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Retail customer service: The experience matters

What does it take to create excellent CX in retail? Read on for best practices and tips.

What is retail customer service?

Laatst gewijzigd April 4, 2024

Retail customer service is the support given to shoppers. Traditionally, retail support is thought of as an in-person experience–a shop assistant talking with a customer browsing racks of merchandise, or an agent speaking with a customer by phone. These are still vital channels for customer service in the retail industry. In today’s digital world, retail customer service has expanded to social media, messaging platforms, and even chatbots. It’s now a competitive differentiator among retailers–the business that provides the best support gets the advantage.

A different approach to retail customer support

Retail customer service has always been important. Successful brands like Nordstrom and Costco have an almost mythical reputation for doing whatever it takes to provide their customers with excellent service. But that high level of service tended to be an outlier; for many companies, customer service was an afterthought. However, the growth of online stores and the saturation of the retail space has created a scenario where dissatisfied customers can easily abandon retailers, even ones they’ve been customers of for years, and move on to a competitor.

The result: customer experience, particularly in the digital world, is now a competitive differentiator among retailers, and the retailer who provides the best retail customer experience will win.

Retail industry by the numbers

38%+ increase in retail customer engagement

60% of consumers say they now have higher customer service standards

90% of customers will go out of their way to shop with businesses that provide personalized service

The pandemic may have slowed in-store shopping for a time, but it didn’t stop people from shopping online. According to our latest Customer Experience Trends Report, retailers saw a skyrocketing increase in customer engagement – up 38%, more than any other surveyed industry.

Meanwhile, customer expectations are still sky high. Consumers want quick, easy, and effective service, and they’re willing to look elsewhere if they don’t get it. In fact, more than 60 percent report that they now have higher customer service standards after the past year’s crisis. And what’s more, 90 percent of customers will go out of their way to buy from businesses that offer personalized service.

3 best practices for retail customer service

The importance of retail customer service skills cannot be understated. However, it’s not always easy for retailers to provide the level of service they’d like. The changing landscape of consumer expectations and evolving technology make it difficult to stay relevant. Here are some retail customer service tips:

  1. Listen first. Like with sales or marketing, it doesn’t matter if it’s a face to face interaction in a store, a conversation on the phone, or a live chat, nobody likes impersonal customer service. Listen to what the customer wants, not what you think they want, and help them accordingly.
  2. Give customers what they’re looking for up front. Many customers will prefer to help themselves before asking for it. Clearly display things on retail websites like return policies, shipping costs, payment options, bricks-and-mortar locations, sale details, and more.
  3. Don’t just exist in every channel; optimize too. It’s not enough to offer a mobile version of your online store or build a lightweight app. True conversational customer service means keeping the entire conversation connected across channels, with key customer context that flows through effortlessly. Maybe people like to browse on mobile, shop on desktop, ask for help on chat, complain on Twitter, and share pictures of what they just bought on Instagram. Track this behavior and build better experiences for them.

The Zendesk Retail Approach

Retail customer service can be difficult, but Zendesk can help make it easier. In addition to properly training customer service agents, using Zendesk enables retailers to stand out in a busy crowd. With Zendesk, retailers can:

  • Create more personalized experiences. Complete customer profiles help you better understand every customer. You can bring together data from across the business–including marketing offers, past purchases and returns, ticket history, and communication channel preferences. Since all interactions and customer data is under a single pane of glass for your agents, they have access to the full view of your customers. And that helps them give 1:1 support.
  • Fine-tune your CX operations.
    With Zendesk, you can quickly identify problem areas and fix them right away. You can monitor team performance with customer service reporting dashboards to find areas for improvement. And, you can learn how customers interact with you so you can optimize the entire experience across your business.
  • Deliver better service, faster.
    We know customers don’t always want to talk to an agent – sometimes, they just want to find answers themselves. Keep them happy with help center software that makes finding answers quick and easy. You can also use Answer Bot to answer commonly asked questions—and free up your agents for questions that need more personal attention.

Join these leading retailers providing great customer service


“The visibility that the Zendesk reporting solution brings has helped us improve our support operations tremendously—we're now able to surface problem areas from our tickets, quickly fix routing rules, and identify training opportunities for our team.”

Colin Wilkinson

Senior Manager, Agent Enablement, Member Services at Etsy


“I’ve been really happy with how receptive Zendesk is to our feedback. It’s lovely to be able to have open conversations about our experience and to discuss the way forward. Zendesk is a great business partner because I always have a great sense of what’s coming down the pipeline.”

- Katie Rogers

Senior Director of Customer Experience at Harry's


“Zendesk has been really efficient for us day-to-day, for reporting to different teams and up to management, whether it’s about customer issues, employee KPIs—everything lives in one place.”

- Leanna Nazzisi

Customer Operations Coordinator at Birchbox

The right time

The retail space continues to grow, and there’s no reason to expect that this will change anytime soon. Any company that wants to be successful, to earn customer loyalty and build customer experiences that beat out the competition should invest in retail customer service.

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