Last Updated on April 1, 2024 by Lorna Barrow


This is not why you set up your small retail store!


Not to constantly make poor sales…


You take off your glasses and rub your eyes.


You look at the numbers again.


And then the suggestion box begins to give you answers. You can no longer ignore the information. You need to fix your poor customer service. And fast.


But you’re not alone.


Poor service is ruining many a small retail store and keeping the owners up at night, drinking rum and pulling out their hair.


The common practice is to blame your sales associates for poor customer service, and threaten them with dismissal, if sales don’t improve fast.


But let’s be clear. It’s not just the service which your sales associates deliver that you need to fix. That’s only the aspect that’s most highly visible.


You see, poor service takes other forms, not usually recognized by retail store owners.


So here are my 10 things you can easily fix that will rescue your business from poor service and improve your bottom line.


Ready? Let’s jump in.


1.  Make sure your retail store is adequately stocked

Before you start telling me about the cost of doing this, let me explain what I mean.


One of the very important things you must know about your business is who your key customers are.


A good way to improve your service is to ensure that the items which your main customers buy are always in stock. In addition, you should know and leverage the 6 types of items any retail store must sell.


The usual fear-driven practice by small retail stores is to try to stock a little bit of everything, in the belief that it will increase sales. That’s never a good business model because it seldom does.


And no amount of good customer service by your sales associates can compensate for the frustration of the stock-outs created by your poor stocking approaches.


2. Put a dollar amount on poor customer service

One of the most eye-opening things I like to take my clients through is to put a dollar value on poor customer service. Why is this important? Because great customer service increases your revenue.


Here’s an example of the cost of poor customer service:


Let’s say your small store is opened Monday to Saturday and operates 2 shifts a day.


You collected the information I ask you to and you discovered that you might lose $37 across a shift due to poor customer service. Not an amount to worry about, right?


Except for this: $37 per shift is $74 a day. $74 a day by approximately 350 “open” days in a year is a whopping $25,900!


If this is not enough to make you fix your poor customer service, then you might as well buy ice and fry it.


3.  Use your camera to improve poor service in your retail store

Are you one of those business owners who put in an expensive camera system to spy on employees and to catch thieves?


But did you know you can also use it to improve poor service?


Review your camera footage for a period of 4 – 6 weeks, specifically checking the movement of shoppers through your store.


You are looking for a pattern or trend of how they move through the store.


When you have identified this pattern, you will then layout your store in such a way that the items these shoppers want to buy and the ones you want to sell them, follow that path.


In this way, you improve service as well as your cash flow.


4.  Understand the role of the retail store Sales Associate

To do this, you will need a basic understanding of the difference between marketing and selling.


Very simply, marketing is every and anything you do to attract shoppers to your store.


This includes your window displays, ads, promotion material, etc.


Many small business owners believe it is the “full out” job of the Sales Associate to market the business. This is simply not their role.


When the shopper reaches the store, that’s when the Sales Associate takes over and the selling begins.


Their job is to get the sale. And you, your Store Manager and the Sales Associates must be very clear that this is the yardstick by which their performance is measured.


You can improve the poor service in your store if you train your Sales Associates to sell and deliver incredible customer service at the same time, in accordance with your high standards.


5.  Be clear about the role of the Store Manager

It is equally important for you to understand the role of the Sales Manager.


Generally, their job is to be responsible for the running of store and managing the Associates. This includes daily training, motivating and holding them accountable. They are that crucial link between you the owner, and the customer.


When Store Managers are working on the floor, it is difficult for them to effectively resolve any customer service problems. The customer sees them as just another associate and might insist on seeing the owner to have their problems resolved.


If you can maintain this separation of roles, you will resolve problems faster and your customer service will go through the roof.


6. Pay attention to your internal customer service

If you do not treat your staff well, and if your staff does not treat each other well, there is little motivation for them to treat your customers well.


Think about it…


If you don’t care about them, why should they care about your customers?


The world-renowned Ritz-Carlton hotel has as its motto:

“We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”


Their employee promise goes on to state:

At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.


The thing is, that with over 40,000 employees, they deliver on this promise.


If you really want to improve the service in your retail store, create a happy workplace. Find ways to reward staff without breaking the bank.


When your retail store is not a happy place to work, it shows up in your employees’ attitudes. Then shoppers feel tension almost as soon as they enter the store and are inclined to leave quickly. 


7.  Pay attention to how your associates greet shoppers

Do you know that rushing up to a customer, as soon as they come through the door with some version of “how may I help you?” is the worst way to greet a customer?


Why? Because most customers believe you’re aggressively trying to pin down why they’re in your retail store.


It really is poor service and it often leads to the customer giving a non-committal or rude answer that turns off the person who asked in the first place.


But however much I train retail staff not to rush up to customers and ask “how can I help you?” as soon as they walk through the door, most business owners undo this.


It’s because they fear that not having associates do this, could result in lost sales.


So, what should happen?


Your Sales Associate should greet the shopper pleasantly, perhaps by saying “Good time of day, Welcome to ABC Retail Store!” .


Then give the customer time to wipe their faces (I live in a tropical country) put their car keys in their bags or pockets, get their bearings and begin looking around.


This should take a mere 20 – 30 seconds.


Then you offer to help them by saying “I am (name) what can I help you with today?”


This approach improves customer service in your retail store. The interaction is pleasant because the customer is not under the impression that you think they are there to shoplift.


8.  Understand what the customer is buying 

9 out of the 10 customers who walk through your door is looking for a solution.


Don’t believe me? Think about the following…

  • When a customer buys a drill, it’s the solution for boring a hole
  • The one that buys a broom is really buying a solution for cleaning the house
  • If I buy a toothbrush, I’m buying the means to clean my teeth


Yes…customers do want a complete solution. And you want a healthy cash flow.


One of the fastest ways to improve poor service is to teach your associates to build rapport with your shoppers before they try to sell them just “something”.


When they do, they get a better idea of the problem the shoppers are trying to solve and can then sell them a complete solution.


This is far better than selling them an item and then asking: “anything else?”


This is good for your bottom line and your sales associates are doing what they are supposed to do…Sell.


9.  Establish a culture of listening in your business

Want to improve poor service in your retail store?


Establish a culture of listening in your business.


First your Associates must learn to listen, really listen, to your customers.


That’s the best way they can understand their problems and restate them in a way that convinces the customer that they truly understand them. Then, they can sell them the solution they want.


Managers can’t lead effectively unless they can listen to employees’ real concerns and act on them.


However, don’t expect to understand an employee’s needs from a single conversation.


Continue to be an attentive listener so that the employee knows you are sincerely interested in what she has to say.


In this way you improve the internal as well as the external customer service.


10.  Train, train and then retrain your retail store staff

It is common practice for small retail stores to engage in a single round of training and believe that a problem is fixed.


And I get it.


You are afraid of poor training results, you don’t have the money and very often, you can’t find the time for the training in the first place.


But the bigger problem is, this widespread belief that the training ends when the workshop is over.


The truth is that’s only when the workshop ends.


The real “training” happens when employees go back to work and begin to apply their new skills to real live customers.


Then you realise that repeat and follow-up is necessary.


In addition, there should be structured refresher training to ensure that your staff can keep giving the the level of service your customer and your retail store deserves. 


Your next “retail store” step…

The retail sector is a very competitive sector.


And it is true that poor service is ruining many retail stores.


But it does not have to be true for your store.


That’s because, I’ve just given 10 ways to recognize and fix your poor customer service.


It would be a shame if you were to take this information and do absolutely nothing about your service.


But that’s not your style. You will fix your poor service…and you will fix it NOW!


So do me a favour and start your fix with #6. It is so important and when this is fixed, all the rest becomes very easy.


And let me know how it worked out for you…will you?

How to Easily Stop Poor Service Ruining Your Retail Store

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Lorna Barrow

Lorna Barrow is a Business Breakthrough Specialist, an unfiltered Transformational Speaker, a Writer, a Coach and a self-confessed Small Business Junkie. She recognises that small businesses are unique and when it comes to helping you and your business make that BIG breakthrough, she's all in for you!

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