Bad Customer Service Examples: 50 Things Retail Employees Shouldn't Do

Frustrated retail employee

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Excellent customer service is dependent on your sales associates. Likewise, a bad customer service experience depends on your associates delivering poor customer service in your retail store.

It doesn't matter if you are one of those brick-and-mortar retailers trying to do experiential retail, an established boutique, or a pop-up shop. Consumers, once burned, are likely never to return and more likely to take a chance online before retaking a chance after a poor shopping experience. Here are 50 of my blunt reminders for both staff and owners of specialty retailers based on real-world examples. They usually happen because the retailer does not use retail sales training courses to deliver an exceptional experience.

Unless you stop these things from happening, they will start a chain of unmanageable events.

Customer service skill is needed to avoid these things that can make the difference between customers saying, "I'll take it," and "I'm outta here."

Discover how to provide excellent retail customer service with this comprehensive primer

Here Are 50 Things Retail Sales Associates Should Avoid Doing:

1. Do not let anyone enter the shop without a warm greeting. If you can’t or won’t do that, go work at a gas station.

2. Never say it’s “slow,” “dead,” or voice any negative thoughts. We get enough of that from cable.

3. Leave your problems at the door – no one wants to work with high drama, whether that’s your daughter’s lost keys or your boyfriend’s mom having a facial appointment.

4. Don’t come to work sick – ever.

5. Don’t complain about Christmas music; it’s playing for the customers, not you.

6. Don’t arrive late, saying there was “traffic.” Of course, there was traffic. Plan accordingly.

7. Don’t change into work clothes that you’ve had scrunched into your backpack all day – leave the wrinkled, clothes-you-slept-in look for the streets.

8. Don’t keep asking if you can go home early unless you are prepared to ask if you can come in early for the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas.

9. Never reply to an inquiry with “No” unless it is immediately followed with, “But we have….”

10. Don’t just ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” You're paid to converse.

11. Don’t ask if there is “anything else?” Suggest one item that logically goes with what they are purchasing.

12. Don’t say you’re “not authorized” to give a discount. They’ll just ask, “Then who is?”

13. Saying, “No problem” is a problem. It sounds condescending, like, “ it’s just you – I’d do the same for my dog.” “You’re welcome” is the “A” answer.

14. Don’t walk past a discarded wrapper, used diaper, or other leave-behinds. Pick it up and dispose of it accordingly.

15. Don’t stand in front of the store looking bored.

16. Don't check out. If you ask, “Did you find everything OK?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is wrong to achieve customer satisfaction.

17. Never say, “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”

18. Do not ask, “Have you been helped yet?” Open your eyes! Know before approaching someone who has been waited on and who hasn't.

19. Never take a return without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something didn’t work and it can often be fixed or exchanged without refunding the cash.

20. Do not have a personal conversation with another employee within earshot of customers.

21. Do not eat or drink in plain view of customers. That means no food visible on a shelf or the counter either.

22. Never reek from perfume, cigarettes, or body odor. You're not a teenage boy. And if you are, don't do it either.

23. Do not refer to any shoppers as “you guys.” Even if they are guys.

24. Never acknowledge one customer over and above another, especially those in line behind others you do not know. All shoppers are equal and deserve a good customer service experience, even if the one at the back of the line is your best. Wait until all others have been helped. 

25. Do not gossip about co-workers or good customers within earshot of customers. Better yet, don’t gossip.

26. Don't trick customers. It's not Halloween. If there is a service, delivery, or special order charge, alert your buyer before you ring them up. It’s not a secret or a trick, likewise, if something can’t be returned for a full refund after the holidays.

27. Don't plead ignorance. When you're putting merchandise out or not helping shoppers, learn about the products you sell inside and out. If you sell Zoobie plush toys that are also soft pillows and comfy blankets, know something about Zoobie plush all-on-one toys.

28. Do not ignore someone because they are not your customer. Stop, look, listen, and lend a hand.

29. Do not stand behind someone who is looking at a product. It's creepy - especially to women. Make eye contact and stand next to them or in front.

30. Never blame the boss, the part-timer, the vendor, the weather, or the economy for anything that goes wrong. Just make it right.

31. Don’t just stand there like a dead fish or walk away like a shopper with swine flu if they are having trouble deciding. Help out by giving them a choice like, “Do you prefer something lighter or darker?” “Something hot or cold?”

32. Don't vomit on your customers. If someone wants to know your life story, keep it short. When customers ask about products, keep it short. Net promoter scores dip when you explain more than was asked for. 

33. Don’t tell customers you are out of something before they ask for the missing product.

34. Do not disappear. We know when you are hiding behind the stacks or in the bathroom. Uncool.

35. Do not ask customers, “Do you still need time?” Shopping is not working — until questions like this are asked.

36. Never suggest ringing someone up until you are explicitly requested to do so. If they are holding many items, great customer service means you ask, “Would you like me to place these on the counter so you can free your hands?”

37. Do not stop your exceptional service after the order is rung up. Final impressions are lasting impressions.

38. Never dismiss or patronize anyone who reports a bad customer service experience; listen, take complaints seriously, and address it.

39. Never allow bad behavior. If someone is swearing on a cell phone, politely suggest they go outside.

40. Never hover long enough to make people feel they are being watched or hurried, especially when they are figuring out what to buy.

41. Do not show frustration, especially with angry customers. Your only mission is to serve. Be patient; customer satisfaction isn't easy.

42. Don’t ask how shoppers are. You don’t care; they know it.

43. Don’t ask shoppers if they have a budget- of course, they’ll say cheap - no one willingly says the “sky’s the limit,” even if it's just for a box of Crayola crayons.

44. Don’t talk to shoppers’ backs. Either get in front of them so they know who’s talking to them, or shut up. No shopper wants to try to figure out where a phantom voice came from.

45. Don’t thank customers as they open the door to leave if you never spoke to them after arriving. (See above.)

46. Don’t hide behind the counter. Customers shouldn’t have to come to you because it's not a castle. You should go to them. Make sure you know all about greeting your customers first, though.

47. Don’t stock when any customers are in the store. Never, ever.

48. Don't dismiss a shopper just because you don't have an item. If you are in a mall, go the extra mile and be prepared to give directions when people ask if you know where they might buy a particular item. No one wants to hear, “I don’t know.” Try.

49. Don’t call other stores to see how busy they are. No time. No need. Nothing to help you achieve your goal.

50. Don’t look at your employees as serfs. Chronic short-staffing, distracted, nickel Napoleon managers–make it a given your store will deliver a bad customer experience. Treat your staff respectfully, i.e., how you would like them to treat others. Bring out the best in them so they can give great customer service to your loyal customers.

In Sum

These real-world examples are the reasons customers don't return. It's not Amazon's fault. It's what you allow. Touchless customer service is all the rage, but what does it mean exactly? Shopping alone and bagging your purchases? Where's the fun in that? 

The real way to overdeliver on helping people in your store is to connect with them. Associates won't treat employees badly if they see them as another human being worthy of their time and not something to be dealt with.

Whether you hear stories about bad customer service techniques from staff or read them on social media about your business, potential customers will ultimately judge you by the negative stories, not PR.

The in-store shopping experience is under siege by online retailers' promise of a frictionless transaction.

Unless your sales associates are trained in how to deliver an exceptional experience, you'll fall victim to several of these negative experiences. Working in retail means making someone else's day before they make yours.

And yes, I prefer to be optimistic most of the time, but some people can process the Don't examples better than the Do's of how to craft a compelling retail customer experience.

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