What Defines Good Customer Service in Retail?

September 7, 2022
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Whether you work with members of the public face-to-face, over the phone, via email, on social media or on live chat, maintaining the highest standards of customer service at all times will ensure your customers have the best experience possible, leading to repeat business and positive recommendations to friends. A customer’s experience with you is something that differentiates your company from others – whether you work primarily in a physical retail premises or online – and it’s what will win customers over, gain their loyalty and persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash. In this article, we’ll outline what retail customer service is and the importance of it, then provide you with our top 10 tips to help you improve your customer service skills.

What is Retail Customer Service?

Retail customer service is about providing customers with relevant (and timely) assistance, to help them solve their problems and to meet their needs and expectations. There are various types of retail environments to which retail customer service applies, including physical premises like supermarkets, newsagents and chemists, as well as countless online retail spaces, apps and websites. It also applies to sales environments where phone lines alone are used to interact with customers, such as warehouses, catalogues or wholesalers.

There are many ways in which you may interact with a customer, including:

  • Customer-facing roles where you interact with someone in-person, such as over a counter in a shop.
  • Interactions with someone over the phone, such as in a customer advisor role or taking phone orders.
  • Responding in writing to customer emails or letters.
  • Written interactions with a customer via social media posts or a live chat facility.

Exemplary retail customer service involves resourcefulness, initiative and strong people skills – as highlighted in our article on transferable skills – as you’re often required to think on your feet to maintain high levels of customer service. What’s perhaps most important, however, is providing a seamless experience – caring for your customer before, during and after the sale to ensure their expectations are always met at all times, without exceptions.

What is the Importance of Customer Service in Retail?

Commendable customer service brings benefits to everyone involved in the transaction, including you, your customer and your business, making it something that shouldn’t be ignored. Furthermore, many consumers often cite high levels of customer service as a reason why they would favour one company over another, or even pay more for the product or service on offer.

The overall customer experience plays a key role in determining whether shoppers will return to your business – or take their money elsewhere. In fact, excellent customer service in retail is no longer seen as an added bonus for many customers; rather, it’s something they expect. So much so that, 9 out of 10 consumers go so far as to say that they would pay more to ensure excellent customer service from a company.

The most recent UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) shows that organisations in any industry have the ability to provide exceptional customer service. A few examples of UK businesses proven to provide good customer service are as follows:

  • Pets at Home – a popular retail company that puts customers at the centre of its strategy. It does that by offering a VIP Club for customers with special offers, the convenient option to click and collect orders the next day, and a vast range of knowledgeable and trustworthy online articles to help customers care for their pets.
  • First Direct – an online bank that focuses on customer trust, retention and recommendation. Joe Gordon, Head of First Direct, said, ‘First Direct fundamentally believes speed, ease and consistency are key when it comes to providing an exceptional customer experience.’
  • Jet2 Holidays – prides itself on ‘continued investment into customer service and delivering our family-friendly formula.’ They achieve this by investing in their call centres which have industry-leading response times, offering a free 24/7 emergency helpline for customers, hiring more staff in the UK and abroad to assist customers, and investing heavily in their website to ensure the customer booking experience is easy and fast.

It’s clear that if you provide good customer service in retail, the customer is more likely to shop at your business again and also recommend you to their friends and family, or leave a positive review online. This word-of-mouth recommendation is vital in today’s retail world, where shoppers often rely on reviews and testimonials from other customers before they make a purchase.

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Looking to Learn More?

Our Retail Customer Service Training Course ensures that retail staff are constantly and consistently achieving and exceeding their customer’s needs and expectations. You could also take a look at our Customer Service Training Course.

How to Improve Customer Service in Retail: Our Top 10 Tips

Looking for some examples of good customer service skills in retail? The following actionable tips and advice will help you to improve the customer service you offer, whether it’s in-person, over the phone or online:

1. Always offer a friendly face (or avatar)

Remember to greet customers with a smile and a friendly hello when they enter your retail premises and say thank you and goodbye to them when they leave. If you’re talking on the phone, smile whilst you’re speaking, and on social media or live chat try to be personable and not corporate – or worse, scripted. Furthermore, ensure you’re looking presentable if you’re meeting customers in person: polish your shoes, iron your clothes and brush your hair. Obvious, maybe, but essential for a good first impression.

2. Be available, all the time

Our instant, on-demand lifestyle means customers expect answers to their queries and problems quickly, if not immediately, and at any time of day or night. For retailers, this can be a challenge, especially if you only work 9-5. Having a social media page or a live chat facility that’s monitored as close to 24/7 as possible will help – could you take it in turns to check your company Facebook page on an evening, to ensure comments and questions don’t go unanswered?

3. Know your product, service and company inside out

Just as customers expect you to be there 24/7, they also expect you to know everything. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a question about a product and being unable to obtain an answer. In most cases like this, the customer will simply remove the item from their basket and take their business elsewhere. That’s not to say you literally have to know it all but you should have a comprehensive knowledge of what you’re selling. If it’s something you can’t answer straight away, or need to go away and look into or fix, then it’s vital that you keep the customer in the loop about what’s happening. The customer will tolerate a longer wait time if they’re kept informed. If they’re not, they’ll abandon the transaction and head elsewhere.

4. Avoid being negative

You might not know the answer, you might be having a bad day or the customer might clearly be wrong, but it’s part of your role in customer service to keep these less-than-positive thoughts to yourself. If you have to say no to a customer, phrase it politely and positively: “I’m sorry you’re unhappy and I’m not sure of the answer myself, but give me one moment and I’ll do my best to find out for you.” If the customer service you provide is worded negatively, rudely or unhelpfully, you can guarantee the customer will tell their friends or leave a bad review about your business online, and bad reviews can spread like wildfire.

5. Fix problems and issues, immediately

People complain because they haven’t had their needs or expectations met and, in today’s world of review sites, direct messaging and social media posts, it’s unlikely that the issue will go unseen or unheard. Therefore, it’s important that your organisation makes it easy for people to complain – if it’s hard, the customer will only get more annoyed. To ensure the customer service you provide is exemplary, a speedy response is also vital – don’t leave people hanging for days, they’ll only get more frustrated – and professional in tone. Be mindful of what you say in response to complaining customers, especially if it’s in the public arena and visible to the whole internet. This means being polite, apologetic and helpful, just as you would if you were dealing with a customer in-person.

6. Remember your regulars

People love to be remembered. It makes them feel unique, cared for and valued as a customer. If a customer you’ve seen before enters your retail premises, greet them by name if you know it or simply welcome them back – they’ll be delighted you’ve remembered them. If your retail space is online, then make use of personalised email communications that use customers’ names at the start of them. This makes your emails or messages feel more human and less robotic. It can also be impressive to a customer if you can quickly recall details from past conversations – most live chat software will capture data from previous interactions that you can use.

7. Good manners cost nothing

First impressions play a significant role in good customer service in retail. Being polite, saying please and thank you, being respectful and smiling are small gestures but they all add up. Remember to always keep the focus on the customer too – don’t be distracted by chatty colleagues, your phone or your pile of stock. Give the customer your full attention and your business will reap the rewards. 

8. Stop, look, listen

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing – stocking shelves, writing an email or catching up with a colleague – your number one priority is to listen to your customers. This doesn’t mean half listening to their query whilst you formulate the perfect answer in your head, nor does it mean getting ahead and saving some time by copying and pasting a stock response into an email ready to hit send. Listening means being patient, giving the customer time to speak without jumping in and ensuring you understand everything they’ve said before responding. How often can you say you’ve truly listened to what someone’s had to say before interrupting with your own thoughts on the situation? Have you ever preempted what someone is going to say and then replied with the wrong information because you’ve not waited to hear the whole story? This is called active listening.

9. Let the customer help themselves

Many people (especially us Brits) prefer to try and solve their own problem before asking for help, so empower customers to help themselves by giving them information upfront. For example, clearly display things like return policies, postage costs, payment options, shop locations and opening hours, etc. on your website. Similarly, it’s a good idea to curate a frequently asked questions list to encourage self-service and reduce the amount of time spent answering the same queries. Empowering your customers in this way means you can focus on providing excellent customer service in other areas of your business where the time is better spent.

10. Don’t forget about the internet

Often, the feedback you receive from a customer will be in the form of a review online, whether on a social media page, a reviews website, an online forum, a local listings page or a comments section on your company website. If you work in a bricks-and-mortar retail premises then it can sometimes be easy to forget about your online presence, but a negative comment on the internet can be highly damaging to your business’s reputation. Responding quickly to these online reviews shows your customers that they are the most important aspect of your business. Be empathetic and understanding – never use a copy-and-paste stock response – and do what you can to help. Although you might want to move the conversation offline or into private emails, it’s important to respond publicly as this is a great opportunity to show others just how much you value your customers and the effort you’ll put into fixing issues.

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