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Customer Serivce: The "OTHER" Side

Updated on July 12, 2012

Now that I'm on the "other" side....

I've been working in retail for about three years now, and this post about customer service is one I've been wanting to do for a long time. For years before, I only saw customer service in retail as "one sided". I only saw the empolyee and them making sure my needs were met as the customer. I never considered the other side of the story.

Now that I've been on the other side for three years, I realized how often times, the effectivness of customer service not only depends on the employee but the customer as well. Suddenly customer service isn't as one sided as I thought all those years before.

The Customer's always right..or say they say..

Most retail stores have the saying "The customer is always right" and it's always drove me crazy. Sometimes the customer isn't right. In order for customer service to be a two way street we have to examine both sides.

Everything a customer can do it's NOT ALWAYS the employee's fault!

1. When you're getting ready to check out, make sure you have found out the store's return policy for yourself! In my store, we usually tell the customer the policy as their checking out. However, most customers either ignore us because they're on the phone, or they truly assume they know the return policy...when they don't.

If an employee takes the time to TELL you the return policy...simply LISTEN. Be courteous. I have to say the return policy 50 times in one shift, don't make me waste my breath. And if you have questions, please ask. Don't ever walk out the store unsure of the return policy.

The biggest problem I see is that people will try and return an item wanting cash back and in some stores (like where I work) can't get cash back. Only store credit or exchange. And a customer will sware no one told them the policy. Which is why you should just verify the policy for yourself. Once the clothes have been sold to you, we are no longer responsible. Not to mention, the return policy is on the back of most store receipts if you're ever unsure. Reading it before hand, will save a lot of time and trouble.

2.Know what you're looking for! Nine times out of ten, employees don't have the entire store mapped out in their head. (Contrary to popular customer belief) Please don't be upset with us if we can't find something. Most of the time we can't find it because the customer hasn't been very descriptive. I can't tell you how many times a customer will ask me, do you all sell "red shirts".

Yes, we do. Now what kind of red shirt..dressy, casual..? I need to know more than just a "red shirt." I can't help you find anything if you aren't meeting me at least halfway! Or a customer will ask me about an item I've never seen in my life. "Have you seen the one dress, that's white and it has rhinestones on it, or the black dress that has the back cut out"...we have a million dresses that look like this. Be as specific as possible! It'll save a lot of time and frustration . And if you ever see someting online and want to buy it in the store..print out the picture! Please. Or write down the item number so we can look it up for you..if all you have is a verbal description..then don't hope for much success.

Also, things tend to change in the store. I know, where I work at we do floor sets often so clothing gets moved all over the store. Very rarely do things stay in the same place for more than a few days or a week. The visuals constantly rearrange things which leaves the employees constantly having to double check where items might be located. So if you saw something in one place on Monday, by Thursday of Friday I'm sure the item has been moved.

3. Not all stores sell the same thing! In the case of my job, we may have an item that the other store doesn't and it may be vice versa. So don't be upset, if you saw something at a store in the Avenues Mall, but you get to Town Center and we don't have it. Your best bet is to buy an item when you see it, at which ever store you see it at. Items sell quickly and like I said we don't always carry the exact same items.

4. NO we can't take anything off the mannequins . It's store policy. I think it's stupid, but I still have to obey the policy. Don't ask me why, even if the item is the last one in your size. I'm not sure why my job has this policy. Every store is different, but where I work at, we just can't.

5. Also when you're checking out 2 things to avoid. 1. Being on your cellphone while checking out. (This includes texting). When this happens, the customer usually misses the return policy that we have to tell them and it's just rude in general. 2. Please place money in my hand, especially if you see my hand stretched out waiting for it. Don't put coins on the counter, they're hard to pick up. (With or without nails) I think putting money on the counter is disrespectful. This one is probably just a pet peeve of mine..but I also think it's common courtesy.

6. If an employee tries to speak to you to see if you need help with anything or what it is you might be looking for, don't give us the death stare. We're only trying to help and as part of our job description and customer service, we're required to ask. I know, sometimes it does seem a little intrusive when employees ask a lot of questions, but honestly we're just trying to make friendly conversation to make sure we're doing at least the minimum of what's required.

Also if asked how you're doing..we don't want your life story either. We're not asking you to become our best friend. It's a simple greeting.

7. Mark down items, are mark down items. If it has a red price marked down on it, then it's a sale item. Anything else, it's full price. Even if it's on the sale rack, clearly it's been put in the wrong spot. Use common sense.

8. If you're trying to find your size and you're digging through a pile of folded shirts or tanks, STOP! Please ask an employee for help. If not, this creates a mess, especially if a customer just rummages through the t-shirts and doesn't care if the stack remains neat afterwards. Ask an employee for help. And also if you're in the middle of looking through a stack of folded shirts and an employee ask can they help you find your size...just say YES! We're trying to keep you from causing more of a mess than you already have.

9.Please have patience. That's with anyone who's trying to be helpful.

10. Customers are not allowed to use the sticks used to grab items that are higher up. Please ask an employee. And if you're tall, please don't jump up and try and grab a shirt by the ends of the hem. Just ask for help.

11. If you see an employee straightening a rack, don't come look at clothes on that SAME rack! Go find a different rack and then come back once the employee is done. And you don't have to pull every item out on a rack either. Most of the time customers will pull an item out of the rack, but don't put the item back neatly. So the racks look jagged from some hangers being put back right and others left sticking out.

12. If we don't have your size, we don't have your size. There's nothing we can do, and know that in most retail stores all the smaller and larger sizes go first. We can only suggest that you look at another store location.

13. When it's time for the store to close, the employees would like to go home. So if the store closes at 9 and you're the last customer..hurry up and leave. Don't take your time shopping, or making a mess of what we've already cleaned for the night. Buy what you're going to get and go home, we can't leave until you do.

I'm sure this list could have a few more items added, but for now I think these are the major areas that stick out to me from being on the "other" side.

The "other" side

So it wouldn't be fair if I didn't include the faults from being on the "other" side of customer service as the employee. Honestly there are times I wonder who has it worse. Like I said it's a two way street....

1. Don't bring outside issues to work. If you're having a bad day, it's not the customer's fault, so don't take it out on them. Customers respond to the vibe and attitude you give off.

2. Communication is key. Don't be afraid to talk to customers and find out what they're needs are and how they can be helped. It helps if you take the initiative, customers are usually a lot more friendly when they see you have a genuine interest in helping them.

3. Patience, this is on both ends.

4. If you ever feel that you've reached your boiling point with a customer, STOP! If you're a sales associate get a manager QUICKLY. The last thing you want to do is cause unnecessary conflict with a customer. Whether they're right or wrong..they'll always win.

5.Multi tasking is a must, and you can't get upset if you're in the middle of go-backs or straightening and a customer ask for help. Customer service is first. But also remember, you're not superman either. Find a balance.

6. Don't half help a customer. Make sure that every customer gets the same kind of treatment. Be eager to help every customer and keep a positive attitude. If you ever feel that you can't help a customer find what they need, then make sure you point them in the direction of someone else who can. If you don't know, say "I don't know" but always find someone else who does.

7. Yes customers will ask stupid happens. Get over it, some people don't have common sense.

8. When greeting customers, don't sound like a broken record. "Hi, how are you today?" is fine, but switch it up every once in a while, "Can I help you find anything today?"

9. If you're not a "people person" then retail is probably the wrong field for you!

10. Don't pass a customer along to another employee unless you've exhausted all you know in helping the customer first. Never give the customer the "run around", if you don't know, be honest. But at least try first.

Customer service: A 2-Way street

In closing, simply remember that customer service in retail is a two way street. It requires participation and patience from both sides. There are times we won't always get it right, but there are also ways we can learn to help each other and work through things so that in the end everyone is pleased.


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    • Alex McClain profile imageAUTHOR

      Alex McClain 

      7 years ago from Jacksonville, fla.

      Retail will humble us all real quick! It takes such a humble spirit to deal with people, even when they are wrong. Lol. Like I mentioned's the biggest thing on both sides.

    • Alex McClain profile imageAUTHOR

      Alex McClain 

      7 years ago from Jacksonville, fla.

      @ Patty, Thanks. And that's exactly how I feel. That because I've now been on the other side, I'm able to be a better customer and understand what the employee faces. Retail does require a lot more from you than people realize, working with people isn't always as easy as it may seem, or one might think.

    • JoanCA profile image


      7 years ago

      I own a small business. There are times when the customer is either wrong or outright dishonest. Unfortunately, you have to treat them as if they're right because of word of mouth and Internet reviews.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 

      7 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting Article!! I like that you showed both sides of the story!! I worked retail for too many years; after awhile it can burn a person out. At the same time, I am a better customer because I know how hard it can be for the sales associate.


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