Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #119

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We are taking a break from our newsletter series Growth by Acquisition to bring you the below article about customer service in the retail environment. We will continue with the series in our next newsletter edition with an article about effectively managing and executing the transfer of knowledge and work responsibility.

10 Rules for Retail Customer Service
By Craig Bailey

As I was sitting in front of my computer on Black Friday contemplating a topic for the next newsletter article, I realized that it would be an appropriate time to provide advice for those in customer service in the retail environment. As it turns out, someone close to me just lost his job because he didn't heed this advice (providing a timely case study). While this time of year is especially busy for retail, the following advice is applicable year-round. Moreover, for those of you not in retail, I'd suggest that what is shared below can be applied to virtually any industry or sector.

If you have never worked in retail, you have missed out on the most important customer service experience in your life. Dealing with the end-consumer can be extremely challenging and the "true test" is how you will handle an unruly customer. Make no mistake, no matter how friendly you are, how great the products/services your organization offers or your geographic location, you WILL be visited by a cantankerous person whom you will not be able to please – no matter what. While there may not be many of these people in the world, they do seem to get around quite a bit.

So, here are the 10 Rules for Successful Customer Service in Retail (plus a bonus item):

  1. Politely greet your customers. The greeting may be something like: "Did you find everything you were looking for?", "How can I help you?" or as simple as "Good morning/ afternoon/ evening." Just greet them – every time!
  2. Look people squarely in the eye when you are talking to them. This demonstrates to customers that you respect them, that you are confident in your position, and that you are being open and honest about doing your best to serve them. If you avoid eye contact, the customer feels unappreciated (just another transaction), that you are uncomfortable in your position, that you are not doing your best to meet his/her needs and that you are just there to "punch the clock."
  3. When the customer asks a question, be sure that you heard correctly before responding. So, if there is ANY doubt in your mind about what the customer has just asked you, politely respond with something to the effect of: "I'm sorry, could you please repeat the question?"
  4. When you are talking to the customer, make sure that you speak clearly. Speaking clearly includes: the appropriate volume for the environment (if it is noisy you will need to speak a bit louder than normal), slowly enough so that your words are not jumbled or mumbled and, finally, with a positive/upbeat tone of voice.
  5. Smile and be courteous – enough said about that!
  6. When handing something to the customer, make sure that he/she has it before you let go. And, if the item is dropped, know that it is YOUR FAULT. That being the case, YOU need to make haste to reach down and pick it up for the customer (just make sure you don't bump heads). And, sincerely apologize…
  7. Never, never, never argue with the customer. If you haven't heard it before, the Golden Rule of Customer Service is: "THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!" This applies even if the customer is clearly wrong or being totally rude. NO MATTER WHAT the customer is always right - at least that is what you need to make customers think. When you know that the customer is wrong, what you "can" do is, in a non-argumentative but supportive tone, share additional information that may help the customer expand his/her understanding, with the goal that the customer comes to a new understanding as a product of his/her own conclusion.
  8. When you are having extended dialog with a customer, be sure to acknowledge the next customer in line by politely saying something to the effect of: "I'll be with you in just a moment." Doing so accomplishes 2 things: 1) You are letting the next customer know that you are aware of his/her presence and 2) It "may" help to move the current customer along.
  9. If you absolutely cannot help the customer, then YOU should ask if he/she would like to speak with your supervisor or manager. Do NOT wait for the customer to request this. When your supervisor arrives, summarize the situation in an objective and non-judgmental way so that the customer doesn't have to begin at ground zero to explain the situation.
  10. Always, always, always say "Thank You" to the customer upon completing a transaction.

And now, for the bonus item, just in case this wasn't obvious: Never, never, never drop the "F" bomb. This is inappropriate for any situation and is grounds for IMMEDIATE termination of your employment. No warnings are required…you are done.

It should be noted that you "may" be able to keep your job in the retail space through the Holiday Season even if you don't heed the advice above (except maybe for the "F" bomb factor) because everyone is short staffed. However, if you'd like to keep your job beyond the Holiday Season, or move up the ladder (increased responsibility and more pay), then you will do well to internalize and demonstrate the above.

In closing, if you are working in retail this Holiday Season, you are in for a treat as shoppers swarm the stores with their stress levels higher than ever. This will provide you an opportunity to exercise and develop the customer service skills that will form a solid foundation for your future, regardless of your field of endeavor. Good luck and good service!


+ 10 Rules for Retail Customer Service

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