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“I treat everyone who walks through the door as a VIP”
In conversation with ... Vaughn Stafford-Gray, the head of concierge at the Bay.
What’s your typical day like?
There’s no typical [day] — each day is different. There’s usually a meeting with staff to discuss such events as personal shopping appointments or a store tour or a group of people coming in to meet with a stylist, or meeting with a PR department. We want to ensure customer service is at its best. Besides customer-driven activities, we follow up with other issues that come up — did the packages arrive okay? Is there any new business that needs to be talked about? I work nine-to-five but will stay on for a special event.
What qualities do you need to be good at retail-oriented customer service?
You need three things: patience, finesse and the ability to foresee every obstacle and to be able to overcome it. As a concierge, I am both an ombudsman and a diplomat. For example, if a customer has a complaint, we do an investigation to realize where the misunderstanding occurred. If a customer is belligerent or is trying to beat the system you still have to make them feel respected, romanticized even. I have to know when to act within the parameters of my job description but I need to be a diplomat as well and make the customer feel important. I treat everyone who walks through the door as a VIP.
How did you get into this gig?
I was in PR and advertising first (in Jamaica), then I had a catering company in Toronto, then I became a chef. Next, I worked at Mirvish Cannon theatre (in customer service) and then at Harry Rosen as a concierge. I was there for four years. I also worked at the Spoke club part-time.
What’s the best thing about this job?
Three things: No two days are the same. Two, I work for a very dynamic company lead by a dynamic manager. Three, having a manager that I trust implicitly.
Where I work (at the Bay) there’s so much vision — you do feel as part of the future. You feel like you keep moving and always grow.
Retail is such a good immigrant job – it’s a crash course in learning culture and getting exposure — it can be everything: from the corner of Russia to Taipei. I’d say that 80 per cent of customers at Holt’s or Harry’s are immigrants. With retail, you get thrown into the deep end of culture. You become a confidant, talk to people all the time. In a place like Toronto, working in retail is like being in the UN.
What’s the most challenging thing about the job?
You’re always on and [your persona is] so public. I’m always an extension of the Bay. You never have full downtime from that. So the life-work balance is affected. But I enjoy the fast pace and the deadline-driven environment and being the part of the Bay experience.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are today?
Remember that when you’re new to the country (like I once was) there are certain jobs which you’ll have to do that you wouldn’t necessarily do back home. Hospitality, retail are great, though, because you do learn about the culture here. And if you have customer service experience you can deal with any difficult situation. You can start at a place like Starbucks or in a call centre but you build from there once you gain the experience. Look at your first job as a learning experience and appreciate it for what it can offer you in terms of that.
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