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Service with a smile on front line

PUBLISHED: 09:07 16 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:47 11 May 2010

THEY are renowned for their warm welcome and the tradition of always putting their East Anglian customers first.

But now staff at Palmers department stores are preparing to arm themselves as they get ready to take on a much larger high street rival intent on taking their profits.

THEY are renowned for their warm welcome and the tradition of always putting their East Anglian customers first.

But now staff at Palmers department stores are preparing to arm themselves as they get ready to take on a much larger high street rival intent on taking their profits.

The 170-year-old independent company is facing its sternest challenge yet, with Debenhams opening branches close to Palmers' Yarmouth and Bury St Edmunds stores.

And Palmers, which is spending more than £500,000 on revamping its two flagship stores in Suffolk and Norfolk, believes it has a secret weapon to fend off the Debenhams threat - 300 staff who take pleasure in making sure that customers always leave with a smile and the goods they wanted.

The company is now sending all staff - who must follow the hallowed mantra that you never say “no” to a customer - on extra training days to make sure they always put shoppers on a pedestal.

Jean Elam, Palmers personnel manager, said: “Exceptional customer service has always been a tradition at Palmers and it is a vital part of our success.

“Store staff must have a good, chatty personality and must be interested in what the customer is saying at all times and understand what they want.”

When staff join Palmers their customer service skills are monitored for 12 weeks and they are all trained to handle complaints and make full refunds.

In a concerted bid to beat off Debenhams, the company is spending £500,000 on enhancing its 10,000 sq ft Bury fashion store, with a new fascia and lift being installed and new ranges of ladieswear being introduced.

And Palmers is adamant that its 40,000 sq ft Yarmouth site, in the Market Place, will remain the town's premier store, with the addition of new ranges, including Phase Eight and Principles, by the end of the year.

Debenhams will be setting up an 85,000 sq ft store in Bury's new Cattle Market development next year and a branch should be opened in Yarmouth's Market Gates shopping centre by the end of the year.

Bruce Sturrock, Palmers' managing director, said: “We welcome the challenge from Debenhams as it inspires us to keep improving our stores and offer even more to our loyal customers.”

Palmers, which is now owned by Mr Sturrock and fashion director Wendy Cole, has an annual turnover of £20m and it also has a homes store in Bury, a Dereham branch and runs a Chadds store in Lowestoft.

Staff at Palmers, Yarmouth, were keen to explain the vital role that good customer service plays in ensuring the business remains one of the region's biggest retail players.

Lorraine Page, 21 a cosmetic sales advisor, said: “I think you need a bubbly character and just be who you are.”

Daphne Pattison, 55, who has worked on the shop floor since 1968, said: “You definitely need to like people and always find a reason to say yes to a customer.”

Bev Quantrill, 56, who serves up to 10,000 customers a week in the coffee room, said: “It is nice at Palmers because you get to know regular customers and you start to think of them as friends.”

Dorothy Siddle, who has worked at the store for 17 years, said: “When you help a customer get what they came in for it gives you a real sense of achievement.”

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