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The Top 5 Ways to Lose a Customer

walking through tunnelEvery retail manager or store owner knows what it takes to win a customer – a great display, knowledgeable and friendly staff, all the right products, an inviting storefront, effective advertising and marketing – all of it working together to build and retain a profitable, loyal client base.  But, have you ever thought about what it takes to lose a customer? Unfortunately, the answer is “not much.”

While there are many, many customer service horror stories out there, here’s our simple Top 5 Ways to Lose a Customer – or What Not To Do in Retail Sales:

1.  Indifference: No customer should ever walk into your store without feeling welcome. The worst thing your sales team can do is make a customer feel like they’re an inconvenience. Refusing to acknowledge them, acting like you’re too busy or failing to make eye contact and smile can send a client right back onto the sidewalk. Regardless of what your sales team may be in the middle of doing, customers – not tasks and projects – are the lifeblood of your business. When someone enters your store, they should be greeted warmly. Engage them, letting them know you are here to help. Typically, retailers lead with “Can I help you?” and far too often get the “I’m just looking” response. Chances are, a prospect didn’t accidentally end up in your store, so engage them. Ask if they’ve visited before; let them know you are available to help. Mention a particularly dazzling display or new product. Then, let them have their space but stay close by should they have any questions. To paraphrase the noted author and poet Maya Angelou, people may forget what you said or did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel – and rest assured they will pass that on to friends, family, neighbors and coworkers.

2.  It’s the Policy: Every organization has policies and procedures – it helps to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. But sometimes, these can also stand in the way of good customer service. Empower your employees to do what’s best for the customer and your business. You don’t want to say “No” just because. Flexibility is good. On those occasions when the answer is a “No,” train your employees to have a follow up alternative such as a store credit on a return, or maybe a discount for that day. Whenever the answer does have to be a negative, ensure there is kindness and understanding in the delivery without throwing anyone under the bus. Remember that even when a customer doesn’t get what they originally wanted, you and your team can still leave a good impression. It’s all in how it’s handled.

3.  Unpolished Personnel: If you walk into a luxury-clothing store and are greeted by a disheveled person with a less-than-polished appearance, you may very well turn around and walk right out. Even in this age of business casual or just casual-casual, your team should still present a professional appearance. Though your line of business may not require a suit and tie, heels and pantyhose, you want to convey the appearance your employees should have. Explain dress code standards, what’s required or acceptable. If denim is allowed, make it crisp and stylish, not faded and full of holes. If you want your team to be in comfortable shoes because they’re on the feet all day, set standards and give examples. Establish and model the look you want your staff to have – after all, it’s your brand that’s on the line. In retail, personal hygiene is also a must as you are usually in close proximity to your customers. Make sure that your team looks fresh and clean; no odor, even if it’s a lovely, expensive perfume, should overpower. Work attire should not be something that comes, rumpled, out of a backpack, when an employee gets to work. Somewhere between the navy blue suit and the low-rise mini-skirt, set the dress code and look you want your team to have – and stick to it.

4.  “I Dunno . . .” When a customer asks one of your staff a question, that customer presumes your team member is an expert. While it’s impossible to know everything about every product, a sales person should never answer with “I don’t know.” There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to a question; what IS wrong is when it ends there. Your staff should know to acknowledge the query (“That’s a great question”) and then follow up with “I will find out for you.” This is not only great customer service, but often, making the extra effort will win your employee – and your store – the sale. As a store owner or manager, you can also help reduce the amount of “I don’t knows” with continued product and sales training to keep your team fresh and sharp. Again, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing as long as your employees know how and when to take that extra step for excellent customer service.

5.  Not My Job: Everyone has experienced this customer service nightmare – no matter who you talk to, you never actually reach the person who can handle your problem. When a customer is in your store, you want your team on the floor to be their one-stop shop. If they have a return, have your team member escort them to where they should go and either handle the return or flag down the employee who can. If they are looking for an item, don’t tell them where it is or direct them down an aisle; walk them there, show them the product and start the conversation. Whether it’s gift-wrapping, product queries, refunds or even where the restroom is, your team should make the customer’s visit an easy, seamless experience. Even if one person can’t handle everything for a client, you want your employees to facilitate the whole process. So, what is their job? Not just stocking merchandise, not just running the register, not just greeting customers or demonstrating product – the job of your team is to make the customer experience a great one. So, give them the tools and know-how to make that happen!

As a storeowner or manager, you invest in your employees – training, coaching, product knowledge, sales skills. But, sometimes, it’s the easiest things, the lessons we ought to already know, that can trip us up. As you prepare for a busy holiday sales season, don’t forget the simple things – what to do and likewise, what NOT to do. It can be the difference between a customer and an empty store.


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