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LS Retail | 18 January 2017

5 phrases you should never (ever!) tell your customers

5 phrases you should never (ever!) tell your customers

The number one reason customers do not return to retail stores is bad service, says Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs. And yet, most retailers appear unaware that they are disappointing their customers: an oft-quoted study by James Allen et al. revealed that 80 percent of companies believe they deliver a “superior experience” to their customers – but only 8 percent of their customers agree! Not only: Boston College researchers found that one third of consumers report being treated disrespectfully in stores or restaurants once a month. So what are your sales assistants doing wrong? Could it be something they say? We ran an informal survey among shoppers, and found five phrases, which are relatively common among retail store workers, but tick off customers:

“I don't know”

Do you even work here? Unless it’s your first day (in which case you should have said “I’ll get a colleague – apologies, it’s my first day”), there is no excuse for ignorance about your products. And if you really do not know anything about the item (because your management doesn’t train employees, because you are covering for a colleague in a different department, because you didn’t get the memo about the new product), there are better way to communicate it to the customer without making it look like you do not care. Try rather saying “I will find out”, or “Let me call our expert”. Show that it matters to you.

“It's not my problem”

Also seen under the form of “it's not in my job description”. Do I really need to get into why this is not just wrong, but also rude? You work here – the whole business is your responsibility. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or a baker: if the guest restroom is flooded, it is your problem. If a customer is unhappy it is your problem - even if the root of the matter is a design fault in the product you sell. Instead of trying to deflect responsibility — a behavior that will probably just result in annoyance for all parties involved and might even end up escalating the issue – try to see if there is any way you can help. Or if you can alert someone else who can help. Because, yes, it is your job to keep customers satisfied.

“It's out of your price range”

Believe it or not, this is a thing. Even in an age where billionaires dress as college students (you know who we are talking about), some retail store employees still believe that it’s ok to judge a book by its cover – or in this case, to antagonize a customer just to prove some obscure sort of point. Even if – unlike Oprah Winfrey — a customer really cannot afford your $38,000 handbag, why not show it to her anyway? Sure, she might end up buying a cheaper item in the end – but isn’t that still better that losing the sale completely just because you offended her by pulling the “You probably can’t afford it” card? Instead of irritating your customers, use high-end items to try to engage them. Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, recounted his experience in a luxury jewelry boutique. The shop assistant greeted him by asking whether it was his first time at the store, and after letting him browse asked “Have you ever seen one of our diamonds up close?” When he said he hadn’t, she held a 10-carat diamond out for him to see. Now, when Bob is ready to actually buy a diamond, he will definitely be thinking of that store first.

“I don't use it myself”

It’s hard to convince a customer to buy a product you have no experience with, and appear not to trust enough to spend your own money on. Your belief in your products is what will close the sale. Do try the products yourself, and even if you don’t know the single item, or wouldn’t personally use it, try to find an angle which you can use during the sale. Even if you have nothing to say about the toaster your customer is interested in, if you have tried the product line you can find a way in: “I have a blender from this brand, it has lasted a long time and has a very high quality finishing”. Too young for anti-aging cream? No problem. “I always buy it for my mother, she swears by it”. And so on.

“We have always done it this way”

These have been called “the seven most expensive words in business”, and with good reason. Although this attitude may work in the short run, at some point it will keep you behind. Ideas that worked in the past are not guaranteed to work in the future, especially in times of great, disruptive changes in retail. Even if you are not open to new ideas, rest assured that some competitor is – and sooner or later, you will see them soaring ahead of you. The “status quo” mentality is really hard to fight. Realizing it exists, and that it’s a problem, is the first step. The second step is wondering, “Why have we always done it that way? Is there another way?” Convincing the rest of your company might be harder – there are plenty of articles with great tips out there – but it’s definitely worth it.   Don’t risk losing customers because of silly mistakes and bad attitudes like the ones above. If your sales associates are making any of these errors, it’s time for a training, and a change of direction.  

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