How to survive in retail
Ah, retail customer service. The most dreaded possible sector to work for. If the American economy was the Armed Forces, the customer service representative would be the regular infantryman, the first sent out into enemy gunfire. No one wants to be “in the trenches”. Unfortunately, our country has shifted over to a service sector economy, so even moving up in the ranks still puts you in front of the customers. Working with and dealing with the general public is now a fact of life for all of us, and knowing how to survive an encounter with the dreaded angry customer is the key to success. Here are a few survival tips to help you make it through.
Aim for that sales goal
Chances are that despite being having the lowest job title and having to service a huge line of customers who want nothing more than to get in and out, you have a sales goal to meet. Why do they need you to make sales when they can just hire actual salespeople who aren't already swamped with the basic operations of the business? They're just doing it do dump more work on you! I'm sure those are all things that have gone through your head, and you aren't going to waste your time selling products to people who think a 30 second wait on line is 60 seconds too long, right!?
Wrong. I'm not going to go into any sort of debate over whether people behind a cash register or teller window should be selling products, nor am I going to go into an “it's your job to sell” speech. But meeting and exceeding that sales goal can have great value for you. Raises, bonuses, and commissions might make dealing with the nasty people worth it in the end. And if you are the top salesperson in your store, you might start getting noticed by the higher ups. Getting noticed means you may have your foot in the door when they are looking to promote. Wouldn't you like to get promoted to a higher paying position that takes you off the front lines? Then give your employer a reason to!
Even if your company is terrible, doesn't promote its staff, and gives miniscule increases in pay to the ones that do get promoted, being a top salesperson in your store is something you can put on your resume. Use that as a weapon and search for better jobs elsewhere. Prospective employers love to see things like that, and are more willing to hire you and pay you more if they see that you can generate a lot of business for them.
Regardless of whether being good at those sales gets you a promotion or makes your resume look better, better performance can be your ticket away out from having to deal with the long lines and nasty people. It doesn't matter if your current job is low paying and your boss never told you during the job interview that you would have to sell extra products while ringing up the angry customers' items. Always be selling. Always be closing. It can't hurt you. Being a mope only willing to do the bare minimum, on the other hand, can.
Keep a positive attitude
Well isn't that a rather generic and useless piece of advice. Keep a positive attitude? In this environment? You're getting paid minimum wage to deal with idiots who mess up your counter, don't know their account or credit card numbers, and can only be bothered to stop talking on their cell phone to yell at you over the fact that you won't accept their expired coupon for 50¢ off pickled tuna. How can anyone possibly keep a positive attitude!?
As difficult as it might sound, it's really not for the most part. Perhaps it's something that comes with maturity, or with different personality types. Regardless, no matter what line of retail work you do, you will deal with nasty and stupid customers. That comes with the territory. What also comes with that territory is that generally, they are people who are unimportant in your life and are in and out of your store in only a few minutes. Being anxious or moody over the possibility of getting one of these customers, or dwelling on a previous encounter with them, only hurts you. Why make your job worse than it already is? If that person was important, you'd be having tea and cake at each other's houses.
Instead, let your normal personality shine through. Do you like sports? Talk sports with your customers. Are you a humorous person? Show it! Mind you, keep it professional and don't get distracted from your work, but there is no law that states that you have to turn your personality off when you clock in.
In fact, if you have an upbeat and positive attitude, customers will start to take notice. You'll start remembering them by name, and you'll enjoy having conversations together. An experience with a great customer can brighten up your day just as quick as a bad customer can ruin it. The difference is that it's up to you to create those great customers. Plus, have you ever been yelled at by a nasty customer, and suddenly a line full of your regulars stands up for you? Or at least they show you support when it's their turn to be serviced? It's a truly rewarding experience, believe me. But it all depends on your attitude, and a positive one will attract more good customers than bad ones as well help you deal with the bad ones when you do get them.
Stand up for yourself..........politely
Oh yeah! Now this is what you've been waiting to hear! Stand up for yourself! Don't let the customer be nasty. Make sure they know who's boss. They get nasty, you get nastier! Hey, who said you had to stand there and take it? Treat them how they treat you! Leave them crying in fear of your customer service wrath!
Slow down there, champ. That's not how one works in retail without getting fired. Now I've never subscribed to the whole “Ignore the fact that they are verbally abusing you, listen to them with absolute concern for their best interests, and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience” shtick. In my opinion, it's not right and it promotes bullying (just because it's not in the schoolyard doesn't mean it's not bullying). While customers have the right to complain about bad service, they have no right to use verbal abuse and personal attacks. Regardless of your pay, you shouldn't be forced by your company to be defenseless against these people as it is sure to be damaging to your self-esteem and emotional well-being.
But that doesn't mean you match the abusive customer tit-for-tat. No matter what they do, you never get into a verbal sparring match with the customer. Keeping your cool, explain to the customer that they will have to calm down and watch their language (if they used swear words). Tell them, politely but firmly, that they are in a place of business—yes, even a greasy fast food joint is still a place of business—and while you will be more than happy to help solve their problem, you will not be able to do so if they continue to launch verbal attacks and personal insults against you. Remember to never raise your voice, never curse at the customer, and never insult the customer. Always be polite and professional, reaffirm the fact that you would be happy to assist them (and if you believe your company was in error, feel free to apologize to the customer), but still make sure that they understand that while in your place of business that they are expected to treat it as such and show respect to those around them or else you will be unable to assist them. If you truly feel that you are unable to continue with this person without raising your voice and arguing with them, then walk away, take a breath and calm down, and have a supervisor deal with the customer.
Some may disagree with all this. They may say that you should never defend yourself. Even if they don't trot out the infamous mantra of “The Customer is Always Right”, they will say that it's never okay to deny service to a customer, or that the person may just have personal issues and his issues with your company is just the straw that broke the camel's back, etc. If you just emphasize with the customer, you will win them right over! I don't know, I'm still waiting for that last one. But regardless, this shouldn't be the case. As I said before, no matter how angry they are or what issues they have elsewhere, the customer never has a right to treat an employee or anyone else in such a matter. And if your company would penalize or fire you for defending yourself in the manner that I described, then you should consider finding a job with a new company. I feel very passionately about this; if a company would penalize its workers for properly defending themselves against an abusive customer (not to be confused with going at it with someone who wishes to have bad service rectified), then it's a company that you shouldn't work for. A good company stands by its employees.
Get the manager
What if a nasty customer isn't swayed by your polite request to calm down? Or if you are new or shy or for whatever reason don't want to assert yourself in that manner? Or even if it's not a verbally abusive basket case, what if you have a customer whose request is simply unreasonable or outside the company's policy, but the customer won't let up?
The answer is simple: Get your manager. The manager may have the ability to authorize something that lies outside the policies of your store, and he or she will have the authority to do what it takes to assist the customer when you don't. Having the manager as backup helps greatly against the unruly types, as he/she will have the power to kick the customer out, ban the customer, or close out the customer's accounts if said customer crosses the line (chances are, you don't have that authority). If the customer still wants to fight, let him fight with the manager. Simply put, the manager has more authority to help the customer than you do, has the power to remove customers that have crossed the line, and likely has more protection from customer complaints than you do. This, of course, doesn't mean that you don't do what you can to help the customer. But this is if assisting the customer lies outside your ability to do so, or if the customer has become so riled up that engaging further will only lead to trouble.
As mentioned before, never get into an argument with a customer. And unless the request is complete unreasonable and ridiculous (and many customers do believe they are entitled to the sun and the moon), don't simply refuse to help them outright. Consult your manager. If you still can't help, at least the customer will see that it's because of company policy and not simply because you don't feel like working.
Retail sucks, I get it. No one wants to deal with the general public. But our service based economy is here to stay, and successfully navigating it is mandatory if you want to succeed in your career. And like anything else in life, a job in retail is all about what you make of it. Going in with a bad attitude and getting into fights with customers hurts only one person, and that is you. But if you have a positive can-do attitude and go above and beyond, you'll find yourself making more money, getting better offers for better positions, and just generally enjoying what you do.
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