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The Buck Stops with You – Handling Customer Complaints


When customer service issues and complaints arise in the store, a sure way to lose a customer is to trivialize their problem and behave as if you’re not engaged in their concerns.

When a customer has a complaint, it usually reflects a product or service and is not directed at you, personally. Some sales associates are unaware of this important difference and this can result in a war of words and misunderstandings that end up having nothing to do with the problem and making a situation far worse. By focusing on the true nature of the problem, you can diffuse what could potentially be a tense situation and a frustrated customer who may never shop at your store again.

Letting the customer explain their grievance while remaining silent is vital in making them feel better and giving them the confidence that you and the store you represent are concerned about what they’re saying and care about fixing the problem. Saying something like, “I’m sorry you had to go through this,” or “Your expectations weren’t met, and I will try to make it right for you” assures the customer that you (and the store) are sincere and that they’re being treated as an individual whose feedback genuinely means something.

Indicating that “you weren’t there” the day of the problem does not absolve a sales person from responsibility. Customers want to feel as if their concerns are important, so you, as the face of the store, need to address it then and there, whether it involves a refund, a replacement or other type of grievance which the customer feels is pressing.

Familiarize yourself with your store’s return and compensation policy before making promises you can’t keep, as that will only further a misunderstanding and result in an angry customer who may refuse to patronize your store again. But also, there may be extenuating circumstances or reasons a customer couldn’t get into the store to return a product by the designated time frame. Performance Research Associates consultant Ann Thomas suggests that a store should be aware of when to bend the rules. Otherwise, they might lose the customer, which would be more costly to the store…and worse, the customer could leave and relay her bad experience. Word of mouth is a powerful force and in this age of multi-channel shopping and decreasing market share, bad press from a consumer among their peers or online is something a retailer can’t afford to have.

If you’re a “people person” and have what it takes to handle sticky situations with customers, look into this career, since good customer service is increasingly hard to come by. Retailers look for this precious commodity in staff and a retail recruiting firm is the best place to go for advice and opportunities in this vital part of retail.

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