Do you run a retail store and need tips to turn customers to brand promoters for free? If YES, here are 20 best customer service tips for small retail businesses.

Everyone wants to feel like they matter, and like their needs and challenges to be addressed with competence and seriousness. Yet, each client your business will have is unique in their own way and will be happy or disappointed by a lot of personal exchanges and outcomes. However, they all have one thing in common; they expect exceptional customer service from any business they are dealing with.

Customer satisfaction is an elusive concept for every business, be it a huge corporation or a small startup. Companies have spent millions compiling statistics, research, interviews, focus groups, etc. trying to determine the magic formula for a loyal customer and repeat visitor.

It is a well-known fact that customer service can make or mar a business. As a matter of fact, a study that was conducted by NewVoiceMedia found out that companies across the United States of America lose $75 billion each year due to their poor customer service.

Business owners who fail to give customer service the attention it deserves in their company will always struggle to get new customers and retain the existing customers they have. The two main reasons why small businesses fail at having a good customer service has been identified to be:

  • Bad training: Some small businesses have been known to not empower their representatives properly. Instead of giving them the autonomy to do what’s right for the customer, the representatives find themselves road blocked by rules and corporate scripts. It is advisable to give your employees some autonomy and access to resources in order to serve your customers more effectively.
  • Bad hiring: A lot applicants who apply for the role of customer service jobs have no real interest in field. Rather, they see it as a “way in” to the professional world or they are in need of a job that can pay their bills at the moment. It is very important to hire people who have real interest in the field, who can truly talk to other people and are willing to learn as they work.

These employees represent your brand and the reaction to any issue the customers may have will be seen as the official stance of the business on the issue. It’s okay to check references and conduct several interviews until you’ve managed to find the perfect person to fill this role.

Here are a few of the best customer service tips for small retail businesses that can help them improve on themselves.

20 Best Customer Service Tips for Small Retail Businesses

1. Have Thick Skin: the truth still remains that no matter how stellar your customer service may appear to be, there will always be complaints, and as such you should anticipate it. By having thick skin, you will be able to remain calm and not speak or act inappropriately in a manner that will exacerbate the situation. Rather, you should strive to turn these situations to be mutually beneficial.

When it seems like issues have gotten out of hand, you should not take it personally. The customer is dealing with you simply as an extension of your company. Their negative attitude towards you is most likely not directed to you, but are rather a response to the situation on ground. You should always keep that in mind.

You should also try your best to avoid the urge to compete or argue with the customer. Rather, your efforts should be focused on understanding the customer’s problem and moving the interaction in a positive direction.

2. Follow Through: if a customer is interested in your business, there is a big chance that they want what you have for sale. You have already answered most of their questions with a help option of some kind. If it is an item they are buying, you need to make sure the entire process is as seamless as possible.

It’s never funny when a customer has to select a purchase, enter in their card information, and then find out the item is out of stock or discontinued. Purchasing an item already decided upon shouldn’t take more than ten minutes.

For an online service such as design, app building, marketing, et al. alongside a website that shows your work and success; accessibility is key. For an optimum customer experience, you need to be accessible. It’s infuriating to submit a question online but not receive a reply for three days, or worse an automated message that addresses zero concerns. After all, someone is paying you for a service.

If you find out that you cannot keep up with the communication in your company, then it may be time to hire a third party site, a part time assistant, or even an intern. A customer who feels as if his needs are met during the process is more likely to use you for all their needs in the future. And as their business grows, so does your likelihood of good word of mouth from them to their colleagues, friends or family.

3. Improve the Checkout Experience: no one likes long wait times or unpleasant checkout experiences, and this can go a long way to ensure that customers do not return to your business. Unfair queuing systems, confusing in-store experiences, and long lines are bound to leave a sour taste in your customers’ mouths.

Use clear in-store signage so that customers know where to stand in line, form lines around checkout aisles to encourage last-minute purchases, and adopt processes and tools that can help you bust through long lines during peak business hours

4. Recognize and Engage Feedback: research has found out that as much as 88 percent of customers go through the reviews when they are trying to decide if they should buy a product. Of those, over half will take some sort of positive action whether it is visiting the website or searching for further content.

Whatever social media your company utilizes; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al., it is important to acknowledge a customer or client’s recognition, either good or bad. It takes an instant for someone to post a status or tweet an opinion about a company. It takes an instant for hundreds of people to see it. A business looks engaged and invested when they respond publicly to a compliment or complaint.

In the same vein, a less than palatable response or even totally ignoring the issue can tend to gain momentum, and can forever link your business with a poor opinion in a reader’s mind. Responding positively will be seen by others and place your brand in their mind for future choices.

It doesn’t hurt to remind the public of your business and likability. And often times, it pays off with recognition and appreciation when businesses treat their clients as a priority. And let’s be honest, it feels good as a client to be endorsed by a company you’re working with.

5. Have multiple channels of complaint: issues will always arise and it is not uncommon for things to not go as planned. If you are running a small online business, you should strive to create customer engagement and loyalty. Some clients don’t have the time to call in for a simple question or issue.

Some other clients may find it difficult to type out all the concerns and questions they may have online. The most important thing is a response, preferably an engaging response. There should be multiple channels for communicating with your retail business. It is also very crucial to include a social media option, an email option, and/ or a direct phone contact option.

Live chats and additional strategies are added bonuses. When someone is dissatisfied, they often just want recognition, an explanation, or a product exchange or refund. Providing a prompt and concerned response can settle a dispute and convince a customer they are valued and should keep their business with you.

6. Start Off On the Right Customer Service Foot: if you are in the online retail industry and a potential customer stumbled on your website without any recommendation from a friend or colleague, then you should try your best to make the first impression memorable.

Even though your website or your app looks professional and aesthetic, a lot of people will still have issues that they will like to be clarified on. This is where the opportunity to provide exceptional customer service experience presents itself. A live chat option can be immensely helpful. It has the personal touch of speaking to a real person with the convenience of distancing yourself from a product you aren’t fully invested in yet.

It has the ability to make customers feel that their voice is being heard without feeling the pressure of having to make a purchase. Often just a simple live chat icon somewhere visible on the page helps let the customer know right from the second they discover your page, that you are willing to help.

Granted, not all retail websites have a live chat option. Some may even argue that they do not need it. However, having a Contact Us tab or a FAQ link viewable when first browsing a site is a necessity.

7. Have a Personal Touch: if you want to improve the customer service of your small retail business, then you must try to put yourself in your customer’s shoe. Everyone wants the royal treatment when they’re receiving any service, whether they are working with a large retail business or a small one.

Adding a personal touch is a very good way to let your prospects know that they are a priority. When talking to your customer, learn their name, and use it repeatedly throughout the conversation. To show that you’re listening, mention something they said earlier.

Your regulars will appreciate that type of personalization and will likely spread the word about your business. Always value the time of your customer. Your customer has a busy life, just like you do.

In addition, you should try as much to use your customer’s name. People will always prefer to be referred by their names instead of pronouns like Sir, Ma’am or Madam. Being professional and friendly are not mutually exclusive. It is usually easier for small retail businesses to add a personal touch to their business as opposed to the larger ones, so try to take advantage of this.

8. Stay Present Without Hovering: As a retailer, you need to try your best to remain helpful without being annoying or overzealous. Customers want you to be available to answer questions, open a dressing room, or ring up a purchase the second they’re ready.

However, no one appreciates people hovering around when they are trying to make up their mind on what to buy. So how do you strike the balance between being available without hovering? Keep yourself busy straightening shelves, and use your peripheral vision to wait for that moment when your customers start looking around.

9. Never Turn Away from an Approaching Customer: you should never turn away from a customer. Irrespective of if the phone’s ringing, you’re about to start your lunch break, or you really need to run to the restroom. When a customer is approaching you, smile, greet them and offer your services. If you absolutely have to step away, make sure they’re clear on who else is around to support them or how they can get your attention when ready.

10. Let Customers “Discover” Solutions: If the product you are selling is something that is tangible, it is best to allow your customer to have an experience of it and discover it for themselves. However, if it is more conceptual, you should walk the customer through its usage while also asking questions and offering suggestions.

If the product proves to be complicated and the customer is unable to grasp its usage immediately, then allow them a chance to explore and discover the product on their terms.

Once they feel in control of the product and determine that they need it in their lives, they will be more apt to make a purchase. You want to inform them enough so that they can decide to buy themselves. If a purchase feels forced, it’s likely the patron won’t be back a second time.

11. Use Easy Feedback Templates: A lot of customers do not like completing surveys however that involves logging into an online portal. Granted, a lot of clients love to rate the service the received but only a few are willing to put in the extra work that is required to complete surveys. Yet, you need their feedback to improve processes or reinforce successful mechanisms.

One way to get customer feedback is by sending emails with a link to a survey. Customers are more likely to complete studies when there is a link right in front of them to click.

Another good way to encourage customers to complete surveys is by offering incentives to customers who complete the surveys. For instance, Starbucks offers ten stars as an incentive for customers that complete their questionnaires. Be sure that surveys are also short, sweet, and to the point.

These audits should take less than five minutes for customers to complete. Any longer and you risk customer disengagement or a lot of incomplete surveys. For example, you can limit your survey to;

  • Were you satisfied with your experience?
  • Would you recommend us to a friend?
  • Was our website easy to use?
  • Did our service meet your expectations?
  • Would you make another purchase from us?

12. Be Discreet if a Customer’s Credit Card is declined: it can be a very embarrassing situation when someone’s credit card is declined in public. Everyone’s eyes turns on you, and you’re left worrying whether your bank account has been hacked.

If one of your customers should experience this, you should put yourself in their shoes and act in a way that will not draw attention to them or the situation at hand. Inform them that there is an issue with their credit card and ask them if they would like to opt for another payment method.

13. Give Paying Patrons a Gift: People love free stuff and whatsmore? Giving people things for free makes them feel like they are indebted to you, so by offering them something free of charge, you implicitly trigger the part of them that feels indebted to you.

It can be something as simple as a cold drink on a hot day, a candy jar full of treats by the checkout counter, or a plate of free samples, do something to tap into your customers’ mental desire to reciprocate.

14. Address Problems Right Away: sometimes addressing a lot of complaints and negatives comments can be draining and overwhelming. However, you should train your employees in a way that they are not afraid to tackle issues as soon as possible.

It’s important to remember that when your customer has a problem, it’s dire to them. If the buyer points out a flaw in your business process or a problem with a product, then offer to solve it. It’s easy to get bogged down at seemingly ‘simple’ questions but remember that your clients didn’t have the same training you did, and don’t have the knowledge, so technically there are no bad questions. That’s the mindset your customer service team should be in before starting their shifts.

You should start by first acknowledging the customer’s issue even if you think that the customer is in the wrong. Be sure the customer knows you’ve heard and understood the issue. If possible, try and find a solution to the problem immediately. However, if you cannot solve the problem immediately, tell your customer when you can solve it. Knowing their issue is being addressed, even if it’s behind the scenes, will go a long way to satisfy your customer.

Never underestimate the importance of “showing up early,” or quickly replying to a customer’s messages. Again, although a customer’s complaint may not be as significant compared to others, it’s important to keep in mind that customers’ complaints are essential to them.

Even if you respond to the customer to tell them that you have received the message and are working on their problem, this goes a long way. Responding within business hours is always the best practice. If the problem is easy to fix, that’s even better. Don’t put it off. You could miss out on making another sale right then and there.

A lot of times, people work hard but on the wrong set of things. By focusing on the right things while at work, your company can grow productively.

A way to ensure that you are doing exactly this is through your key performance indicators. Your Key performance indicators should be specific and measurable. For instance, saying that you answer your calls as soon as possible or that Emails are handled in order of receipt does not constitute good customer service practices.

Alternatively, you should set key performance indicators like “Calls are answered within 20 seconds,” and “Emails are processed within 2-hours of receipt.” Publish your companies Key performance indicators internally, hold your team accountable for them, and – if you really want to wow your customers – share your Key performance indicators externally. Post them on your website so your customers know what they should expect.

15. Never Say, “I Don’t Know”: whenever you tell your customers that you do not know, what they hear is I don’t care. When you genuinely don’t know the answer to a question, you should say “Let me look into that” — and then do whatever it takes to find the right answer or to turn your customer over to someone with the answer.

16. Watch Your Tone: When you are communicating with your customers online, you should reread your message and pay attention to tone and word. Read it at least twice because you send it out.

If you’re speaking to someone face-to-face, keeping your cool and resolve and maintaining a friendly but severe tone sets the character for the entire confrontation. If a customer service agent has a forceful or dismissive way of speaking, that can inflate the scene. Staff members should practice active listening and figure out a plan to help the client then and there.

17. Encourage Patience: all customers are not the same and in the retail business, you will meet a lot of difficult customers — but what if those very shoppers are your most profitable? Encourage everyone of your staff members be to patient with your customers. Consider rewarding salespeople not just for hitting sales numbers but also for dealing with demanding customers successfully.

18. Be Authentically Friendly: it is not usually difficult to tell when someone is being insincere and your customers can tell. Once you’ve mastered the empathy involved in understanding your customers, you’re better able to greet them in a genuinely welcoming manner and strike the right balance between professionalism and friendliness. Sales staff who have to force themselves to be friendly are likely to appear insincere and thus drive away customers.

19. Take Control of First Impressions and Gauge the Last Impression: First impression matters a lot. Look at your business through the eyes of a customer. What can your retail business do in order to appear more inviting to the customer?

How can your employees communicate without being overly pushy? The best way to manage first impressions is to consider the differences between businesses with good first impressions and those who overcome poor first impressions.

Next time you are out shopping, or you use another business’ services, pay close attention to how they greet you and get to know you. If you enjoyed their approach, emulate it. It can be easy to lose touch with customer interaction as the manager of a retail business, so check frequently. Irrespective of what you retail, people will always be your greatest asset and your business can only be as good as the people it keeps.

It is not uncommon for some businesses to hire “mystery shoppers” who come in from time to time to evaluate their experience based on a checklist sent in by human resources. It’s another good way to take a look at what your customer service team is doing.

You can also make use of scheduled visits. However, this is not as effective, because if your staff is expecting an inspection, they will be on their best behavior. Making use of a mystery shopper who will come in at an unexpected time is a good way to stay in touch with what’s going on at that level.

When you have completed a sale, you should resist the urge to move on to the next deal quickly. For instance, good restaurants don’t bring the check immediately after you put down your fork after finishing a meal. The same goes for other businesses.

When a sale has been completed, the customer service team members should follow up with the customer to ensure they are happy with a product or service, or to see if there is anything else they can do to make their experiences better. Work this step into your customer service repertoire. By providing this type of experience all the time, you will be able to build a reputation in no time.

An easy way to gauge your customer’s last impression is with a follow-up email or other contact after a purchase. A simple message asking the customer if they’re happy, offering your support, and inviting them to come back will leave a positive lasting impression.

20. Implement a Standardized Process: ideally, your entire customer service should not be automated, neither should it be freewheeling. Good retail businesses have a standard process on ground for handling incoming customer queries, issues, and complaints.

Make sure that the system you have is organized and that your staff sticks to it. Doing that, you can make sure that any complaints from customers are handled by the appropriate party and are no longer in the queue. By building and using a standardized system, you will allow your staff to consistently develop service skills as well as meet customers’ needs.

In conclusion, the ways to improve your customer service for small retail businesses is always improving and as such, you should be innovative. As your customers evolve, you should evolve with them. Once you’ve developed a client following and a method for attracting new business, you are on the path to a successful future.

Ajaero Tony Martins