Retail Industry Harbors Customer Service Lessons

Stay positive, repeat messages, and answer the phone with a smile just like customer service experts do in the retail industry.


During my last semester of college, I worked at a large clothing retailer where I eventually ended up in customer service. I gained valuable hands-on experience about what it truly means to put the customer first and ensure people have an experience they’ll want to repeat.

I still practice many of those lesson in my professional life and think credit unions can benefit from some of the service tips that are so valued in the retail industry. Undoubtedly, every advertising and business development client, along with every member, is someone you need to make happy with your services.

Proper Phone Etiquette. Smile before you answer the phone. This small physical act tricks the brain into being in a slightly better frame of mind. Encourage your employees to smile before answering each call so members feel they are receiving caring service, whether they have a complaint or a compliment.

Proper phone etiquette also calls for a “warm transfer,” which is an often overlooked, gentle way to transfer calls. In a warm transfer, one party answers the telephone call, puts the caller on hold in order to reach the desired employee, and then connects both lines, while making a personal introduction. Logically, when you meet new people in person, there’s a certain level of introductions that occur. Why would this not hold true with your phone calls? Obviously this has to be factored into call volume, and the type of business being conducted. But if the regional-flagship location of a national clothing store that receives 20 phone calls per minute can exercise this at every possible chance, perhaps your credit union can attempt it when appropriate?

In-Person Interaction. Repeat what the member says back to them. It’s a simple communications technique. Repeating what the member says back to them doesn’t necessarily mean you agree or disagree with them — it means you’re listening. And listening is the first step in resolving conflicts gracefully.

Always stay positive, even when your answer is, “no.” My retail manager was skilled with her words, no matter if she was delivering bad or good news. As a principle, she always told the customer that if she had her way, she would help their situation. With a personal touch, their anger would usually subside.

Don’t fake it. Forcing your employees to engage in actions you hope are perceived as being friendly and customer-centered doesn't work. When I began training new retail employees, I made it clear they weren’t forced to be nice. I told them we had a culture of friendliness with a true desire to satisfy the customer. If you want to improve the customer service skills of your credit union, you have to foster that culture of friendliness from the ground up.

For more lessons from the retail industry, read:
Best Practices On Aisle Three
Retail Revival


Sept. 8, 2011


  • Enjoyed the article very much as it has very good reminders. I also agree with Sharon it should come from top-down but that would be in a perfect world. Top down, ground up, or somewhere in the middle all employees should be exercising the tips from this article.
  • There are such sound principles in this article. However, I would change the last sentence-the culture of friendliness has to be fostered from the top down. Good leadership is the key to fostering the culture of an organization.