Photo credit: Bob J. Galindo (CC-By-SA 3.0)

My family are experts at providing excellent customer service.  No really, we are.  Between the six of us we have worked in 11 different businesses which are retail or service oriented; and 19 departments within those businesses.  Combined we have over 40 years of customer service experience.  We have worked in grocery stores, big box home improvement stores, convenience stores, bakery departments, restaurants, pharmacies, and more.  We have been in upper management, entry level management,  and worked on the sales floor.

Some of us have moved on to other careers in the medical, ministry, and military fields or are in college; but a few of us are still in retail because we enjoy the pace and the people aspect of retail. Occasionally we will jump back in retail for a season because we need to make ends meet.  But we really do enjoy it!

I personally LOVED my time in retail.  I absolutely could not wait to go to work.  I am a people person in the truest sense of the word.  I love people.  I love to help people. My job at a big box home improvement store involved helping people for my entire shift.  I couldn’t wait to see my favorite customers and I loved the smell of lumber.

Most of my family also has similar personalities.  We enjoy people and we enjoy serving them.

Well, most of the time.

Invariably at the end of each day the dinner conversation turns toward our experiences with certain customer encounters.  Those that were fun and interesting, and…well…let’s just say those that were having a bad day (and probably do regularly), and were difficult to please.

Although we agreed we normally will do everything possible to take care of any customer, no matter what type of mood they are in, here are 10 things we all agree will make us (and sales associates in general) go above and beyond to make your shopping experience the very best.

1. Smile and greet the associate (just like you expect to be greeted.)

A smile indicates you are friendly (duh!).  A store associate likes helping friendly people.  I always smiled at my customers and their eyes lit up when they saw my friendly face.  This works in reverse also; smile at a sales associate and they will really jump to help you.

We’ve all had people come to us with scowl on their face just thinking that “this associate is really going to help me if I’m as nasty, mean, and angry as possible.”  Yeah, probably not.  You will get helped, but in the briefest way possible.

Smile if you want the best service possible!

2. Ask Nicely

Ask us nicely to help you instead of barking a command.

Saying, “Excuse me, could you help me” will get you a lot further than, “Hey you, get over here and do your job.” (Yes, we have really had that said to us.)

If we haven’t approached you first, please ask us to help you.  We want to help you!  That’s why we do what we do.

A couple of us remember a customer who would stand at the counter and “wave” and “snap his fingers” like, get over here and help me. Yeah, don’t do that.

A pleasant request to help, with a little sugar on top, will go a long way in getting you the help you need.

3. Be Clear.

Know what you want and be able to describe it clearly.  We all recounted times a customer came in and said, “I saw this thingy-ma-bob in the ad. I don’t remember what price it was; but it was like 50% off. Or wait, maybe that was another store. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Uh, no we don’t because we are not telepathic.

One of my sons said he had people come in every day and say, “I saw this thing on Dr. Oz – I’m not sure what it was – do you have it?”  Uhhhh….

The best advice is to bring the ad with you or be able to describe specifically what you saw and what price it was advertised for.

4. Have a bit of patience

We know a LOT about the store, but not everything.

One of the stores I worked in had 40,000 SKU’s (for the layperson, that’s stock-keeping-units).  It is impossible for any associate (or manager) to know everything that is in the store.  We know a lot of them.  We’ll get you to the right area.  We’ll even go online to see if we carry it.  But if we don’t always know, please don’t elevate into freak out mode. We don’t want to see you have a stroke.

5. Remember we are human.

Yes, behind that name tag and store uniform is a real human being.  We have lives, a family, friends, and hobbies.  When we leave the store we go on to a full life. If you treat us as a human, we will really do our best to help you.

If not and you yell or just have a miserable attitude, we’ll still help you; but since we are human, you’ll wreck our day.

Keep the “human” in humanity.

6. Be Understanding

Okay…ahem…sometimes the store management (which some of us have been in) doesn’t let the associates know about upcoming sales, promotions, new policies, etc.  We believe they usually try to; but sometimes information doesn’t trickle all the way down.

Tell us what you saw in the ad, or heard, or are looking for and we’ll do our best to find out.

7. Our Products and Services are not based on reality TV shows.

One of us works in a bakery.  Invariably a customer will come in and say, “I saw this on ______ _______.  (fill in the blank of your favorite reality show – think “cake boss”).  And no, it is not possible to make a cake in the shape of your child riding Orca the whale.  At least not for $29.99.

It is also not possible to use the store panel saw to cut out 172 pieces to make the doll house you saw on Pinterest.

But we do have great products and services for the normal customer.  If we can’t do it, we’ll refer you to a specialty shop or store which can. (Which will also charge an appropriate, much higher price; as they should for specialty orders).

8. Say “Thank You.”

We will say thank you whether you do or don’t; but this is something everyone learned in kindergarten. It just makes for nice human interaction.

9. Please DO ask for a manager – we want you to.

Why? Because we don’t have the authority to do everything you would like us to.  We can give a discount here and there; but not 50% off.  We also don’t have the authority to give you things for free because you’re upset or don’t have exactly what you want.

But the manager does and would be glad to help you.

10. Be prepared at check-out

Have your wallet out and money or credit card accessible. Watch the prices ring up to make sure they are what you expected (to save headaches later).  Do not talk on your cell phone.  This is rude to the store personnel who are trying to help you, and the customers behind you. Also avoid writing checks; this slows it up for everyone. Who writes checks anymore anyway?

And, oh yeah, please don’t pull your money or credit card out of your bra. That’s just gross.

Practice these 10 things and your shopping experiences will be great this year; or at least a little above average.

And, oh yeah, remember the reason for the season.  Jesus!

Originally published in 2014.

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