My Work: Lupe Puerta

Portrait of Lupe Puerta

Interview: Haris Stavridis // Portrait: Courtesy of NET-A-PORTER

Could you please describe your current role?

I’m the Global Director of VIP Client Relations. It’s my responsibility to bring the Net-a-Porter experience to our customers globally, and close the gap between online and offline shopping. I work very closely with all of our different teams, from personal shopping and brand relations, to PR and marketing. Part of my role is to constantly come up with new and creative ways for our top spending clients to enjoy the brand, from inviting them to meet their favourite designers, to sitting in the front row at the shows during fashion week. Most importantly, I want our customers to feel like part of the family.

What is your typical day at the office like?

I don’t have a typical 9 to 5 day, as I’m often out with clients or in industry meetings during the week and the weekend, but I’m always connected to my iPhone 24/7 and stay constantly in touch with my team, wherever they are in the world. When I am not travelling, I arrive at our head offices, in West London, at 9am; I usually have a number of meetings lined up with different departments within the business, and with internal partners. I also spend a lot of time putting together our strategy for the next few months, and preparing for upcoming trips with my team. When I’m travelling, my schedule is packed with meeting clients, giving them wardrobe consultations, hosting style suites for them to come and try the product, showcasing the newest in-season pieces and attending dinners and lunches. I’ll also meet with local partners, who we collaborate with, and research the area, as it is vitally important for me to understand different markets, and what the expectations and needs of our customers are, no matter where they are in the world. One of my favourite parts of the job is presenting the current trends to our customers, and advising them on how they can incorporate the latest pieces into their current wardrobe.

A lot of things have changed in the digital landscape since 2004, when you joined the company. How do your clients shop now, compared to the past, and what affects their purchasing decisions?

Back then, no one understood how I could be a personal shopper for an online fashion business; some people didn’t even think it was possible. Nowadays, people don’t think twice about buying luxury items on their phones while they wait for their cappuccino in the morning, which really shows how the consumer has evolved. People have so much more visibility and so many choices nowadays, something that has made them extremely savvy. Therefore, when they’re buying luxury online, they expect to browse the best selection of items, to see them styled in a way that inspires them, to click and buy within seconds, and to receive impeccable service throughout.

How do you keep up with trends? Would you say that you rely more on your instinct when it comes to the next big thing?

I live and breathe fashion; I browse the products at Net-a-Porter, read The Edit and Porter, and check Instagram and The Net Set numerous times a day, so I’m always aware of the latest trends. When it comes to knowing what the next big thing is, we have a wealth of well-informed buyers to talk to, but I mainly go with my gut instinct. It’s important to choose pieces that feel right for me and suit my body and style.

What kind of 'money can't buy' experiences are you offering? Could you give us some examples?

The most important thing is the relationships we build with our clients. We’re always travelling to meet with them, and our personal shopping team even hand delivers some items. In terms of service, we will always strive to do anything for our customers and to provide them with special experiences that bring them closer to the fashion and beauty industry, whether it’s sitting with our president at fashion shows and going backstage, or visiting showrooms right after the clothes have been seen on the catwalk.

How do your VIP clients like to be handled? Are there any specific guidelines that you and your team follow when it comes to them?

There is certainly a Net-a-Porter etiquette we use when we’re communicating with our EIPs (extremely important people), and a process we follow, to ensure they are looked after. Most importantly we treat them as individuals; after all, no two people are the same, and we make sure each one of them is matched with the right personal shopper.

Could you tell us a bit about the customer requests that you receive?

Our customers constantly want to hear about ‘the newest’; they want to know about the new designers and which products to invest in for next season. They want to see it and have access to it first, and we’re here to support that. We offer a curated service, whereby our personal shoppers understand and meet their clients’ needs, from orders to delivery and returns.

If we could generalise it, what kind of qualities do your customers look for in luxury brands? Is it more about exclusivity, social recognition or tailor-made services?

I think it’s all of those elements combined. We have discerning customers, who want to have first access to high quality pieces that are exclusive, are made in the highest quality and that arrive in chic luxurious packaging.

Where do most luxury brands fail when it comes to customer service? What should they do more of?

Our customers are very vocal and it’s crucial that we listen to them. User experience is key and it should be a top priority for all luxury brands. Retailers need to take note of the feedback they are getting, and decipher where it’s coming from. We have a dedicated customer service team who are committed to feeding the wants and needs of the customer to the head office. It sounds cliché, but you need to know who your customer is.

You deal with a lot of people on a global level. What kind of personal skills does one need to have to be successful in a role like yours?

You need to be a natural extrovert, and enjoy talking to and meeting different people. It helps if you are inquisitive and curious to learn about others. It’s definitely a special breed of person who is at their most comfortable when people surround them.

What helped you further develop your communication skills over the course of the years? Are there any tools that can make someone better at talking to people and understanding their needs?

I have been very lucky to have been taught by two great mentors in my career. They both recognised my skills, and constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’ve always had outward facing roles and over the years I’ve gained much more confidence and life experiences. When I was in my early 20’s, a family friend once told me that when she was at social gatherings, she would always approach the most intimidating person in the room first, so the rest of the night was a piece of cake – it’s a great piece of advice and has stuck with me. I’ve also read books about engaging with people and I’m a huge fan of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which helps me to understand and communicate more effectively with everyone around me.

You moved to Hong Kong for five months to set up a dedicated, localised personal shopping team. What were the challenges in setting it up?

One of the challenges was to understand who our local consumers were, identify what they wanted, and figure out how we could meet their needs. There are methods that work in the U.S. and the U.K. that wouldn’t necessarily work in our Asia Pacific market. This meant I had to spend time learning and understanding their culture, and how to best communicate with our new clients.

How do you deal with cultural differences in general?

It’s a matter of understanding the nuances in communication between different cultures. Once you appreciate that, you can mould your way of working to suit customers’ individual needs.

What kind of manager are you? Do you prefer to be liked or respected?

Both. It’s important that my team like to work with and learn from me, as we spend so much time together; at the same time it’s crucial to feel respected. I’m a vocal manager, and I like to challenge my team, but I don’t micromanage. Letting them get on with their jobs and figure out solutions on their own is something that empowers them

How do you hire the people in your team?

Experiences in fashion and in customer facing roles are vital for a role in client relations. I look for candidates who are eloquent, engaging, well organised and strategic. Personality is also very important; we spend a lot of time together travelling, so any potential candidates need to be the type of person that will fit in with our team.

Which are your biggest headaches at work right now?

When I’m travelling, packing for lots of different climates, and managing different time zones when I’m on the go is always tricky. And it’s not so much a headache, but it ’s a constant challenge to find a good work-life balance.

What was the biggest setback that you have faced in your career? How did you respond to it?

I think the hardest thing has been to recognise and admit to myself when I’m not enjoying something, which in the past has caused me to change my focus and my job. I’ve learned it’s always important to work with your natural skill set, even if it means taking a side step or demotion in your career. In my own experience, leaning towards what you are best at, can only lead to personal satisfaction.

What is the most solid, specific piece of advice you have for anyone wishing to work in fashion?

If you choose something that comes naturally to you, then it won’t feel like working, and it will bring more to your life than anything else will. Once you find a job that you love and that makes you happy, follow your gut instinct and always be prepared to work hard, get involved and make the effort to understand what you’re doing from a wider scope. Never wait for someone to give you a title, be that title; if you want to be a manager, act like one. Be bold and be brilliant. Confidence is everything.

Could you please tell us about your business priorities in the next six months?

My biggest priority is to make sure that we are engaging with our clients in established and emerging markets, and to meet as many of our customers around the world as possible.

Who would you like to recommend next for My Work?

Sophie Quy, fine jewellery buyer at Net-A-Porter.

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