FROM GRADUATE TRAINEE TO HEAD OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
Jo joined M&S as a Graduate Trainee back in 1989. 28 years later, she’s still with the business and has risen to the heights of Head of Customer Service. This is how she got there.
“I’ve covered quite a lot of ground at M&S. My first roles post-training were as Assistant Managers in a number of our stores across London. My next step was into our International Franchise Group; I spent five years there in all and what an experience! I loved the role. It’s core focus was working alongside our partners to grow our international presence. So not only was it high profile; it had a tangible, visible impact too.
When I came back to the UK, I managed our Kensington and Watford stores initially before moving on to a series of office roles, including Store Operations and Change Management. All of this was great preparation for the Customer Service role I’m in today. I joined the department in 2005. Today, I’m proud to say, I’ve built the function to the point where it’s geared up to deliver a great M&S brand experience, across all its touch points.
My ongoing objective is to define and deliver our brand-wide service proposition. This is a massive task. It takes in the service behaviours we need to demonstrate and the service and policies that bring our brand experience to life. There is so much variety in what I do. One day I could be launching a new service, the next might see me tweaking the user journey for an existing service.
The toughest taskmasters in retail customer service are our customers. They expect the best because we’ve consistently delivered. The ‘special’ of our service proposition is very much in the detail of what we do. Average just won’t do. What we do has to exceed expectations not just meet them. Our customers expect more from us than our competitors; we have to find a way to deliver against this.
Getting it right is a tough challenge but there is no better feeling than helping a customer get exactly what they need. It could be pinpointing that special gift; helping them to feel more confident in a new outfit or exploring a new food range they might not otherwise have tried. Helping them get the most from us and the best for them is a really rewarding feeling; it’s very motivating for our colleagues.
Our customers appreciate the extra effort we make. The personal touch can make a world of difference and, the thing is, it takes very little sometimes. I read a customer email when I was on holiday recently. I emailed her back straightaway to acknowledge her comments and promised one of my team would be in touch – she was so grateful that I’d taken time to contact her.
I’m often asked by colleagues to help find items for customers, especially if they are for an important occasion. A couple of years ago, a colleague was looking for several suits for a wedding. I called the Menswear Director to help get the items and take the pressure off the store colleague. Being able to call on my network is really important.
What our colleagues who work in store do, day-in, day-out, is inspirational. Just reading about some of their wonderful stories gives me so much pleasure. My advice for anyone in store is to focus on the simple things: smile, make eye contact and show a genuine interest to every customer, every day. The best rule of thumb is to think how would you like to be treated.
By making every moment special for our customers, I think we have a knock-on effect to the people they come into contact with. We’ve influenced their mood, their sense of wellbeing. So it stands to reason this will have an impact on how they interact with others. OK, we might not be changing the world – but we’ve made theirs better. That’s a nice feeling for a colleague to take away.”Inside M&S
Senior Product Developer, Food on the Move
“There isn’t a specific university course for what I do, so I hadn’t realised the job of developing food products actually existed. I’d been indulging my passion for food through some culinary evening courses while I was working for a printer. Luckily, through this role, I came into contact with the food teams at M&S and this is how I made my discovery. I applied and the rest is history.
“My current role focuses on Food on the Move. But I’ve worked in many areas across the Food group which has given my job the variety it needs to keep it interesting. Essentially, it involves working in a team with a buyer and a technologist; it’s my job to keep up with food trends and identify and develop new product concepts with our suppliers.
“We were the first retailer to bring the Turkey Feast sandwich to the High Street – all the flavours of a Christmas dinner between two slices of bread. Of course, lots of retailers sell one now – so I need to make sure that every year we keep ours ahead of the competition, in terms of quality and content. This year we added crispy onions for a savoury note. We also marinate the turkey in stock before cooking to ensure fabulous flavour and succulence.
“The planning for this actually starts about a year in advance. We make sure we know exactly what’s happening in the supermarkets and the independents. We analyse our sales to decide which lines we will bring back and we think about new ideas while the inspiration of Christmas is all around us.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see our new ranges hit the shelves. They start as a concept in the kitchen. So finally seeing them all packaged up and ready for sale gives me a great buzz. I think what makes our sandwiches so popular is a combination of the quality and the attention to detail we put in. We hope our customers have the same consistent experience every time they try our Christmas range – we put a great deal of time, effort and thought into making every moment special for them.
“It’s my job to ensure the Christmas sandwich is popular. This means coming up with something new and special every year – as well as ensuring that our other festive favourites are as good as ever. It’s particularly rewarding because we give 5% of sales of the Christmas range to SHELTER, the homeless charity. It’s always a special time of year too, with lots of anticipation to see what’s selling well and getting feedback from our customers.
“It’s a long time ago now since I started in product development so I’m not sure I really knew what to expect other than the opportunity to work with food. In this respect, I’d say it’s surpassed my expectations because no day is ever the same and it never gets boring. I’ve been given ever-more challenging roles and lots of variety. Food on the Move is just the latest in a long list of areas I’ve touched on from chilled desserts and global meals to Christmas cakes, puddings and pies.
“I count myself fortunate to work in an environment full of lots of passionate people where there is always something new to learn. I’ve made the most of it by being enthusiastic, adaptable and flexible. It helps too if you have a thirst for knowledge."
From Saturday girl to Section Manager
Bernie’s first day with M&S was as a Saturday girl in Wood Green. At the time, she believed that it was the only place to be. Some 10 or 15 stores later, she’s been with us for over 24 years, so presumably this is still the place to be. Now a Section Manager at the Cheshunt store, she let us in on some Food Hall secrets.
“The first thing I start with each day is the section takings,” she says. “So at 5am I’m checking to see if any of those areas need to be looked at. Next, I’ll allocate some of the team to do a date-check on the fridges and fill them. Then I’ll walk the hall with my second-in-command to make sure any risk areas we’ve highlighted have been addressed.”
Bernie works with the Operations team to make sure that stock gets to the right place on the sales floor. She’ll also help her own team with ‘packet perfect presentation’ and clear any clutter so that the floor looks tidy and inviting for early-door customers.
“Later on, I’ll take team members on a section walk with me so that they can see what the customer sees. During the last half of my shift we’ll do standards checks, pulling stock forward ready for filling, date checks and top-ups. It takes a lot of work to make the fridges look so good all the time!”
A Section Manager’s role also involves finding time for coaching, training and development. Then there’s a management meeting every day at which Bernie and her colleagues examine food safety findings, performance scores and – always at the top of the list – service.
Having been a Duty Manager and a Store Manager, Bernie took on a Section Manager role which was better suited to her family commitments. She appreciates the work/life balance that gives her, and also pitches in to make her team’s lives easier. “I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” she says. “You’ll find me on the sales floor filling fridges alongside them if that’s what’s needed.”
Bernie’s loyalty is clearly returned. “They delivered an excellent Christmas last year. Some of them volunteered to work through the night in December so that the day teams could keep the shelves stocked for customers.”
We asked Bernie if she had any words of advice for potential new joiners. “Just give it a go. You won’t know what it’s like unless you try it.”
Great Section Managers feel at home at M&S. To find out more and apply, click here.Inside M&S
Seizing opportunities in Wednesbury
We’ve opened a brand-new M&S Simply Food store in Wednesbury’s Gallagher Retail Park. Which means, there’ll be lots of new job opportunities right around the corner for lots of aspirational job seekers.
With a 50-seat café, an in-store bakery, a click and collect service and a huge food space, there’s something for everyone at this 9,000sq foot store. So, if you’re on the lookout for a role as a Sales Floor Customer Assistant, Store Operations Customer Assistant, In-Store Bakery Assistant, Café Customer Assistant, FHSO or Admin Assistant, you’re in luck.
One of the main benefits of Gallagher Retail Park is how many retailers are already there. Plus there are 900 free parking spaces for shoppers and employees to enjoy.
We have a whole variety of shifts available and it’s incredibly easy to get in and out of the retail park, so it’s great news for our entire community.
This is what our new Store Manager, Steve, had to say:
“Wednesbury is a superb location for a new M&S Simply Food store. The retail park is a leading destination for shoppers in the Midlands, and to become part of that and represent M&S in that area, it’s an exciting opportunity. With over 50 million cars passing the site every year and 2.8 million people living within a 30-minute drive time, we can’t wait to bring the M&S brand and our excellent food products to our new customers!”Inside M&S
From Christmas temp to Store Manager
Julie started with us as a Christmas temp in Middlesbrough and she didn’t know it then, but her 12-hour contract working in Menswear was to be the start of a fruitful career journey with us. Today, she’s the manager of Teeside’s newest store – the M&S Foodhall in Guisborough.
When her original role became permanent, Julie began to discover other departments within the store. During a career which has spanned some three decades, she has successfully climbed the career ladder via various managerial roles, plus a stint at Head Office.
“I never thought I would work in Retail’, explains Julie, ‘I wanted to be a nurse at first, but I then realised I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing people being ill. But that meant I was in a bit of a quandary about what to do. My mum’s best friends worked at M&S Middlesbrough and she said to me to consider a Christmas job there – so I got an interview, and the job, and I just loved it.”
Celebrating her first Christmas in charge at her new store finds Julie in an excited mood, she tells us: “When I heard about this store opening I said I would love to open Guisborough. I think the food side of the business is great – the products are fantastic. For me it’s the consistency. You know you will get really good quality food that you won’t waste. You can see the difference and spend it well.”
“I really enjoy my job and I'm really passionate about M&S, especially foods. I love being on the sales floor with customers and colleagues making every moment special.”Inside M&S
Internships: get a snapshot of what a job is really like
We must have made quite an impression on Alice during her internship. Because she’s now back with us on a year’s placement. We took the opportunity to ask her about her experiences – then and now.
“The internship was such a great experience! I did it when I was 19 and had just completed my first year at university. It was very much a ‘thrown in at the deep end’ scenario. On my first day, I was shown to my desk and given a laptop, phone and project brief and hit the ground running.”
There were more surprises in store for Alice, not least what she was actually going to be doing. She continues, “When I began, I wasn’t entirely sure what a food technologist did and what the job involved. This is what made it such a valuable experience. It was a taste for all the jobs in food at a retail level, not just the technologists. Eight weeks was enough time to confirm that the job is perfect for me.”
Alice was keen to stress all the support she had during her internship – you always have a line manager to mentor you and give you direction, but there’s plenty of room for you to take responsibility. “By the last week, I was expected to write a report and give a presentation on the progress I made with my project and what further actions need to be taken to put this in place.
That report and presentation was Alice’s most memorable moment from her internship. “It was great to see all my hard work come together and get praise and feedback from my team.”
Now that Alice is working in the Deli team as a Food Technologist, her job can take her anywhere. She adds, “I could visit a ready meal business one day, attend a panel on prawns with a supplier the next, then fly to Aberdeen to find out how a smoked salmon provider prepares for the Christmas rush!”
We couldn’t let Alice go without asking the talented Food Technologist what her favourite M&S product was. “By far, it’s the melting middle chocolate lava cake. I gave my presentation on this for the internship interview and have appreciated the science behind it ever since!”
An internship is a great way to get a ‘snapshot’ of a job. It could even be your way into a placement like Alice’s. Find out more about the scheme here.Inside M&S
MAKING THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE EASIER
If you shop at M&S, you’ll be familiar with our in-store equipment and technology. But nothing stands still for ever. We’re constantly striving to find the latest technology to make the shopping experience easier.
Meet Eleanor. She’s a Project Manager in our Payment Experience team based at our Head Office in Paddington, London. Her role revolves around new processes for payment methods that we are hoping to introduce in our stores. She also works with our Learning & Development team to create supportive materials to help stores deliver a consistent customer experience. When we rolled out our new self-checkout tills, Eleanor created a training video for stores to help our customers.
“M&S always tries to prioritise the customer and make sure they are getting the best possible experience,” she says. “While the whole world seems to have gone online, we want to preserve our stores – they’re embedded in M&S history. But while cherishing our heritage, we’re coming up with new ways to make the store experience more enjoyable, to give customers something they wouldn’t expect and to improve the lives of our colleagues. Customers and the market can be unpredictable so we can’t plan too far head – that’s when your creativity comes in handy.”
Project Manager. Head office. It’s easy to assume that Eleanor is behind a desk all day, but that’s not the case. “We get out on the ground, visiting stores on a regular basis as it’s important to understand what our store colleagues and customers are experiencing. We can often pick up issues before they escalate and sort them out.”
Eleanor joined us a year ago with a geography degree and a background in hospitality and events rather than retail. She wanted a graduate scheme that provided a series of rotations that would enable her to get an all-round exposure to how a big business works. She wanted the possibility of gaining international experience – “going to somewhere like Hong Kong, Australia or Singapore would be a dream for me”. And she wanted to be part of an ethical company that had a long-standing reputation for sustainability and supporting charities.
M&S ticked all these boxes. In the past year, Eleanor has delivered significant projects which have received great feedback from colleagues. We’ve helped Eleanor’s development with in-house courses, support to take external exams in project management, a nominated sponsor with whom Eleanor can discuss future roles or ways to overcome any gaps in her skills, as well as a line manager and buddy. “It’s quite a big step up from being a graduate, so with a year under my belt now, not much fazes me.”
So what has been Eleanor’s standout moment in her year with us? That comes back to one of the charities we support: the annual Macmillan Campaign, ‘September Coffee Morning’. “As a graduate, I was tasked with getting over 300 cakes to the London Eye from Paddington in under an hour,” she says. It was a real challenge but rewarding to have done it. It proved I could deliver under pressure, even if it meant sitting in a lorry wearing a high-vis jacket while in heels!”
Those contestants on The Apprentice really do have it easy…
Find out more about graduate opportunities here.Inside M&S
The story of the 33-year career that started by accident
It’s a hat-trick!
For the third year running, we’ve taken home the Drapers Multi-Channel Retailer award!
To be recognised by such a highly-respected industry awards at the iconic Roundhouse in London, where over 2000 customers voted in our category, is a great win for us and all our colleagues at M&S.
We managed to secure 13% of the consumer choice vote, with some serious competition in the running – so it’s a big well done to everyone working across our business!
Photo images curtesy of awards.drapersonline.com
When ambition meets opportunity
A 16-year-old boy stands behind the photo counter at a leading retailer, smiling at customers and chatting away with them as he takes their. memories and goes on to process them. Years later he grows up to become Head of Region at M&S for the Northeast Midlands. His name is Simon and in his role, he’s in charge of leading 20 M&S stores. And it all started with a Business Placement Programme
“I studied Retail Management at Loughborough University. It was a great course with a placement in the third year. So, I joined M&S through the Business Placement Programme and had an amazing year in the Blackpool store. When it came to the end of my year, I decided to stay on in a leadership role whilst I did my final year studies. I was appointed to Fosse Park, Leicester as Late Night Manager.
After that, my first full appointment was Clothing & Home Commercial Manager at Southport, followed by a number of exciting Store Manager and Commercial Manager roles. I have had the opportunity to lead some amazing teams in Manchester city centre, in our largest store at Cheshire Oaks near Chester and I’ve opened new concept stores, as well as managed store developments. I now hold what I’m proud to call my ‘dream job’. I couldn’t be happier about the way my career panned out. And honestly, it was all thanks to the Business Placement Programme.
I had an amazing placement year. The team in Blackpool was supportive, friendly and behind me along every step of the way. During that year I covered every area in the shop and at 20 years old, I was responsible for a really busy Foodhall during the busiest time of year. I look back on that year with fond memories and at the end of my placement I had enjoyed myself so much that I decided to stay with M&S.
The programme is a great way to test the waters of retail and it will teach you valuable skills, lessons and professional habits. And it’s a great way for you to experience the vast world of opportunities at M&S. I even left and returned to M&S after a short period, as for me, the difference between M&S and other retailers is how connected the customer is to our brand. From my grandparents, who loved to meet their friends at their local M&S Café, to my mother, who took me and my brother to the M&S in Lancaster – my family has always had a personal connection to the brand. And that’s what we stand for as a business. I don’t think you get that in any other retailers.”
Find out more about the Business Placement Programme, and click here.Inside M&S