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Cancer sufferer's praise for unsung hero shop assistant at Robert Dyas

PUBLISHED: 18:27 15 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:24 18 February 2013

Melanie Dunne at Robert Dyas in Swiss Cottage, hailed as an unsung hero for her brilliant customer service. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Melanie Dunne at Robert Dyas in Swiss Cottage, hailed as an unsung hero for her brilliant customer service. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

A shop assistant has been hailed as an unsung hero for brightening the lives of people with life threatening illnesses by using the lost art of old-fashioned customer service.

People living with cancer and angina have complained they are often “invisible” in the eyes of shop assistants because they are physically frail, visibly unwell, thin or wear headscarves.

But after a mystery shopping survey of businesses in Finchley Road, the group has named a Robert Dyas shop assistant as a shining example of the way to serve sick customers without making them feel uncomfortable.

Melanie Dunne has worked at the hardware store - owned by Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis - for 14 years, and was stunned to be singled out.

The 46-year-old, who lives in West Hampstead, said: “I would do that normally, that’s just the way I am, I try my best.

‘‘I think a lot of people are disconnected nowadays, which is a shame really. That’s just the way I am, I treat people how I would want to be treated myself.”

Last week a mystery shopper with angina asked for help to buy a glue for sticking ornaments to her patio, after a treasured dog statue was stolen.

Instead of tutting or making a fuss when asked to go downstairs for the glue, Ms Dunne joked, “I love stairs, stairs keep me from joining the gym”.

Maria Lucas, 63, a member of the support group that carried out the survey, who has cancer, said: “She did it without embarrassing anybody, she made the lady very comfortable without drawing attention to her illness.

“We phoned Robert Dyas head office and told them what a great person they had working for them. She’s an unsung hero.

“They were blown away by this young girl’s service, old-fashioned service.”

The group, with about 30 members, provides emotional support for people with life-threatening conditions including cancer and unstable angina.

They meet for coffee mornings and last week members visited 19 shops in Finchley Road for the informal survey.

The results confirmed anecdotal beliefs that people who look unwell are often ignored by shop assistants.

“Some of our group look really, really frail,” said Mrs Lucas, a retired nurse who lives in Hampstead. “People will just ignore you. “You’ve probably got more money in your wallet to spend, but because you’re ill, you become invisible.

“We’re vulnerable people who still want to participate in everyday life, but we’re being treated as invisible.”

It is not the first time the Robert Dyas store in Finchley Road has been singled out as exponents of the “lost art” of old-fashioned customer service.

Manager Alan Brennan, 55, who has worked for Robert Dyas for 39 years and managed the store in Finchley Road for 13 years, said: “This has happened before many, many years ago. I think the secret is, it’s down to the people, not so much the economical climate we have at the moment, where we do need to stand out from the crowd.

“It’s the Robert Dyas way, our customers always come first. Obviously it’s paying off.”

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