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Surprising and delighting customers

Passion for customer service excellence led Sarah Hughes to Aesop, first as a customer, then to join the quality skin care brand’s management team. She spoke to Retail World.

By Aesop Regional Wholesale Manager, ANZ, Sarah Hughes.

Where did your career in FMCG begin?

I officially started in FMCG through the Coles graduate program (in merchandise) following a double degree in commerce/arts at the University of Melbourne. I’d always been interested in product development and buying and selling, having run a little side business as a 16-year-old, selling wrapping paper at local markets. My best marks at university were always in subjects that were product and people related. I always knew I’d work in retail as I love the customer behaviour, the psychology of ‘why we buy’” and how, as retailers, we can make that experience as seamless and memorable as possible.

Take us through the journey that has led you to your current role.

As an Aesop customer I was always impressed by the attention to detail, hosting, tea service and deep care and interest consultants showed towards me and my skin care needs. I was equally taken by the beautiful yet practical store design of each space. It’s the consistency and meticulous pursuit of quality and customer service that stands Aesop apart from other retailers. When a business development role in the Aesop ANZ team was advertised on LinkedIn, I knew it was where I wanted to be working next.

What has inspired you to be where you are today?

The customer. I’m motivated by surprising and delighting customers through outstanding customer service and truly meeting their needs.

Is there any advice that has stuck with you as your career progresses?

A senior leader I worked with once told me that you should assume that people have a positive intent in every interaction and action. It all comes down to clear communication, asking questions and listening.

What have been some of the major challenges along the way?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is the COVID-19 crisis and the enormous impact this has had on the retail industry. It has equally represented an opportunity for businesses to innovate, particularly in digital, and in many ways has brought forward initiatives, such as one-to-one virtual consultations, contactless collection services and greater integration between online and in-store, all of which is for the better. Some excellent examples of this have been Dan Murphy’s, Bunnings, Mecca and the hospitality industry.

What are some of your greatest career highlights/achievements so far?

Winning the Joe Berry Award was a career highlight. It allowed me to meet many interesting and inspiring people across the retail industry and join the Westfield World Retail Study Tour. Earlier in my career, I worked for French public transport company Transdev in both Paris and Melbourne. Working in a foreign country and second language was such a rewarding and humbling experience.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’d like to be in a country manager role working in a business I care passionately about, alongside great people doing exceptional things.

What advice would you give to others establishing a career in the FMCG sector?

Take responsibility for your own development by seeking out industry leaders and mentors and also opportunities to grow your skills and experience. If you’re not feeling a little uncomfortable, you’re probably in need of a challenge. Don’t wait to be asked, use your initiative and don’t assume your idea doesn’t count. I work in a business currently where everyone is encouraged to think innovatively. This approach has led to some incredible outcomes.

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