Simon Pullen, manager of Newport’s Friars Walk, which is joint sponsor of the Customer Service Award category of the South Wales Argus Business Awards, chats to The Business about service and what it means...

The Business: Why should Newport become the City of Service?
Simon Pullen: There is a desire from all forms of business, particularly in retail, to attract customers. The thing with products is that customers can get what they want in multiple ways, so why should Newport become a City of Service? Why is that title important? As a city, we need to be giving people a reason to come to here. 
How you retain customers and deliver a consistent and pleasurable experience is by delivering a good service, which naturally leads to good customer service. We’re seeing phenomenal examples of that right across the city. 

TB: So, with that, what is ‘service’?
SP: Service, in its most basic form, is an action whereby you provide someone with help or fulfil a need. It’s difficult to come up with an encompassing definition, but you will not get much closer than that in my opinion.

TB: Why is good service good for business in whatever sector that business is in?
SP: It’s hugely important. Time is precious for people, but society today finds itself in a position where consumers can also be more selective than ever when it comes to what product they want and where they purchase it from. Getting anyone through your door is important and the only way you’re going to retain that customer and attain new business is through good service. 
There are several factors we can control when it comes to that service. It begins with how easily accessible we are, how clean we are, how friendly the staff is and how current we are. Good customer service is a courtesy really. If people have an enjoyable experience that is a result of those combined factors and good customer service, which only progresses to word-of-mouth endorsements. 

TB: Can a company turn around its service offering and how can it go about that?
Definitely – it is all down to what base you are starting from. If you have been delivering bad customer service, it’s because the tools and information have not been filtered down from senior level. Buy-in from the very top – even at board level – is crucial. 
At Friars Walk, we have that from our client here and that is drip-fed down. We contract out a lot of our services, like cleaning, security and maintenance, so we have got to be sure that those contractors are also buying into that. 
Often it is about attitude and a lot of success with good customer service can be achieved by simply being courteous. Sure, customers can be disappointed if they purchase a product which is broken or there’s something wrong with it or it’s out of stock, but it is about how those scenarios are dealt with. 
With every customer, you make sure they are not leaving your store feeling like they have been let down, ignored or badly treated and that can be rectified with some simple changes. Good customer service must be part of employee induction packs and training from the start of their journey to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. It’s about being memorable for the right reasons.

TB: Friars Walk decided to jointly sponsor the Customer Service Award for the second year running at the SWA Business Awards. What will you be looking for as a judge of this category?
One of the things I will be looking out for, as I mentioned in the last answer, is what element of training is being provided and how seriously businesses and individuals take good customer service. Beyond that, I want to see how a business or employee is going above and beyond to deliver not just good, but excellent customer service. 
When we did the awards judging last year, I was seeing businesses and employees doing far more than was being expected and I came away incredibly impressed. It was phenomenal. 
With how the market is presently, there are so many different avenues for people to purchase their products, but to have the opportunity to reward and recognise those going above and beyond is a real privilege. 

TB: How important is the new International Conference Centre Wales to the area and what is Friars Walk doing to make sure it capitalises on it when it opens later this year?
It’s vital. We’re always looking to bring new people to Newport and we’re trying to shout about what makes the city different. 
I think the ICCW is now one of those focal differences. It is imperative that businesses, not just Friars Walk, capitalise on the new conference facility. We have a genuine opportunity to change perceptions and make sure that everyone who visits Newport leaves saying how much of a good time they had.
It comes back to the point I was making about great customer service. 
If we are providing an exemplary experience and service, visitors are going to be returning home with a good long-lasting impression. 
It’s about how we market ourselves, because Newport has got so much going for it. We have top-quality shopping, eating and socialising locations, accommodation and iconic landmarks. 
As a city, we need to be far better at shouting about that. 

TB: You spoke about how we should shout about the city, but how do you think Newport/Gwent is viewed as a place to visit and what should it be doing to make sure more people want to come to this area?
The challenge for Newport, historically, is that the city has been seen as a poor alternative to Cardiff and Bristol. Its perception to people outside of the city hasn’t been great, but I think we are changing that. 
With Friars Walk, the city’s retail experience has been certainly enhanced a great deal. 
There’s the cinema too and top-class restaurants that were not here before. 
Finally, I think the leisure provision has improved a lot. 
We’re all working together to raise the profile of Newport and, slowly, that is happening. 
By the time the ICCW opens later this year we all need to be on top of our game to provide the best experience possible. 
We get one bite at the cherry with this and, as a city, we must make sure our visitors are leaving here with a good and long-lasting impression.