Good customer service is vital for retail businesses to succeed. In fact, 93% of customers are more likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service. And around 80% of consumers say they would rather do business with a brand’s competitor following more than one bad experience.
As you already know, there are many factors that contribute to the in-store experience, including merchandising, sales staff, and the overall atmosphere. But shoppers’ perception of your business is highly influenced by how good your customer service is.
That’s why it’s important to always strive to provide the highest level of service and wow your customers each time they interact with your business. The best part is, you have full control over the quality of service you provide.
But how exactly can you improve the customer service experience?
In this article we’ll take a look at what good and bad customer service look like, as well as applicable real-life examples of retailers succeeding at providing good customer service.
Table of Contents
What is good customer service?
Good customer service in retail involves meeting customers’ expectations in a pleasant, efficient, and timely manner. The strategy may vary from one retail business to another, but the key ingredients are:
- Providing a quick response when customers ask a question or bring up a problem, showing them that their opinions are valued
- Empathizing with the customer to show them you understand their perspective and appreciate them
- Offering self-service options so customers can find solutions to their problems on their own time (for example, an FAQ page on your website or a tablet where they can look up information in-store)
- Streamlining customer service across all channels, including social media, live chat on your website, email, and phone to make customer service convenient
- Going above and beyond customer expectations to provide a positive experience and encourage customer loyalty
Download The Future of Retail Report: Trends for 2022
In 2022, customer service expectations are higher than ever before, which means more responsibilities–and opportunities–for the role of store associate. Download our full report to learn more about this important retail trend.Download report
What is bad customer service?
Failing to meet customer expectations for response time, service quality, and the overall service experience can damage a customer’s opinion of your retail store. And it can lead to lost sales—78% of customers have backed out of a purchase due to a poor experience.
That’s why it’s important to avoid doing things like making a customer wait too long for help, using negative language, being rude, and offering no empathy.
12 real-world examples of good customer service in retail
As we already learned, good customer service in retail entails building a connection with local shoppers, educating people about the products you sell, rewarding repeat customers, and more.
Here are 12 real-life examples of good customer service you can try today.
1. Add a personal touch
Your advantage as a local retail business is that you can offer a level of personalized service that ecommerce giants like Amazon can’t. Customer service is an opportunity to add a human touch to your business.
“People like to buy from people,” says Kanak Hirani, founder of Julahas, a brand that sells handmade capes and wraps for women.
“Adding a personal touch is especially difficult during these current times, when we don’t really have a chance to interact in person and shoppers can’t touch or experience products before purchasing them. That’s why I offer my customers personalized information, such as which color might suit them, or even schedule a video call to show the colors in person.”
Putting personalization into action
Give more attention to customers in need by helping them find the right product.
For example, if the customer is looking for a pair of black skinny jeans, walk with your customer to the table where they are displayed instead of just saying, “They’re over there on that table.” Then you can hold up the various options and talk through the different product features to help them compare the jeans and make a decision.
PRO TIP: Make sure you read the shopper’s body language. Not every person wants you to follow them around the store. If you sense that they’d prefer to be left alone, you could say, “All of the jeans are on the table at the front of the store. I’m here if you need help.”
2. Be transparent and educate customers
Providing education about the products you sell can also help you cross-sell or upsell products.
At first, it might feel pushy or bad for customer service, but if you’re transparent and spend time educating shoppers before they buy, they’re likely to leave happy. Starting a conversation can also help you adapt your recommendations to their needs.
You can use the “FAB” formula. FAB is an acronym for features, advantages, and benefits and can help you and your sales staff easily recall the details of each product you sell.
- Features are the characteristics or components of a product.
- Advantages refer to what the features can do.
- Benefits are what the customer can get from the product and its features—it’s the most important part.
To achieve the best results, make sure you pitch benefits that are unique to each shopper.
For example, if you’re selling a raincoat, the features could include the material and how water repellent yet breathable it is. The advantages could be durability and easy care instructions compared to other raincoats. And lastly, the benefit could be staying dry on the rainiest of days.
Putting transparency and education into action
First, make sure you’re knowledgeable about the products you sell. If you’re not designing and manufacturing them, ask the brands you stock for product knowledge guides explaining the features, advantages, and benefits of the merchandise. Getting familiar with your products and bestsellers will ensure that you always have items to recommend.
Then when a new shopper comes into your store, you can pay close attention to their body language. If it looks like they want to engage with you, it’s a great time to ask what they’re looking for and then educate them about the products that match their needs.
Be transparent about how and where the products are made, as well as the benefits of each item. Showing the merchandise that can be used together is a great way to cross-sell or upsell.
By educating customers, you’ll avoid coming off as pushy, and instead, you’ll be helpful.
By informing customers about exactly who made their products, how it’s made, and how long it's going to take to reach them helps them connect better to the production process. In the handmade world, things work slower, and while people don't mind waiting for their products, it's important to educate them as to why it takes that long.
3. Respond quickly to all customer feedback
Responding to positive and negative feedback in a timely manner shows that you’re listening to customers and value their opinion, regardless of whether it’s good or bad.
Respond to all customer feedback, and even faster to the negative comments. People value it if you reach out to them quickly when they have trouble, have a question, or need a solution. If you can prioritize your customer queries into levels of importance and reach the most urgent ones within two hours—those experiences which are likely to have an impact on your brand—you have a winning formula.
Putting quick response time into action
Let’s say you sell activewear and you recently added a new brand to your retail floor. Customers buy it up with excitement so they can be the first in your area to rock the new gear. But when they go to their next yoga class, the inseams of the leggings unravel, and in a few more wears they’ll be showing off a lot more than they’d like during their next downward dog.
You start to get calls, emails, and online reviews about this issue. The best thing you can do is respond immediately. Even though you’ll lose money accepting all the returns, it’s the right thing to do. And you can respond to public online reviews by saying something like, “Thank you for the feedback. We value your support, and we are addressing this issue with the vendor right now. Check your email for return and refund instructions.”
This shows that you’re responsive and willing to correct issues quickly.
In a case like this, you can also go back to the supplier and tell them about the issue. Hopefully, they’ll let you return the stock and refund your money.
4. Use creative and unexpected return policies
If a customer makes an order online and then decides they don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, recommend that they give it to a friend or family member and offer to send them a new product for the same value. This way, you’ll make them happy, and you’ll get your products in the hands of another potential customer. Or the customer may decide to use the item anyway.
Also, this tactic is unique and likely will result in the customer telling other people about the experience.
A great example of a brand using this type of return policy is Thinx period panties. This is not the brand's standard return policy, but it’s worth mentioning.
The only reason why I know about it is that a friend told me how amazing she thought the experience was. She emailed Thinx to process a return, and instead, was told to give the products she didn’t want to a friend. In the end, she kept everything and shared the experience with me, making me more inclined to also try Thinx.
Thinx benefits because it doesn’t have to pay for return shipping, plus it’s building brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Putting creative return policies into action
You may decide to only use this strategy for your most loyal customers or first-time customers to promote loyalty. Or you can pick a random shopper each month to test this strategy to avoid spending too much money.
Whatever you decide, you can put it into action by creating an email template that gets sent to certain customers who contact you for a return. Or if a customer is making a return in-store, you can explain it then.
Your email could read something like this:
Hi [First Name],
We’re sorry to hear that you don’t love your recent purchase. We’d be glad to issue a refund, but if you’d prefer, you can also give the products to a friend or family member, or keep them to try again at a later date.
If you choose this option, we’ll still send you new products (of your choice) of the same value. Or you can request a full refund and still keep your order.
Let us know how you’d like to proceed.
The team at [Your Store Name]
5. Find a workaround when items are out of stock
If a customer is shopping in-store or online and runs into an out-of-stock product they really want, here are a few recommendations to work around this issue:
- Recommend an alternative but similar item.
- If you have more than one retail location, see if you can find the stock at one of your other stores.
- If the product is from a brand you carry, contact them to see if they have extra stock for immediate delivery so you can fulfill your customer’s order.
- If you manufacture and also wholesale your products, see if one of your retailers has stock available of the particular item.
Another out-of-stock issue that can happen online is that the customer places an order, but you don’t actually have the stock available to ship. This happens when online inventory isn’t updated or synchronized with your total available stock. You can use the same strategies mentioned above for this scenario and also consider using the Shopify POS to manage inventory across all locations, online and offline.
Putting out of stock workarounds into action
When I had a Shopify store selling women’s activewear,I had a very popular legging design called Jungle Fever. All of my retailers were stocking inventory and my direct-to-consumer sales were also growing.
At one point, a customer contacted me on Instagram asking about sizing. Once we verified her size, I realized I didn’t have any stock left to fulfill the order. Rather than losing a potential customer, I offered to contact one of the retailers I worked with to see if they had any stock left. Once I confirmed they did, I coordinated having stock sent to the customer and asked the retailer to bill her directly. This way, the customer was happy, and I helped my retail partner move inventory.
Here’s a screenshot of that email.
6. Build a connection with local shoppers
You’re more likely to remember a cashier that strikes up a conversation with you versus store staff that don't say a word. Finding something that you have in common with shoppers is a great way to build a connection and offer a memorable experience. Even if it’s something small.
Putting relationship building into action
Be observant when you’re chatting with or ringing up customer orders at the checkout counter. Look for commonalities so you can find a way to connect with people. Then start a conversation based on those commonalities.
For example, if you notice at the checkout counter that the customer is carrying a tennis racket and you also play tennis, ask them where they play and also talk about your favorite local courts. In this type of scenario, the customer is ready to pay, but you can still make an effort to chat with them. It shouldn’t only happen when you’re trying to make a sale.
Connecting with shoppers during all stages of their buying journey is a great way to build relationships.
7. Remember and reward repeat customers
Add an element of surprise and delight by remembering and rewarding repeat shoppers. Keeping the 80/20 rule in mind can help you grow your business—80% of business generally comes from 20% of customers. That’s why encouraging customer loyalty is key.
You can do this by letting frequent customers know you’re grateful for their support.
Putting rewards into action
Use a POS software that lets you keep track of repeat customers, build customer profiles, and synchronize data so you can offer personalized shopping experiences. You’ll have quick access to notes, past orders, and the total amount a customer has spent with your business.
Then put your customer data into good use by adding loyalty apps to your POS system. You’ll be able to reward customers for shopping with you both in-store and online. And you can take it a step further by personally thanking them at the checkout counter or sending a personal note with their next online order (more about handwritten notes below).
8. Proactively address online store shipping issues
Naturally, ecommerce businesses face occasional problems with shipping and delivery. Whether it’s a missed delivery, delay, lost package, or damaged goods, there’s a handful of issues that could occur.
In most cases, these incidents are not your fault, but you’re still responsible for providing a good customer experience. That’s why it’s crucial to carefully track customer orders and guarantee that the package arrives on time and intact. If something goes wrong, be proactive by getting in touch with the customer immediately to fix the situation. Don’t wait for them to contact you.
Putting shipping best practices into action
If you also have an online store, create a system that helps you closely track the status of online orders and shipments. If you see any red flags, get ahead of the situation by taking initiative to contact your customer instead of waiting for them to reach out to you because they never received their order.
9. Offer “try before you buy” for online shoppers
If you’re able to manage the logistics, letting customers try on items at home before they buy is a great way to build relationships with them. Also, once you take the extra step to provide an outstanding shopping experience, they’ll be more likely to purchase at least one product from the merchandise you sent them to try on.
Putting “try before you buy” into action
Remember the example I mentioned earlier about out-of-stock workarounds? During that same situation, my customer also wasn’t sure which size would be right for her, so I offered to ship two sizes to her to try on at home. I also included a return shipping label, so she could easily return the size that didn’t fit.
This made the buying process easier for her and also meant that I didn’t need to ship the merchandise back and forth twice. I started the conversation by sending her a direct message on Instagram after she commented on a recent post. Then we continued the conversation via email. In the end, it cost me more to acquire her as a customer, but she became a repeat buyer and also spread the word about my brand via her Instagram profile. It was worth it.
10. Perfect your in-store greeting
Excellent customer service starts the minute potential customers walk into your store. Coming up with a unique in-store greeting will help you make a solid first impression. Steer clear of expected lines like “What can I help you with today?” by testing different greetings to grab attention and get to know shoppers better.
You could say hello, ask for the customer’s name, introduce yourself, and offer to place their bags behind the counter so they’re more comfortable as they peruse. Try to make every customer feel special with a friendly greeting that isn’t immediately associated with making a sale.
Putting in-store greetings into action
To get started with improving your in-store greeting, create a list of five to 10 unique ways to greet customers and test a few each day. Make sure your sales staff is familiar with the greetings and approach customers in a friendly and welcoming manner.
Here are three options to get you started:
You: Hi, welcome to [store name]. My name is [your name]. We have a lounge on the left side of the store, so feel free to take a break from shopping and have a glass of water. I’m here if you need anything.
You: Hi, welcome. My name is [your name]. And what’s your name?
Customer: Hi, my name is Jane.
You: Hi, Jane. Nice to meet you. Would you like me to store your bags behind the counter while you look around?
Customer: Great, thanks.
You: Lovely. Take your time looking around. I’m here if you need anything.
11. Send a handwritten thank-you note
Sending handwritten thank-you notes are not only a kind gesture, they’re also a surefire way to stand out from other retailers (particularly larger ones). It may feel like an antiquated way to greet customers, but it’s a memorable experience. Case in point, I still have this handwritten note I received after making a purchase from Comme Ça Skincare over a year ago.
Thank you notes are most commonly used to thank customers for an order, but there are more reasons why businesses should send handwritten notes, including:
- Making customers feel special by saying happy birthday
- Recognizing a milestone like a wedding or graduation
- Building a stronger connection with customers
Putting handwritten notes into action
Use a printing company like Moo or Vistaprint to create branded thank you cards. Then each time you ship an online order, include a brief handwritten note. Chances are, people will keep your note and it’ll boost loyalty and turn customers into brand advocates.
12. Streamline customer service across all channels
Roughly 16 hours a day are now spent online by the average US adult. This is up from a pre-pandemic record of twelve and a half hours a day.
As people spend more time online, they’ve grown to expect more from businesses, including a consistent customer support experience across all platforms. It’s also a way for local retailers to differentiate themselves: 53% of Canadians and 42% of US consumers see customer service as an important factor in choosing to shop local over buying from an online retailer.
To successfully build lasting relationships with your customers, it’s crucial to deliver a steady customer service experience via email, phone, live chat, social media, your website, and your store.
Putting omnichannel customer service into action
Here are three immediate ways to streamline your customer service communications.
- Send direct messages via social media. If a customer leaves a comment on one of your Instagram posts asking for more information about your products, respond directly in the comments section or send them a DM to answer their questions. You can also provide your business email address and let them know they can email you if they prefer.
- Add live chat or a chat bot to your website. Live chat is a great way to engage with site visitors while they’re browsing. It’s also helpful for customers who want to buy online and pick up in store. You’ll be available to answer questions quickly while they’re shopping online, and this can improve customer experience and conversion rates. Visit the Shopify App Store to discover live chat plugins that you can easily add to your online store.
- Create a customer service email address. Email is a quick and easy way for customers to contact you with questions. It also lets you respond when you have time, although I do suggest responding within 24 hours. You can use a general company email address, like email@example.com, or create a dedicated customer service email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, and list it on your website and social media channels. This way, customers know they can contact you anytime via email.
PRO TIP: If it usually takes you 24 hours to respond to customer emails, make it known. This way, when a customer tries to contact you via email they have a rough idea of how long they can expect to wait before they hear back from you.
Here’s an example of a simple automated email response that will only take you a few minutes to set up:
Moving forward with providing excellent customer service
Consumer behavior is constantly changing. This includes marketing preferences, buying habits, how people interact with businesses, and more.
Your customer service strategy may evolve too, but the customers’ demand for good customer service and support is constant. That’s why it’s crucial to always come up with the best ways to deliver an outstanding customer experience and adapt to meet your customers where they are.
To recap, this includes:
- Making sure you and your staff are knowledgeable about the products you sell
- Being available for customer questions and responding promptly (even if it’s negative feedback)
- Doing what you can to go above and beyond and make customers happy and feel special
Win at customer service by using an easy-to-understand POS that includes sales reporting, inventory counts, and analysis, and that synchronizes customer profiles. This way, you can incorporate your sales insights while you’re engaging with customers.