Tatang’s legacy of good customer service lives on

Tatang’s legacy of good customer service lives on

Employees and partners in business share the positive influence Henry Sy, Sr. has given them
/ 08:00 AM October 29, 2023

Over the years, there have been numerous stories about Henry Sy, Sr., fondly called by many as “Tatang.” With the growth and advancement of the now-global retail conglomerate SM, the name Henry Sy has been synonymous with keen business insight, success, and expansion. 

SM Tatang Henry Sy

But there are other things people associate with the name, especially by those who have worked for and with Tatang himself. Foremost would be good customer service, for which SM has also become known for.

Good customer service goes beyond the moment your customer faces your staff or sees your product. SM, thanks to the hands-on approach of Mr. Sy, has shown time and time again that good customer service goes deeper—to the very heart of the business and its culture.

But of course, this is all proven through how the customers truly experience SM’s service. In the inaugural Philippine Best Customer Service 2023 survey created by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and leading data and business intelligence portal Statista, the SM Group received high scores on the basis of accessibility, communication, and professional competence. The top companies given the Best Customer Service awards were SM Markets, SM Cinema, and SM Store. Among retail affiliates of SM Group, Uniqlo, Watsons, Crate & Barrel, Our Home, and Pet Express were also awarded. Also recognized was Goldilocks Bakeshop, a part of SM’s portfolio investments.

Think of the customers

One of Mr. Sy’s notable habits was making regular rounds at various department stores, a practice for which he became particularly well-known. He was known for his meticulous attention to product displays, ensuring that customers could see and experience the diverse offerings from the mall’s tenants and partners.

One of the most well-known brands in photo and digital imaging, Great Image, shares a particular learning from Tatang. Robert Palomo relates to the Inquirer: “Tatang would tell me, You have to engage the customers, you have to feel the senses of the customers. [Retailing] is not so much about the goods. They have to have an emotional experience.”

Likewise, SM Store’s former assistant vice president for store operations Ma. Cecilia Abreu recalls a question that Tatang had posed during one of his rounds at the shoe section: “Can our customers still afford to buy our sandals at this price?” The question, Abreu says, struck her because it showed how dedicated Mr. Sy was to understanding the customers’ needs.

It is this mindset that has anchored SM’s operations nationwide—thinking about how best to serve the customers, they provide and offer services catering to the widest needs. This care goes even beyond the realm of retail. We see this in their support for women’s causes, for example, through the establishment of breastfeeding stations throughout SM Supermalls nationwide. These stations give women a safe space to rest and care for their children while at the mall. 

The malls have also opened opportunities for customers to take part in environmental causes through various e-vehicle charging stations, and incentivized recycling programs. This year, SM launched the Eco Vendo, where customers can exchange recyclable PET bottles and aluminum cans for discounts at various SM lifestyle activities like skating and bowling.

Treat employees and partners well

Providing a good experience is not just for the customers. Mr. Sy also emphasized the importance of being good to those you work with—and those who work for you, too. 

“He taught us to treat our employees like family, the way we want our employees to treat our customers. That stuck into our hearts and up until now, we try our best to provide care and appreciation to our employees,” shares Ideal Vision’s PR manager Jessica Dee. 

It’s more than just your product or service that will determine your reputation in the industry, as evidenced by Mr. Sy. His kindness to employees, and the mutual respect he has accorded to tenants are also some of the values many SM employees and partners have picked up. And the way many establishments and businesses find themselves in Mr. Sy’s stores—not just in one branch, but in multiple SM malls all over the country—is a testament to the trust the SM brand has built.

Nothing beats hard work

After more than six decades in the retail industry, SM’s growth has been one of the most awe-inspiring. Growing from a small shoe store in the late 1950s, the SM brand is proof that hard work and consistency really does pay off. Tatang himself is a role model in this regard. Experiencing the country’s volatile history was no obstacle for Tatang’s visionary spirit—and that turned him into one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs. 

SM Tatang Henry Sy

This was a practice he also openly shared with those around him: that honest, hard work and discipline will take you far, and will be handsomely rewarded.

Many young entrepreneurs, who have had their start at SM, share nuggets of wisdom learned from the Father of Philippine Retailing himself. On top of hard work, Mr. Sy, they say, also spoke of being fearless in the face of failure. It is through continuously trying and taking risks that one could reap rewards—especially if you really believe in what you can offer. And as he also always believed, these would trickle down, from you to your employees, and to the customers.

This legacy, which continues to live on through Tatang’s family and the various entrepreneurial lives he has touched, leaves us with hope. Seeing this culture of good customer service, innovative spirit, and respect towards one’s people, we can be positive that the future of the country’s retail industry will remain vibrant and thriving. The SM Group’s customer service achievements and recognition are the visible and tangible testaments to these values.


TAGS: BrandRoom, Henry Sy, sm supermalls

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