With nominations for the 2017 Worldpay everywoman in Retail Ambassador Programme now open, past alumni share some of the myths that persist about a career in customer service – and the reality of being a shop-floor star.
MYTH: TO REACH THE TOP YOU HAVE TO JOIN A GRADUATE PROGRAMME
Not so, says Leigh Nelson, Retail Director at a branch of Specsavers in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, who in 2016 became a Worldpay everywoman in Retail Ambassador. When she joined the chain of opticians in her twenties, it was driven by a desire to get away from office work. A Dispensing Assistant position ticked the box and over the next couple of years, she excelled in her role, which involved helping customers make eyewear choices, answering phones and doing paperwork in store.
But Leigh quickly began to see the bigger picture, looking ahead at growth opportunities and putting up her hand for additional responsibilities that came along. “I took on a computer course to improve my skills in that area and I think that showed my employers that I was willing. I asked if I could take on any supervisory work that came up in the future. And when I wasn’t busy, I found extra stuff to do, even if it meant picking up a cloth and doing some cleaning. Few others in my position were doing any of that, so when a promotion came along, I was at the head of the queue. I didn’t have to wait for pathways – nothing was handed to me.”
MYTH: A CAREER IN RETAIL IS A FALL BACK OPTION
“19 years into my career, I was at a conference watching a talk on why graduates don’t want to work in retail. Answers ranged from “It’s the job you go into if you can’t do anything else”, and “There are no long term opportunities”, to “I want to travel, you can’t do that in retail”. I was horrified - all remarks so very untrue,” recalls our 2016 everywoman in Retail Ambassador, Claire Barron.
“I didn’t choose the retail life; it chose me. I took a job in a mobile phone store as a temporary stop gap after university, but I fell in love with it immediately – with the customers who made every day different, hilarious, challenging and rewarding, and with the potential.
“The Telco industry was growing at an incredibly fast pace; there was a lot of money to be made by a great sales person, and within 10 months I had my own store to run. There began my real education. Every day was a masterclass in leadership, from how to deal with fraught interpersonal relationships between direct reports, to managing diverse teams spread across the country – it’s all part of the rich tapestry, the hilarity and irrationality of people and store life. I’ve always thought that retail creates the best leaders – if you cut your teeth on the frontline of any business, you can go on to do anything.
“After 16 years in store, I moved into operations, and, four years later, into my current role as Vodafone’s Customer Experience Academy Manager. I am responsible for the training that goes out to all Vodafone stores and contact centres globally to support our teams in delivering a fantastic customer experience. This year alone, we’ve trained 35,000 employees and over that time, I’ve travelled from London to Athens, Milan, Madrid, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Cape Town and the amazing Mumbai. In my 22 years at Vodafone I’ve been challenged, terrified (hosting a conference of 1,000 delegates) and exhilarated… but never bored. I’ve met countless celebrities, including the Queen (twice!) and could write several books about the epic experiences I’ve had and the legends I’ve worked with. Retail is not a career, it is THE career.”
MYTH: SHOP OPENING HOURS MEAN THE RETAIL SECTOR ISN’T A GOOD CHOICE FOR WORKING PARENTS
As a parent, Specsavers Retail Director and everywoman Retail Ambassador Leigh Nelson knows that it’s entirely possible to juggle family life with the demands of a customer-facing role.
“A lot of women in retail don’t feel they can have a career after having children. So they stop and step out and then five or ten years later they come back and have a lot of catching up to do,” she says.
Being a working parent might not be easy, but with good organisation and planning, you can, she says, keep things going so that the child-rearing years don’t stop you getting wherever it is you want to get to.
“I worked very hard to stay on when I had my own children. You need to have a plan. Even with opening hours, there’s a way to find flexibility in retail and to have a career as you build a family. It requires thinking about what you want, what you can do before having children and when you return to create opportunities, and how you can show your employer the benefit to them and the business of giving you those opportunities.”
MYTH: SUPERMARKET WORK IS MOSTLY SHELF STACKING
“Before beginning my career with ASDA, I believed that working in a supermarket was all about stacking shelves all day long,” remembers Worldpay 2016 everywoman in Retail Ambassador, Rukia Hussain. “There was very little opportunity to grow and if you did want to, you'd have to do so following a slow process with little benefits on the way up,” was how the one-time Customer Assistant perceived a career in retail.
Now George and GM Trading Manager, she has a different outlook: “Progressing with ASDA has made me realise that my job is so much more than making sure the shelves are full. Day in day out, I am coaching and leading a team of people. I have fellow managers that are a support system around me through the good and the bad times. I help people that want to grow, better themselves and develop as individuals. There are times when we come to the needs of our customers in ways that are really important. Knowing you have helped an individual, whether a member of the team or a customer, truly gives you a feeling of enrichment in the role.
“The retail world is still heavily dominated by males. However, there is nothing stopping women from having a successful and rewarding career. It involves far more than the preconceived misconceptions: Enriching, exciting and two days are never the same. You are a part of a family and the family sense runs deep.”
Nominations for the 2017 Worldpay everywoman in Retail Ambassador Programme close on 15th May 2017.