Retail: Engaging the Customer

When it comes to retail, engaging customers is the number one way of securing a sale. Simply put, customers who are bored, uncomfortable or do not feel as if their needs are being validated, will not make purchases. Therefore, it is vital for both the well being of the organisation and the retail employees that they engage customers as soon as they enter the retail establishment. But how can you ‘engage the customer’?

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

When engaging customers, its important to make use of both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

What is Verbal Communication?

Verbal Communication is the use of spoken or written words to get a message across to another person. Verbal communication skills include not only include the words we say or write, but also the way in which we say them.

Factors of Verbal Communication

Factors of verbal communications are the speaking and writing strategies we use to influence the way our message is received by others. These factors include:

  • Tone
  • Pace
  • Volume
  • The use of technical language or jargon

Examples of Verbal Communication Include:

  • Speaking to co-workers, managers, supervisors.
  • Speaking to customers to gain rapport or make a sale.
  • Speaking to customers to answer queries, take complaints or de-escalate a situation.
  • Writing a letter to a manager or supervisor about a work-related issue.
  • Writing a sign to put up in a store to alert customers of an issue.
  • Writing note for a deaf customer to help them understand something.

What is Non-Verbal Communication?

Although most people don’t consciously think about it, non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, especially in a retail environment. Non-verbal communication is the way we express our selves without words, such as facial expressions and body language. This type of communication wordlessly expresses the way we feel and think about objects, people and the words we’re verbalising.

Factors of Non-Verbal Communication

Depending on the situation, we use a range of different factors of non-verbal communication during conversations. These factors can assist in expressing empathy, sympathy, understanding and genuine interest in customers, co-workers, supervisors and managers within the retail environment. Some of these factors include:

  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • Gestures
  • Other body movements

Examples of Non-Verbal Communication Include:

  • Making eye-contact while speaking to others, which can express a genuine interest in the speaker.
  • Avoiding eye-contact while speaking to others, which can express disinterest in or distraction from the speaker.
  • Standing upright while communicating to others, which can express confidence and pride in the workplace and products being sold within the retail environment.
  • Hunching while communicating with customers, which can express a level of discomfort, disinterest and lack of confidence in the products being sold, causing customers to become distrustful.

Why Do Need Body Language in Retail?

As a retail employee, your number one role is ensuring you provide excellent customer service. This cannot be done without both utilizing body language, and recognising body language in others.

For example, in order to make a customer feel respected and heard during a conversation, you would utilise body language factors such as eye contact, an upright posture, facing the customer and correct use of facial expressions. You may nod or shrug when appropriate and use gestures such as waving hello or goodbye, or pointing to products while you speak about them.

This friendly use of body language is beneficial in a retail environment as it produces a positive image of the store, its sales-people and its products in customers’ minds. The more positively a customer feels about an organisation, the more likely they are to purchase its products or services and the more likely they are to return to the organisation in the future. This in turn increases the cash inflow for the business and therefore allows for the organisation to continue to purchase stock to sell, pay bills and pay employee wages.

Clear Communication

We’ve already established how important verbal and non-verbal communication is, but if the way we speak isn’t clear, these factors are basically rendered useless.

Clear communication refers to the expression of words in a way that allows for others to easily hear and understand what is being said and what it means. It includes:

  • Speaking at a moderate pace
  • Enunciating words when necessary
  • Using simple wording
  • Avoiding jargon or slang
  • Ensuring verbal and non-verbal cues are being used appropriately
  • Keeping sentences short and to-the-point
  • Avoiding mumbling or rambling
  • Using eye contact and facing others when conversing

Communication and Diversity

When we speak to others, we need to remember that not everyone comes from the same background as ourselves. Ethical backgrounds, religious beliefs, education, age, disability and orientation can all effect the way people speak and receive information.

If we do not have a good understanding of the diverse backgrounds of others, it can become difficult for us to find the appropriate tools to communicate effectively, which can cause misunderstandings.

Overcoming Barriers

Some techniques and tools we may consider using to overcome language barriers include:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly
  • Using appropriate non-verbal cues to assist with verbal communication
  • Using simple language without slang or jargon
  • Using a normal voice volume
  • Gesturing to products, items or services while we are speaking about them
  • Nodding or shaking our heads while we are listening to others to express our understanding
  • Asking questions to ensure the listener understands the information we are sharing
  • Allowing for the customer to ask questions if they are confused or need more information
  • Summarising or paraphrasing information
  • Using short, direct sentences
  • Sequencing instructions or sets of information
  • Using communication aids such as signage, videos and other

Standards of Service

Standards of service are the basic levels of service delivery all employees in a retail environment need to achieve. These standards will differ depending on the retail organisation, but are vital for all employees of a workplace to know and understand in order to give a satisfactory service to all customers.

You might find standards of service for your organisation by:

  • Reading organisation’s policies and procedures manual
  • Reading organisation’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) manual.
  • Reading your employment induction pack
  • Searching the FairWork website
  • Researching the client-base of your organisation, which will highlight common needs
  • Asking your manager, supervisor or an experienced co-worker

Standards of Service Usually Include:

  • Greeting customers as they enter the organisation
  • The priority of workplace activities
  • The time in which employees have to complete specific activities, such as tending to customers

In general, Standards of Service in a retail environment highlight the importance of customer service. It is usually necessary for employees to greet each customer as they walk in the door as well as thank them for their time as they leave and are expected to drop whatever they are doing to tend to customers, so as to not leave them waiting around for service.

Achieving Positive Customer Service

In order for a retail environment to thrive, it must provide a positive customer service experience to customers that engage with the organisation.

What basic principles make a positive customer service experience?

  • Assisting customers when they appear confused
  • Using clear, simple language that is easy to understand
  • Using appropriate body language
  • Smiling and greeting customers as they enter the organisation
  • Actively listening to others while communicating with them
  • Speaking respectfully and calmly
  • Asking for and remembering customer names, regular orders and other information they may give you
  • Allowing customers to ask questions when they may be unsure or require more information
  • Listening to and apologizing for issues customers may bring up in a complaint, as well as working with customers to find solutions for complaints

What are the commercial effects of positive customer service on an organisation?

  • Higher likelihood of making purchases – customers are far more likely to purchase products or services from organisations that they had a positive customer experience at then an organisation where they had a negative customer service experience.
  • Higher likelihood of return customers – customers that have had a positive customer service experience at an organisation are far more likely to return to that organisation for future services or products than they are to return to an organisation where they had a negative customer service experience.
  • Gaining of new customers – Customers who have had a positive customer service experience will pass on good word-of-mouth to others, encouraging them to purchase their products or service at that organisation also.
  • Higher profits for the organisation – When customers have good customer service experiences at a retail organisation, they are likely to make purchases , return to the store to make future purchases, as well as encourage others to make purchases. This increase in purchases will, therefore, result in higher profits due to higher spending rates of customers.

Handling Customer Complaints and Inquiries

It is essential that all retail employees have a good understanding and approach to handling customer inquiries and complaints, as they are often pivotal to making or breaking a customer’s experience with a retail organisation. Customers will be far more likely to return to a store where they feel employees were genuinely interested in finding the answers to inquiries they had or finding solutions for complaints they made. In fact, some of the best examples of good word-of-mouth about retail organisations come not from customers pleased with the initial service an organisation gave, but the way they managed to resolve problems they had with the initial service they received.

How to give a positive customer service experience when dealing with complaints:

  • Face the customer while you are speaking
  • Try to get on the customer’s level (leave the counter to speak to the customer where they are standing instead of staying behind a barrier, which can cause hostility)
  • Nod when appropriate
  • Apologise for the issue, even if it is not your fault or you do not feel as if the organisation is at fault
  • Actively listen to the customer’s complaint in full without interrupting. This will help the customer to feel as if they have been heard and respected
  • Remain calm and respectful in tone
  • Paraphrase the complaint back to the customer or ask questions if necessary, to ensure you have a good understanding of the complaint the customer is making
  • Talk the customers through their options in terms of solutions to the issue.
  • If passing the complaint onto another staff member within the organisation, ensure you let the customer know, as well as make the staff member aware of the situation so as to ensure the customer does not have to repeat themselves
  • Write down the details of the customer and their complaint if the situation cannot be immediately resolved, so that the customer can be called later to ensure they are satisfied with the resolution

How to give a positive customer service experience when handling inquiries:

  • Listen to the customer’s inquiry in full before providing an answer
  • Face the customer and keep eye contact while they are speaking
  • Nod or gesture when appropriate
  • Paraphrase or question the customer to ensure you understand their inquiry
  • Inform the customer of what you’re doing to handle the inquiry at each step
  • Speak respectfully, clearly and calmly to the customer
  • Give the customer your full attention – don’t do other activities while speaking to them or listening to their inquiry
  • If you cannot answer their inquiry at the time, take their details and inform them when you are aware of the answers, or update them on where the inquiry is currently at

Where to find information to assist with inquiries and complaints:

  • Organisational policies and procedures may contain information relating to answering inquiries and resolving complaints.
  • Ask a manager, supervisor or more experienced staff member to assist.
  • Refer to recordings of past complaints or inquiries. This may contain information as to how the inquiry was answered or the issue resolved.
  • FairWork or the Ombudsman website


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