Building bonds with customers
IT HAS always been Mr Sebastian Chua's dream to join the service industry. "I know that my passion lies in interacting with people and learning from them," says the customer service supervisor at Dufry. Dufry Group is a Swiss-based global travel retailer. It operates more than 450 shops at seaports, tourist attractions and airports in over 40 countries. But a decade ago when he first joined the sector, there was little emphasis on service quality and he encountered a commission-driven environment. "My first job was in outdoor sales. I literally worked in the streets, pushing a trolley of products and pestering people to buy them," he recalls. All that has changed over the years after he switched to retailing electronics for Dufry. At the Singapore Changi Airport where Mr Chua works, the company operates ten shops categorised into Watches, Electronic, Chocolates and Fashion retail. He says: "My responsibility is to ensure my team of sales staff and promoters are able to deliver objectives set by the management, which are customer service, sales targets, proper merchandise and staff discipline. "I started out as a sales staff myself. So I always put myself in their shoes and try to understand the individual's strengths and weaknesses so I can coach them to improve." Airport retail staff normally work for four days followed by a day off, which is somewhat different from retail shifts downtown. "After working for three years at Dufry, I worked downtown for other retailers for a while, just to experience what it's like. Downtown, it's a 12-hour shift, whereas here, it's 8.5 hours. "Downtown shops generally open from 10 am to 10 pm whereas the airport operates from 6 am to 1 am. The company has an arrangement with the taxi company so that staff gets transport to and from work in the wee hours. "I like working at the airport better, primarily because I get to interact with people from different nationalities, so I came back and told the manager that I would like to rejoin the company." Dufry's "open door" management policy made it possible for him to do so and it is something he appreciates. "The management creates a strong bonding in its company culture," he says. "They welcome feedback and listen sincerely to what employees has to say." The art of listening is also his main concern for those under his supervision. "Service is about listening to what the customers want and providing them with a solution. Unlike when I first started, it is no longer product over service, but service over products. "There are many shops selling the same products, so the only difference lies in your service. If the customer is unhappy with your service, he can always walk a few blocks down and buy from another person. "But if you serve from your heart, you establish a bond with them. In fact, 20 per cent of your loyal customers make up to 80 per cent of your sales. I don't believe in one-off sales," he explains. He says that a salesman's body language, product knowledge and care in visual display indicates whether he is is attentive to his customer's needs. For example, products can be arranged in two ways at the same time: vertically, they may be arranged by size, and horizontally by brands. The 33-year-old is currently enrolled in a diploma in retail management at the Singapore Institute of retail Studies (SIRS) at Toa Payoh Hub, subsidised by his company. He has also attended trainings in communication, customer service and quality service management, which fuelled his appetite to learn and to serve customers better. He says: "I am motivated to continue delivering quality service and to keep improving myself. Especially at the airport, we cannot predict who we will serve. They came from all over the world and have different opinions on pricing and service standards. "Many foreigners are also ahead in terms of product knowledge, so we are constantly challenged to keep up. The learning curve does not stop."