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The key to success in the retail industry is providing customers with the best possible shopping experience, leaving them with a positive feeling after using your business. Although selling a good selection of high-quality items is crucial, the way in which you sell them is equally as important.

When it comes to great customer service, a positive tone and friendly language are vital. Retailers who use words and phrases that may give the wrong image can impact on customers’ overall shopping experience. This can not only lose you a customer, it can also lead to negative associations with your brand that can impact on other consumers.

The phrases that staff use in a customer service setting can either kill the sale or enhance your company’s reputation…

2 Women buying something

© dima_sidelnikov / Adobe Stock

Knowledgeable staff

One phrase guaranteed to make your business look unprofessional (and even like you don’t care) is when a customer asks a question and a staff member replies, “I don’t know.”

Customers realise that a retailer can’t be expected to know everything  but when a member of staff is asked a question about a product, they must be confident enough to provide a reasonable answer.

The sales assistant should tell the customer, “Let me find out for you,” and find out the answer from another member of staff. This response equates to several situations, including when a customer asks where a certain product is stored on the shelves.

The big supermarkets never simply wave customers in the general direction, with an assistant saying, “It’s over there,” with a random gesture – the staff actually show the customer, saying, “Follow me, I’ll take you over.”

Similarly, if a customer asks if a particular item is in stock, an assistant should never respond, “Did you see any?”

It’s up to the staff to check – they should never pass on the responsibility to the customer. The best response is, “We usually stock it – I’ll go and check if we have any.”

When comparing this approach with an assistant who “doesn’t know” where a product is, customers will vote with their feet and use a shop in which the staff care.


Refunds policy

While policies on refunds may differ from store to store – such as some not permitting returns on clearance sale items, for example – having a staff member stating, “All sales are final,” when a customer asks about the returns policy isn’t helpful. It can actually deter some people from purchasing.

If it means keeping the customer, retailers need to be flexible, permitting a return or an exchange in some circumstances, even if it goes against general company policy.  A far better answer would be, “If you’re not satisfied, let us know and we’ll make it right.”



Perhaps the most irritating and inflammatory phrase in customer care is “Calm down!” – often said to an aggrieved customer when they are complaining. If the customer has reached a point where your product or after-sales service has left them ranting, the best thing to do is let them have their say and get it out of their system.

Trying to stop them mid-flow will only antagonise them further. Letting them finish makes them feel better and more receptive to finding a solution. A far better approach is to simply say, “I apologise,” after they’ve had their say.


Serving last-minute customers

Everyone wants to go home at the end of a long shift and probably the last thing an employee wishes to do is allow a customer into the shop as they close the doors. However, can anyone afford to turn away a sale?

Keeping in mind that the customer may not know the shop’s closing hours, or they may not realise the time, no retail assistant should greet them with an abrupt, “We’re closed,” as they shut the door in their face. It’s far better to explain, politely, the shop’s opening and closing times and then add, “Can I help you with anything quickly now?”

If they’re just popping in for one item and not planning on doing their week’s shopping, in terms of good customer relations, it’s preferable to let them come in and grab what they need as a goodwill gesture.



One phrase that retail assistants should be banned from saying is, “I can’t do that.”

Whether they’re being asked to venture on to another department, or deal with a return, or go into the stock room to check for an item, nothing smacks of apathy more than saying they “can’t” do so.

It’s the single most negative customer service phrase that prompts customers into deciding to shop at another store, where staff have a “can do” attitude.

Similarly, when a customer asks for an item, being told, “That’s not my department,” is useless. Even though it might be true, it sounds to customers as if you just can’t be bothered.

The solution is to either empower the employees to be able to do more, or train them to find a supervisor to deal with issues that are outside their remit, while telling the customer, “What I can do is…” and offering a solution.

In the same bracket of apathy is the phrase, “I’m new here.”

The customer doesn’t care that you’re new – and members of staff shouldn’t think uttering this phrase gets them off the hook! Customers assume the staff know what they’re doing as they are employed in the store. So, if you can’t help because you genuinely don’t know the answer, it’s far better to say, “Please bear with me while I get you some help.”


Running out of stock

It’s a fact that not every product will be in stock all of the time, but simply telling a customer, “We’re out of stock,” will leave them going elsewhere.

A pro-active response is the solution. Check to find out when the product will be back in stock and offer to contact them when the new supply arrives. Never ask a customer to keep checking back – tell them you will give them a call or send them an email when the shelves are re-stocked.

It’s far better to say, “This item is currently out of stock, but we’ll have it back in on…” with the relevant date.


Too busy

Staff should never say they are “too busy” to help a customer. This is the ultimate insult! When you’re in retail, your job is to assist customers with their purchase. That’s the whole point of being there.

Telling a customer, you’re “busy right now” and expecting them to wait while you update a log, or fiddle with a pile of paperwork, is the exact opposite of being a customer service assistant.

It’s far better to say, “I’d be happy to help you,” on every occasion and putting your admin task temporarily to one side.

Finally, is the old saying, “The customer is always right?” correct today? The answer is no – the customer isn’t always right, but they must still be treated with respect, and rather than telling them a direct, “You’re wrong,” always be polite, saying something along the lines of, “There appears to have been a misunderstanding.”

Without customers, every shop would close down, so it’s imperative to remember that retail environment negativity doesn’t pay!

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