Customer service complaints happen. Don't panic! Here are four common, negative experiences your customer may run into, and how to handle them effectively.
Pop quiz. Is the goal of retail customer service:
A) To keep customers happy
B) To generate repeat business
C) To create vocal supporters of your brand
D) All of the above
If you answered D, you might already have your head in the game when it comes to retail customer service. But we’d wager you probably feel more passionate about some of these options over others.
That’s completely fine, and it probably makes sense based on your business model. After all, you know your customers best. But to create a well-rounded customer service experience, retail workers should strive to attend to all marks (A-C) when resolving customer conflict.
It’s a nice ideal to shoot for, but what would that look like?
We took four of the most common retail conflicts between customers and customer service reps and broke them down based on how to achieve the optimum outcome. There are some tricky situations that retail employees commonly come across. We want to help you learn to navigate them like a pro.
How to Create a Positive Customer Experience in Retail
The four most common customer complaints in a retail setting include:
- Long wait times
- Negative interactions with a team member
- Billing or payment issues
- Unsatisfaction with a purchase
Let’s evaluate these scenarios with a richer perspective:
1. Long Wait Times
Here’s the scene: You’re short-staffed due to your cashier calling in sick last minute. You pulled some floor staff to help with checkout, but their lack of experience and the afternoon rush is causing some delay. A customer approaches you saying they’ve been in line for 10 minutes and now have to leave to make an appointment in time.
In this situation, you don’t want to take up any more of the customers time, as that’s the root of their issue. To solve this problem quickly and efficiently it’s best to adopt the customer service strategy put forth by the experts at Forbes:
- Listen to the customer’s problem. Give them your undivided attention.
- Acknowledge and validate them. Let them know that you understand how frustrating the line is, and explain why it was long. The insight can help them feel like their time isn’t being wasted for no good reason.
- Solve the problem. Solving an issue surrounding long wait time doesn’t do much good if a person has already made their purchase. However, think of developing your solution around filling the void that the problem created. They lost their time at your store, their time is valuable, compensate them in the form of coupons or discounts to demonstrate that you believe their time is worth something.
A great example of this conflict resolution in action happens at Disney World. Children and adults wait for hours in line for rides. Sometimes weather or mechanical delays close it down leaving everyone tired, hungry, and angry they wasted their time. What Disney does in the case of an evacuated line is station cast members by all exits who hand out fast pass vouchers that will bring guests to the front of the line when the ride opens back up. They answer questions and send guests on their way. It’s not perfect, but it often puts out a lot of fires simply by recognizing that your time is worthy, and compensating you for it.
2. Negative Interactions With a Team Member
The scene: You’re working in a big chain store with more than 50 employees on the floor at any given time. A man approaches you and says that one of your team members was rude and unhelpful when they asked for directions to a product.
These situations tend to be more common in larger retail spaces as there are generally more people to manage and less supervision.
In this case, you want your customer to feel heard while protecting your staff. It does no good to call them out or embarrass them. In fact, it could cause them to repeat what they did to get themselves in trouble. We would suggest taking a two-pronged approach.
- Let your customer tell you what happened. Listened and take notes, ask questions about who the employee was and ensure them that you’re taking this seriously. Wrap up by saying you plan to address the issue with the team member, and ask for their contact info. Thank them for sharing with you.
- Address the issue with the employee in private. Focus on making this a teaching moment and let them know you went to bat for them, taking the fault and protecting them so they feel supported.
At the end of everything, follow up with the customer afterwards and let them know you spoke to the employee and this will not happen again. Thank them once again, and close with an offer or incentive to bring them back to the store. In this case, the customer wanted to be heard, so it’s important to double down on communications.
3. Billing or Payment Issues
The scene: A customer comes into your store and makes a purchase on a busy day. They email you days later saying that their credit card statement shows that they paid $150 when they bought an item on sale, and it should have just been $75. They want this fixed ASAP.
Money is a sensitive topic. It can make people nervous and they almost always want the issue resolved right away. However, refunds can take time. So in order to keep the customer happy, there are a few things you can do:
- Request all the information. Ask the customer to either email or come back into the store with their receipt. Acknowledge that you know this is an inconvenience for them, but it’s protocol and you want to make sure they get back exactly what they’re owed to avoid this issue again.
- Once you have all the information provide ample follow-up. If a refund needs approval, let them know the steps down the pipeline and a window for when they should expect it to come through. Provide routing, case, or confirmation numbers whenever possible. In cases of money, people feel more comfortable when there’s a paper trail.
As opposed to other retail customer service scenarios, ones involving money should always involve more explanation. Provide logical reasons why something happened as well as why (or why they didn’t) get their money back.
For example, the popular fitness studio Pure Barre saw a national software change mid-2019 that resulted in people being charged for late classes despite not even being active members. Concerned customers flooded inboxes demanding refunds.
Studio managers handled the issue by training staff to explain the software change and the reason why a void balance might have transferred. They issued all necessary refunds and sent screenshots of confirmations to everyone who was issued one (whether they asked for it or not). As a result, the positive experience even managed to bring some lapsed members back into the studio once again!
4. Dissatisfaction With a Purchase
The final scene: A customer reaches out to you saying that they were disappointed in their online order. It looked nothing like the photos, took too long to ship, and arrived damaged (triple whammy). Not only do they want their money back, but they’re threatening to blast your business all over review sites.
Sometimes it’s not enough to issue a refund. A scorned customer can cause major blowback for your business. In this example, it’s important to apologize to this customer and take a shot at your second chance.
First and foremost issue a refund and an apology. Ask for photos and descriptions of the items so you can send your manufacturers a note and communicate to staff that this isn’t acceptable. Tell them that you would understand if they didn’t want to order from you again, but offer them a replacement free of charge. Invite them to write their honest review, but include their perspective of the return and replacement policy in it.
That way, you get the chance to change the conversation from “this product stinks” to “their customer service was fantastic!”
An important thing to keep in mind— if a customer seems disproportionately angry, chances are they’re actually upset about something else, and projecting it on to you. Treat these customer complaints with added empathy to offset their anger. Kindness can go a long way to work for you when they’ve had the chance to cool down.
Another great tip from the folks at Forbes is to turn the solution onto the customer. Ask them what they think is fair or what they would like to see done to rectify the issue. By sharing the power you ultimately empower an unhappy customer in all the right ways.
We hope these examples left you feeling inspired and ready to tackle your next customer complaint! And always remember, a great way to follow up with an unhappy customer is through a check-in text message. We wrote the book on texting for customer service— literally!
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