Malcolm Walker Retail Week Columns

In retail, everyone’s name is on the guest list

A recent night out in London offered a salutary lesson in customer service.


Iceland’s Christmas incentive is a fierce annual competition offering the winning store manager from each of our six regions a fantastic trip away for two. Previous years have seen “millionaires’ weekends” involving flights to New York, private jets to Monaco, and yachts in Ibiza.

This year of austerity saw us going to London!

Even so, we laid on transport by helicopter from their homes and a chauffeur driven limo for each couple. We started with a “board meeting” at our City lawyers DWF, in surely the most impressive boardroom in London. A little hesitant at first, our managers soon had some very useful things to say about the business and how we could improve.

We stayed in the best rooms at The Corinthia Hotel and made full use of their amazing spa facilities. The group enjoyed shopping, sightseeing and The Lion King. On Saturday night we had a banquet at Novikov then headed for the famous nightclub Mahiki.

You often read how hard it is to get into such places, so we had taken no chances. Our table was booked months ago and confirmed by email. Our organiser had visited earlier that day to do a recce and reconfirm, which we did again 20 minutes before we arrived.

Everyone was “glammed up” and looking forward to rubbing shoulders with celebrities. Fortunately it was a warm night so the long wait outside didn’t matter much. Eventually a blonde appeared with a clipboard and said we were not on the list and she had no knowledge of our booking.

After a bit of haggling she disappeared before coming back to admit we were on the list but they had given our table away and couldn’t do anything about it. We were 20 minutes early and I explained that people had come from all over the UK for this one night, but she really didn’t care. The bouncers were giving us death stares, though they weren’t to know one of our managers is a world Kung Fu champion. I whispered in his ear he should go and kill the doorman.

I thought about the contrast with our own customer service, and how we will do anything to get people through our doors.

This looked like an event gone badly wrong when I suddenly remembered I’ve been a member of Annabel’s for about 15 years, although I think I’ve only been twice. I rang and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. When we arrived the doormen smiled and rushed to open our car doors. They quickly produced four jackets for the men in our party who didn’t meet the dress code. We were shown to tables beautifully laid for dinner, soon cleared without fuss to make room for our drinks. We danced the night away and had a wonderful time.

The contrast was amazing and probably explains why one of the oldest clubs in London is still there. I’m sure Mahiki soon won’t be as customers move onto the next. Which reminds me, I must give DWF a call about breach of contract …

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