelsie.
M&S offers apprenticeship positions in retail, distribution and head office. On all the schemes, participants have the opportunity to learn from people who have been there, seen it and done it, alongside formal coaching and training to give them the skills that will set them up for the rest of their careers.
Interested? M&S apprenticeship opportunities are open later in the year. Keep an eye on our careers website and follow our social channels for regular updates.Inside M&S