Best Customer Service 2018: No Man Walks Alone (or, the future of retail)

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Best Customer Service of the Year: No Man Walks Alone

Runners up: The Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery, Skoaktiebolaget

Although there were many categories we could have selected for our Permanent Style awards - launched earlier this month - Customer Service was the one I was most excited about.

Good customer service is something rarely highlighted in the fashion world, yet it is core to so many of the things we value.

Personal service is an obvious attraction of bespoke tailoring, together with a relationship that deepens over time. But it’s no less important to the popularity of good independent stores.

Strong relationships with salespeople, and trust in the way a shop is curated, can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship of loyal, repeat customers that look forward to the shop experience.

Greg in the NMWA showroom. Photo:fromsqualortoballer.com

It was gratifying, therefore, to see that this awards category received more votes or nominations than any other, as well as more comments.

Customers were keen to relate their experiences, and extend their thanks, to the three brands that quickly dominated the votes: Skoaktiebolaget, the Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery, and No Man Walks Alone.

Comments about NMWA (which won this year, with A&S second and Skoak third), included:

“My drop-in visit in November was one of the, if not the, most enjoyable shopping experiences I’ve had. They were willing to let me try on a bunch of things and offered excellent style advice. I’m hard pressed to think of a better experience shopping both online and offline.”

“Always generous with time for answers to questions and when small things have gone wrong with shipping or orders ... been humble in apologies and more than made up for it.”

“Greg and Kyle are quick to answer questions, and are more than happy to accommodate my requests – even when those requests cost them time and money”

A heart being warmed

When I talked to Greg [Lellouche, NMWA founder, pictured above] last week, he related how lovely it was to see these comments come in.

“It was incredible, and frankly really heart-warming.”

“One of the downsides of running an online store is you rarely meet satisfied customers. People re-order, and you talk to people on the phone, but who phones a store to say how happy they are?”

NMWA has an active thread on StyleForum, where they answer a lot of questions, but these are largely practical. There are few excuses just to tell NMWA how they good they are.

Suits hanging at NMWA. Photo: fromsqualortoballer.com

Interestingly, the three brands shortlisted for this award are all very different kinds of shop.

A&S is all about physical relationships and service, without much emphasis on e-commerce. Skoak is a lovely physical shop, but with a very active online presence. And NMWA is entirely online (apart from the odd trunk show or appointment).

However, both NMWA and Skoak have consciously tried to replicate the customer service of a physical store.

“We’re so happy people think they’re getting a good experience. We spend so much time responding to queries, talking on the phone, giving personal advice," says Greg. "Nothing is scripted, everything comes from us.”

A Formosa jacket in the showroom

It helps a lot that Greg and Kyle are in the NMWA stockroom, surrounded by the product.

“The reason so many shops give you stock answers is that the staff just don’t know it very well. They’re in an office, and the product is somewhere else,” Greg says.

“We can just go find something if a customer has a question we don’t know the answer to. I can go grab the jacket and say ‘Yes, actually there is a coin pocket in the trousers’.”

The most common queries are about sizing, followed by advice on the texture or character of the garment, followed by styling.

“Someone might email to ask what ties a jacket would go with. We’ll usually go and grab three or four we like, and send back a picture showing the combinations,” says Greg.

Greg having a basted fitting in the showroom

Interestingly, when NMWA was founded, the biggest concern was removing the normal obstacles to online purchases, rather than trying to replicate a physical shop.

“I wanted to give the customer every type of information possible - sizing, weight of cloth, original and consistent photography,” says Greg. “We would often go back to our partners again and again, asking for more info.”

In the end, though, he learnt that different men just shop in different ways, and there’s no point trying to change them.

“Some people love measurements, and their precision,” he says. “Others just want to phone you up and say they normally wear a 46. Those two won’t ever swap.”

As e-commerce becomes more and more prevalent, I think customer service will become the key way customers differentiate between them.

I’m pleased to have such a deserved winner in NMWA this year, and look forward to recognising more such stores in the future.

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Morten

I was surprised to see that No Man Walks Alone won this price. I have looked at their offerings several times as they for sure have curated an excellent offering.

The surprise is because is a US based store – with Permanetstyle being a European based site i was expecting the winner to be “a local”. When ordering from Europe we have to pay import duties and therefore I don’t find it that appealing to buy from No Man Walks Alone.

Does this mean that there was many US/Canada voters, that many Europeans actual are paying the import duties or something else?

Derek

Congratulations!
Customer service is incredibly important and often over looked.
A&S have this down to a fine art under Audie and I always pop in when in the area.

Whereas I had a sub-standard experience at Anglo Italian and won’t be returning…

Anonymous

What happened with AIC?

anand

Ive been into Anglo Italian and found both the guys to be very nice, there is often only person there so if something happens or someone else comes in they’ll leave you to your own devices for a bit. I don’t think its through mean spiritedness, but just their age showing through, two very young guys running a business on their own for the first time.

It is a different experience to going to a tailor where you have an appointment and nobody is allowed to disturb you irrelevant of whats happening. My issue with AngloItalian is that I just cant get my head around this soft Neapolitan tailoring. Ive worn structured English before so jackets feel like a cardigan. Also you lose the statuesque look produced by a strong shoulder and sculpted chest. Despite wanting to love it I think for casual wear Ill just wear casual clothes (jeans and jumper with a Barbour or leather jacket) and when I want to dress up Ill wear my English tailoring.

Ian

You’re welcome to use my photos, but please credit the original source. Thanks! http://fromsqualortoballer.com/styleforum-spotlight-greg-lellouche-and-no-man/

Knesset

I know that the “Skoak” is the preferred way to shorten Skoaktiebolaget by SF:ers et al, but as a Swede it makes my eyes bleed every time I see this. For me and my fellow Swedish OCD:ers could you please start using, what should be the correct way to shorten the shop, the term SkoAB. Sko is Swedish for shoe and “aktie-bolaget” stands for limited company. So instead of Shoe LC, I know read “Shoeli”, if you get my point.

Other than that I have to thank you for a truly great blog.

OCD-rant over

Patrik Löf

Personally I prefer Skoaktiebolaget. 🙂

I actually never actually shopped from NMWA but I love Greg as a person so I’m gonna say it was well deserved!

Jj

I went to London some months ago and visited Angloitalian.
It was Friday at lunch time and both Alex and Jake were in the shop.
The y were friendly, polite and showed great enthusiasm. When other customers entered the shop Jake helped them while Alex stayed with me.
I comissioned a lovely olive trouser that I received at home with some delay.
The overall experience was very good, and I will visit them next time I go to London.
To me, British tailoring works perfectly well for a formal or business background. But for casual times, neapolitan style is so much better.

DE

Hi Simon, I realise that this category has already closed, but I just wanted to let you know about some great customer service I received from Kamila at Drakes last week. Having missed out on a couple of sale items that were sold out at Drakes Clifford Street store, Kamila not only found these items for me, but let me buy them at the in-store sales prices. I would definitely recommend the company (and their customer service) to my fellow PS readers.

David

Simon,
I think this award has been a little fire, steady, aim.
Putting e-commerce into the same category as bricks and mortar is surely comparing a fish and a dog.
OK, they both serve but the parameters are quite different. The logistical aspect of e-commerce will always be pre-eminent whereas presentation and person to person interface will continue to be the key drivers for physical stores.
I’m sure ‘No Man Walks Alone’ are a fine operation and deserve an award for something but how you compare them to the magnificence of A&S Habidashery eludes me and probably everybody else.
Regards,
David

Bob

Certainly not everyone else as personally I have had repeated bad experiences of A&S Hab (though no experience of NMWA).

Personally, curation and presentation have almost nothing to do with customer service. Interaction certainly is but then that can be judged equally with in person and online.

If I were concerned about the comparison of a physical shop and an ecommerce one then it’d be more about the potential size of their customer base given ecommerce can service the globe where as a small shop in a small town could be outstanding but will never win a “global” popular vote (particularly if not English speaking).

anand

I actually agree, I dont like A&S haberdashery either. Found it a little patronising. Also, much in there just seems overpriced for what it is.

I suspect when Simon goes to various places he gets a different form of treatment to when a regular Joe walks in.

Gus Walbolt

After my wife ordered a gift for me from No Man Walks Alone, she was so impressed by their customer service and communications that she said she wished there was a NMWA for women.

For future awards, I would suggest expanding the awards by major markets. What I buy or need from Italy is often different than my needs from the UK, US or Asia. This way I also know my best options as I travel to major cities as well as ordering online overseas.

Anonymous

Would be interesting to have a “best regional retailer”, ie someone not serving NYC, London, Paris, Milan (Stockholm, Tokyo, Hong Kong?)

Paul

Interesting, I’ve ordered items from them before, but haven’t had the chance to enjoy much interaction other than an email about the weight of a product. What was nice was when I was asking about cloth weight, they were very up front about it and I appreciated that. Now that I know their service reputation is so high, I’ll hit them up for more info!