The summer of Olympics and Paralympics is virtually forgotten and, as the park is closed, I wonder how the real Olympic legacy is going to be felt.

The summer of Olympics and Paralympics is virtually forgotten and, as the park is closed, I wonder how the real Olympic legacy is going to be felt.

I’m so pleased I stayed in London for most of the Games and was lucky enough to see many of the memorable performances. But, like everyone else, I was overwhelmed by the volunteers, who gave up their time to ensure the Games’ smooth-running and provided a friendly face.

When I saw those uniforms, in permutations of red and purple, pink and purple, my first thought was how ugly they were. But, as the Olympics got under way, and the role of these people became felt, I changed my mind.

Those garish outfits came to represent something far greater. Whenever you came across a Games maker or an ambassador, you felt safe and in the company of a friendly person there to help. They became synonymous with good things – pride, trust and knowledge. What fantastic branding it was, and how retailers must have envied the apparent ease and speed with which such an unprepossessing livery achieved such a level of positive awareness.

The answer possibly lies in two elements. The volunteers came from all walks of life, but had all been put through a rigorous selection process to ensure that they were naturally interested in other people and possessed an innate sense of people management.

The other element was in the training, run by John Lewis. The retailer has a reputation for producing and maintaining a workforce that is engaged, patient, knowledgeable and understands how to deal with customers. Being good with customers isn’t rocket science, but you certainly notice when a retailer’s staff doesn’t have that all-important understanding.

In terms of Olympic legacy, I think that the success of those red, purple, pink and orange people demonstrated some potent lessons to retailers. With the right basic ingredients of personality, intelligence and attitude – and careful training – it isn’t difficult to create a body of people who know exactly what to do and convey just the right message.

The other aspect that retailers should take note of is that it is people who make places attractive, not products or presentation. We’d all rather buy things from someone who is genuinely engaged in the selling of that item, rather than go into a store full of wonderful, desirable things only to find that the shop assistants are rude or indifferent.

I gather, from someone I know who volunteered, not only that the John Lewis training was extremely good, but that it was the parting message from the trainers themselves that left the most significant mark. Volunteers were given a quote from the American writer Maya Angelou. She said: “People may not remember what you looked like, they may not remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

The volunteers took that powerful message to their hearts. And, with it, they won the world’s praise. Surely that must be the ultimate Olympic legacy.

  • Moira Benigson, managing partner, MBS Group