7 Retail Customer Service Experience Mistakes Retailers Make

By Bob Phibbs

customer service experience mistakes by retailersAs a motivational speaker, I travel a lot and encounter customer service mistakes all the time.  

A few weeks ago, I was standing in line for an iced tea at a coffee house. Just as I was about to give my order, the cashier said, “Excuse me,” then looked at someone behind me and said, “Fred, do you want the usual?”

A guy three people behind me said, “Yes,” and the cashier nodded, then turned back to me.

I’m sure in her mind she thought she was giving me great customer service; she had acknowledged me and helped her regular customer.

What she didn’t realize was that it was giving her regular customer preferential treatment over me. That’s the opposite of what you want a customer experience to be and is one of the reasons customers don't return.

Treating regulars better than first-timers is one of the top customer experience mistakes.

What did it cost that business? I would never return, and I’m sure those two people behind me wouldn’t feel like returning either.  When you haven’t done the hard work of treating your new customers just as well - if not better - than your regulars, you develop a core group of customers’ that doesn’t grow. You are more exposed to your loyal customers behaviors as they move away or a competitor enters the market.

To help you and your crew better understand customer-service experience mistakes, here are 6 more retailers make.

Leaving a customer to answer the phone. It takes a lot of time and effort to greet a stranger in a way that lets them open up to you and let you become a trusted advisor. Leaving them after you have established this trust breaks that bond.

What does it cost you? The higher your average ticket, the more this costs you because customers revert back to thinking they have to go it alone.  Then you have to start over to reignite their trust. If you don’t return, you either lose the add-on or you lose the sale entirely.

Asking for a commitment before providing inspiration. Old sales training encourages salespeople to tie-down the customer early so as not to waste the salesperson’s time. While most retailers don’t even have retail sales training anymore, many allow their employees to ask early in the sale Do you have a budget? or Are you prepared to buy it today? This puts the customer immediately on the defensive.

What does it cost you? While many customers will tell you their budget, no one comes in and says the sky’s the limit! Limiting their choices means you are making them settle. When they can’t find something in their price range, they feel judged by the employee and leave empty-handed.

Selling only what the customer asks for. Most customers nowadays research online before ever coming in your door. When they do come in and ask for a very particular product, poorly trained employees will simply take them to it or tell them they don’t have it.

What does it cost you? The trouble is, your shopper will never discover another option you have that will do the same, or a premium model that will work even better. The shopper is never given the chance to compare and contrast which means your store’s success is solely dependent on what customers ask for, not what you carry... leaving a lot of money on the table.

Asking Anything else? This is a mistake rampant in both retailers and  restauranteurs which pretty much says to the customer, you’re finished.

What does it cost you? Suggestive selling is where the profit is. The first item pays for your overhead and the second item is what the employee adds that the customer either needs or didn’t know they needed.

Allowing long wait lines at the counter. Understaffing the cashiers, especially on busy weekends, makes customers question their purchases. Is it worth it to stand in line? Can I just order online? Do I really need this?

What does it cost you? Online retailers track abandoned carts religiously. Brick and mortar stores rarely notice. You have to staff for the rush, not the schedule. Look around your store for how many items are placed in bizarre locations. Realize those items were most likely abandoned by frustrated shoppers.

Adding services at the cost of coverage. Buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) requires dedicated staff, space, and resources. Ship-from-store requires more boxes and advanced logistics to not flood the store with orders. Merchandising and planning need to be modified as traditional key performance indicators will not be applicable as the whole store becomes a fulfillment warehouse. These additional omnichannel services do not increase revenue as much as they increase costs. Those unbudgeted expenses have to be made up somewhere, and it is typically seen as a reduction of staff on the salesfloor.

What it costs you? Less staff on the floor mean less customer service. The more staff are charged with tasks to pick orders, the more your entire focus of your store goes from the customer in front of you to the one you can’t see. Dressing rooms filled with clothes, messy displays, and long wait times for service make customers pull out their smartphones in your store and shop a competitor.

See also, How Engaging Is Your Store's Customer Experience? Take This Quiz

In Sum

In an age when we are told it is all about the customer, it is shocking how many decisions are made that degrade the customer service experience at brick and mortar stores.

To truly deliver an exceptional experience requires the focus to stay squarely on the person who drove in the rain, the snow, the heat, past your competitors, to find a parking place and walk into your store.

Blow that and the customers you have now, or any new ones you might have acquired will either stay home and order online, or shop from a competitor - anyone but you.

Customer experience management has many parts; look for those on this list you are guilty of and fix them before it is too late.

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