Retail Customer Service: 8 Ways to Reduce Customer Stress

Recently I was reading the USA Today and a Snapshots® graph about shopping stress caught my eye. Shopping stress? I suppose I might feel stressed if I blew my budget or if I waited until an hour before a party to go shopping for a gift.

I looked at the graph more closely. It wasn’t about spending too much money or poor planning. It was about the retail experience and the statistics were surprising.

An online survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports Research Center, asked 1,264 women what they find most stressful when shopping:

  • 33% said checkout lines
  • 29% said interacting with salespeople
  • 24% said finding the best price
  • 14% said finding the right product

That means 62 percent - almost two out of every three women surveyed - said they find basic customer service the most stressful aspect of shopping! As a manager, you probably find these statistics as startling as I do. Customer satisfaction based on checkout lines and interactions with your salespeople is a direct reflection of your people.

Checkout Lines

As a manager, you can’t influence whether your customer has set aside enough time to have a relaxing shopping experience. But, you can impact the wait by making sure your employees are checking people out instead of doing non-customer tasks, or worse, idly standing by. Nobody likes to wait. But, if customers feel like they are waiting needlessly, you can almost see their blood pressure rise. Waiting in line while other employees are stocking shelves, talking on the phone, or - the worst infraction in the world of serving customers - chatting among themselves, is sure to build your customers’ stress level.

Interacting with Salespeople

How would your employees rate on this one? Do they try to connect with your customers? Do your employees show that they care or do they treat customers as interruptions?

Customers expect to be served. If a customer deals with indifference or is treated as a disruption or can’t get his questions answered, you’re not doing your job and you’re not meeting your customers’ basic expectations.

While the results of this survey are limited to the sample group, they should certainly give all managers reason to pause. What would your customers say? If your customers were asked what they find most stressful when shopping at your business, how would they answer? Would they tell you that your checkout lines are stressful for them? Would they say that interacting with your salespeople is the most stressful part of their shopping experience? Would they say something else?

The good news is that as a manager, you can directly impact the customer experience associated with checkout lines and interactions with employees. Start by thinking about these ideas:

8 Easy Ways to Reduce Customer Stress….

1. Keep employees out of the checkout area unless they are taking care of customers. I once overheard an employee explain why she wasn’t opening another register - even though she was standing in the checkout area. “We’re only supposed to help when there are more than three people waiting.”I was the third person in line and evidently it didn’t matter how long we may have been standing there; until someone else joined us, we were stuck. You can bet the person in front of me started grumbling about what that employee was getting paid to do.

If your employees aren’t checking out customers, they shouldn’t be in the checkout area. It only serves to frustrate customers (read stress) and get everyone wondering why this employee is just standing around. This goes for managers too. I’ve often wondered why some retail businesses have the manager’s office area at the front of the store near the checkout area. Is it so the manager can keep an eye on things while working on the computer? Or is it so the manager can more easily serve the customer and the employee?

2. Treat customers as the boss. It’s common sense to say that without customers you’d be out of business. Yet time and again I watch service-oriented companies treat their customers as an afterthought. They should be treated as the boss. Without customers there would be no reason to stock the shelves or get that display set up.I’m not saying that product and marketing aren’t important. They are. But, if customers are needlessly waiting in line while one of your employees is setting up that display, you have a problem. Believe me, those customers aren’t thinking, “wow, look at how hard that employee is working to finish that display.” They’re thinking, “When is that guy going to notice us and open another register.”

3. Acknowledge the customer who is waiting. We all want to be noticed. A smile and a sincere greeting, or “I’ll be with you in just a moment” to the person who has just joined the line goes a long way. Explain to your employees that as long as they don’t engage the second customer at the expense of the person in front of them, they have the opportunity to make both customers feel valued. And, if there was a wait, employees should acknowledge it by saying something like, “thanks for your patience.”

4. Encourage your employees to get help when they need help. I have seen employees so overwhelmed during a rush that they don’t take a moment to call for help. Let them know it’s okay and it’s expected. Customers are forgiving when it comes to getting help. They’ll let you take a moment to call for help. At another time, it might be them waiting.

5. Require employees to develop a shining attitude. You read that right. I said, “require.” We all know that attitudes impact behaviors. When we have a bad mood it shows. It shows in our mannerisms, our expressions, our words, and our tone of voice. That is, unless, we make a decision to leave our bad mood at the door and choose to develop a shining attitude instead. The neat part is that while we’re developing a shining attitude, it becomes a shining attitude that affects our behaviors. Before you know it, our good mood shows. So, require your employees to:

  • Smile and say hello
  • Give and maintain eye contact
  • Actively listen
  • Stop non-customer tasks to focus on the customers

The funny thing about a shining attitude is that it is contagious. Develop your shining attitude and help your employees develop theirs. You will all enjoy work more. And, maybe, instead of feeling stressed, your customers will actually enjoy their shopping experience.

6. Lead by example. In what you say and in what you do. When you’re having a tough day, let it go so you can positively focus on your customers and your employees. When customers are waiting and getting impatient, jump in to help. Drop what you’re doing to lend a hand. Talk about how all your responsibilities and actions tie in to serving the customer. Make your customer interactions positive and solutions-oriented.If your employees see you put tasks before customers, they’ll do the same. Make customers a priority by treating them as a priority.

7. Support and encourage your team. Praise your employees. Praise them when their shining attitude shows through in customer-friendly behaviors. Praise them for the effort it takes to serve customers with a smile when they are having an off day. Praise them when they treat the customer like their boss and when they try to connect. Give your employees an opportunity to unload anything that may interfere with their ability to have a shining attitude. Perhaps a two-minute huddle at the start of a shift. Or pen and paper for complaints (to be torn up and thrown into the trash before walking onto the floor).

8. Have fun. We all spend too much time at work, not to enjoy it when we are there. Make it enjoyable. If your employees are having fun, their interactions with customers will easily be more positive. Happy employees mean happy customers.

What ideas do you have for reducing customer stress?

Michele Eby works for Media Partners as a writer and training advisor. She has worked in the training and development field for more than 15 years. Media Partners’ Give ‘Em the Pickle program was the source for this article.