5 Rules for Doing Customer Service Right

by : 

Cheryl Reeves

October 1, 2011

In every industry, but especially retail, quality customer service is a primary source of competitive advantage. Yet, mediocre customer service is rampant. Nevertheless, it’s up to the employer to set and effectively communicate the ground rules for how employees should interact with consumers. If you want to boost sales and drive repeat business, retail expert and author Nancy Friedman (www.telephonedoctor.com) can help you raise the bar with these Five Cardinal Rules of Retail Customer Service.

Rule #1: Put people before paperwork

It happens a lot: A customer walks into a store and finds the owner, manager, or associate engrossed in a report or doing other paperwork tasks. Often the customer is not noticed, or worse, ignored. Shoppers should be made to feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated. Saying “How can I help you?” immediately begins to build a prosperous relationship. At the very least, acknowledge the customer by making eye contact and smiling. Shoppers will grow impatient in a short amount of time and, if left waiting long enough, will head angrily for the door. Paperwork can wait; customers won’t.

Rule #2: Never rush your customers

Just because there are phone calls to make or it’s time for lunch or the store’s closing time is looming, you should never let customers feel you’re in too much of a hurry to give them your complete attention. People sense when they’re being rushed and they resent it. Besides, when you rush customers you lose sales. Everyone is busy. Being busy doesn’t give you carte blanche not to do your job. Remember: Busy is revenue; busy means business.

Rule #3: Be friendly before you know who it is

Roll out the red carpet for everyone. Treat all customers as if they are VIPs. Smile and be friendly and helpful to everyone who walks into your store, no matter who they are or how much they’re likely to buy. People will want to come back to—and tell their friends about—a place that treats them with respect and values their patronage.

Rule #4: Speak plainly

Customers would rather hear in everyday English that the merchandise they ordered is in store or on the way, rather than “the PVF01 you purchased is ready to ship.” Your customers are not your co-workers and should not be expected to understand SKU and barcode numbers or other insider terminology. Knowing what they ordered and calling it by its specific name communicates to customers that you’ve taken a personal interest in their purchase. This also helps to heighten consumer excitement and often leads directly to add-on sales.

Rule #5: Don’t pass the buck

Take ownership of your job. For example, when confronted with questions or problems, take charge with authority. It’s also important to apologize and then offer to find a solution. Shoppers appreciate a can-do attitude. They don’t want to hear lines such as “I’m new and I don’t know.” Worse, customers don’t want to have to tell their story over and over to different employees who each fail to remedy the situation. Make time to listen to the customer and take whatever steps necessary to meet the shopper’s needs. Always be proactive. The correct answer to a customer’s question or problem is never “I don’t know,” unless you follow that sentence up with “but I will find out for you.”

Cheryl Reeves is a freelance writer based in New York, N.Y.