Customer Service in Retail – A Differentiator

The lifeblood of retail businesses has always been sales. But it is customer service that turns those casual purchasers into loyal customers. Things like well-trained salespeople, responsive communication, effective use of technology, showing empathy for customer needs and providing personalized experiences are just a few retail customer service examples your company can do to ensure positive outcomes. 

People go back to retailers because they receive a personalized experience.  Your products may have been what got them in the door the first time but keeping them happy and coming back with repeat business is all about providing a positive and consistent customer-centric experience.  In a world of retail commoditization, you can make customer service your competitive advantage

Customer service maturity assessment

What is Retail Customer Service all About?

Retail customer service is about providing seamless experiences that tell the customer that you not only care about making the sale, you care about them being satisfied with their purchase. Customers value their time – if they need to seek support either before or after the sale, they want it to be easy, efficient, and without a lot of hassle.

Why is retail customer service so important?

There is an innate joy for many people when it comes to shopping. Whether it’s buying a gift for a loved one or treating themselves to something special, the joy of shopping is the sum total of all parts – the products and the experience. While its important to make sure you’ve got enough stock and a variety of products, the experience you deliver is a much bigger factor in deciding whether a customer will return to your store or not. Here are two reasons why the retail customer service experience is so critical in today’s competitive landscape:

Converting Casual Purchasers into Loyal Customers

The customer experience doesn’t end when the sale is made, and the customer leaves the store. A retailer’s customer service strategy and returns policy can also be a differentiator in the eyes of the customer. 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of poor service experience.

If customers can be confident that you will be there to give them support after the sale and promptly address any problems or concerns without a lot of hassle, they will be more likely to give you their businesses and may even be willing to pay a little bit more for your products. According to Harris Interactive, 9 out of 10 U.S. consumers say they would pay more to ensure a superior customer experience.

Shoppers use feedback, reviews from peers & broadcast bad experiences online

Modern consumers are highly engaged in rating, reading and sharing reviews of products and services online. They also rely heavily on opinions from their social group in developing brand perceptions and making purchasing decisions. If your retail customer service is not up to the mark both online and at your physical stores, it won’t take long for customers to lose patience.

The effect of a bad experience can become amplified when word of it gets out on social media. Facebook and Twitter are the go-to platforms for customers to vent their frustrations over poor experiences with a brand and this can be extremely damaging to your reputation. In fact, once there is a negative word of mouth in the market, damage control will be even harder to fix

How Retail Customer Service can Differentiate you From Competitors

70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. While customers set the bar of expectations high for service experience, most small and medium-size retailers find it hard to meet customer service expectations. 

You don’t have to be perfect at customer service, but you do need to perform sufficiently better than your competitors to stand out from the crowd. 81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering customer experience excellence are outperforming their competition. Here are a few of the things you can do as a retailer to stand out from the competition.

Easy Access to Information about Products and Processes

The customer service experience starts before the customer enters your store (whether that be for a new purchase or for help with a previous purchase). Most customers will do research online – read reviews, check your store opening time and maybe your refund policy. You can take advantage of this by giving this information ahead of time. Set up a FAQ section on your website, or provide it in the form of support articles. Improving the quality and value of this information will make the in-person interaction when the customer visits your store more smoothly.

Effortless experience and easy-to-access service

Providing a good service experience is only part of the story. You also have to make it easy for customers to find the information they are looking for. This is possible either by guiding them to the different channels on which they could reach you, or offering an exhaustive self-service portal. Whether they are reaching out on email, chat, social Media or phone.having an omnichannel presence is key to making the experience as effortless as possible for customers. 

Effective Communications on the Status of Customer Questions and Requests

Not every question or a request from a customer can be addressed immediately. Your customer service teams solve issues with varying degrees of complexity every day. However, every customer needs to be well informed of how long the issue is going to take to fix while also providing a reason for the same.

Customers are more empathetic to longer wait times as long as they are kept in the loop and given timely updates. On the other hand, keeping them in the dark about how long they have to wait won’t be tolerated and can effectively make a bad situation, worse. So the important thing is to ensure your communication is effective. Give customers the right information about the problem, how long it will take to resolve it, and provide regular status updates.


Efficient Returns Processes

Returns are the most common request for post-sale support. It also happens to be a situation where most companies lose happy customers. There are some companies that have turned it into a differentiator. Their returns policies and easy-to-use tools/processes are creating a competitive advantage and drawing more customers in the door.

One example of this is by a US retail chain called Trader Joe’s. They have an ‘unlimited days’ return policy on many of their items, where items purchased at their store can be returned no matter when they were purchased. They also don’t ask for a receipt which avoids the problem of trying to find that small piece of paper you most likely threw away already. This not only encourages more consumers to choose their store, but they also differentiate themselves from other retailers. 

Small and medium businesses, without the massive customer service budgets, need to be leaner, smarter and even more personalized. They need the leverage that technology provides to accomplish the same results with fewer resources.

Examples of Great Retail Customer Service

#1 Zappos delights customers in need

When stuck with trying to understand what good customer service looks like, we can always look at what the best in the business is already doing. Zappos is one such retail brand that is known for its excellent customer service. Here is a story depicting how good they are at it:

A customer bought six pairs of shoes from Zappos for their mother who had a medical condition where her foot was numb because of recent surgery.1 Unfortunately, none of the shoes provided the desired comfort, so the customer decided to return them. 

She called Zappos to explain her situation and requested a return and refund for the shoes. A couple of days later, the customer opened the door to find a bouquet of flowers that had a get-well-soon message and the entire family was given a free upgrade in membership status which included free shipping on all future orders.

#2 A lovely personalized message from T-We Tea

One of the advantages of being a smaller business is the deep, personal relationship that you can build with your customers, over time. When you acknowledge your regular customers and really make them feel like they are part of your community it goes a long way in creating a positive image about your brand.

T-We Tea is a tea store in San Francisco, California with various different types of tea products and blends available to choose from.2

One customer was a regular and frequently purchased tea products from their online store. When opening one such order, the customer found a note that read: “OMG, Hi Francesca! So lovely to see your name come up! We miss you dearly up here but know you are always doing epic things!”

This sort of personalized message really struck a chord and made the customer feel special. It’s a great way of doing the little things to make your customers happy.

Retail Customer Service Tips to Create a Better Experience

#1 Competent Service Representatives and Sales People

Customers do their research often before coming into the store. When they engage with a sales or customer service representative, customers expect your employees to be more knowledgeable about the products you sell than they are.

#2 Easy access of information for Customers to Solve Problems on Their Own

There are many common questions about your products and processes (like exchanges and returns) that customers don’t need to talk to a person for an answer. Making this data accessible and informative can help make the customer service experience simpler for the customer.

#3 Personalization

Customers assume that companies that they do business regularly with them know something about their needs and preferences through data that is being collected about them (loyalty cards, mobile apps, surveys, etc.) and they expect that to result in personalized shopping and customer service experiences.

#4 Engaging at a Time Convenient to the Customer

As mentioned earlier, customers are busy and their time is valuable. One of the key reasons customers shop online is because they can do it at a time that is convenient for them. Brick & mortar retail businesses are at a bit of a disadvantage because most of them have business hours. Technology can help them overcome this by making services available to customers even when the physical store is closed.

#5 Predictable and Customer Friendly Processes and Experiences

When a customer has a question or needs help, they want to talk with someone who cares, and they want to know ahead of time what to expect in the process and experience.

#6 Manage Expectations with Timely Communications

Not all issues or questions can (or need to) be addressed immediately. Customers are generally understanding about this if they know you are working on it. Regular and timely communication can improve customer service perception by showing customers that you are still paying attention and working on the issue, even if they aren’t actively engaged.

How Freshdesk can Help Differentiate your Retail Customer Service 

The right set of tools, being used by knowledgeable employees who care, can help set your company apart from competitors. For most retailers, a cloud-based solution like Freshdesk is ideal because it is quick to set up, doesn’t have a lot of administrative overhead and can easily scale as your business grows.

Here’s how Freshdesk enables you to deliver a great customer service experience:

Contextual support with ticket history

To make sure your retail customer service is always up to the mark, you need to keep track of all your customer conversations. Freshdesk logs every action that was taken on a ticket, making sure you never lose the context of customer issues. This way any retail customer service associate can handle any customer question since context is readily available to anyone who needs it.

Seamless omnichannel  engagement

With Freshdesk’s omnichannel capabilities, you can support your customers on a channel of their preference. It allows you to convert questions from across calls, emails, live chat, social media into tickets and also reply to those questions from within the ticket itself. This is a very convenient way for customers to get their queries across and for you to provide them with answers as quickly as possible.

Empower customers to help themselves with self-service

The best way to help your customers is by giving them the ability to find answers on their own. Freshdesk gives you a great platform to build a customizable self-service portal with solutions articles, FAQs and other helpful documents for public use. With an informative knowledge base, customers become empowered to find answers much faster which leads to better support experience and higher customer satisfaction.


Retail customer service is about providing seamless experiences that tell the customer that you care about them as people. Customers’ time is valuable to them and you need to show them you respect that by giving them the tools they need to do things on their own and the friendly/personalized experience when they interact with your employees. 

Well trained salespeople, responsive communication, effective use of technology and showing empathy for customer needs are just a few things that your company can do to ensure positive outcomes. It is customer service that turns casual purchasers into loyal customers and one-time sales into long term company success.

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