retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It was just yesterday that I noted that a comment by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon - "there are no cash registers in the home office" - made me think about the legendary Feargal Quinn, who used to insist that his Superquinn head offices in Ireland be thought of and referred to as "the support office," because the stores are where the action is.

So it was ironic to see a column in Ireland's Independent yesterday, authored by Feargal Quinn, in which he answers questions by Irish consumers. (Quinn now serves as a Senator in Ireland's Seanad Éireann.)

Superquinn was sold by the Quinn family to an investment group in 2005, which then sold it to Musgrave Group in 2011. The Superquinn name has been taken down as Musgrave rebranded the stores under the Supervalu banner ... and a reader wanted to know how Quinn felt about this.

"We are now in a different era and change is always inevitable so while it would be great to still have the Superquinn name in the marketplace, we also have to be realistic and recognise that a brand name is only exactly that, a name," Quinn writes. "The Superquinn philosophy and culture lives on among the many staff who continue with the new owners and the thousands of customers who still remember what Superquinn was."

But perhaps even more importantly, Quinn offers his perspective on what makes for great customer service ... and anyone in the customer service business should take notice:

"Much of our success in Superquinn in gaining a global reputation was driven by staying very close to our customers, understanding their needs and reacting with simple solutions which made a real difference to their shopping experience," he writes.

"I like to divide customer service into two different parts. There is the overt service of greeting and wishing the customer farewell and use of lots of tangible and verbal ways to deliver that service.

"There is also silent service, which is more about having the correct things in place and ensure that the customers shopping experience is pleasant i.e. they can get a parking space, there are no big long queues etc.

"The second, and equally important, element will be that you create the correct culture within your business ... The culture extends way beyond empowerment, and it is about you as owner of the business making staff feel special, recognising important milestones in their work and personal lives and generally recognising that a motivated team will tend to deliver world-class service without too much prompting or managing.

"Finally, as you know during my time in Superquinn I spent lots of time at the back of the checkouts packing bags. I didn't pack any bags better than anyone else but it sent a signal right through the organisation that customer service was critically important to me and this set the tone for our managers and staff. Leading by example should certainly be high on your agenda."

As always, from the iconic Feargal Quinn ... an Eye-Opener.
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