Sales and Customer Service



One of the most common complaints about today's service economy is the perceived lack of service: we now pump our own gas, bus our trays at fast-food restaurants, and often can't find a helpful clerk at retail establishments. Nevertheless, consumers of all types are increasingly insisting on improved service, and organizations that can best provide it have a definite market advantage. In retail sales, Nordstroms is (or perhaps by the time you are reading this was) the best-known example.

Over the past few years, a number of books have been written about sales, customer service, the relationship between the two, and the companies that best exemplify that relationship. What I intend to do here is emphasize the things that students can do to increase their value to current and future employers.

Some aspects of customer service are clearly the responsibility of management. Often, employees who would like to provide good customer service can't because there are too few employees to provide customers with the personal attention required to ensure satisfaction. In other cases, employers fail to train employees in the fundamentals of providing good service.

Nevertheless, if you are working in--or plan to work in--a service industry, you can improve your own chances of success by practicing a few common courtesies and practicing a little common sense. The following suggestions will help you satisfy the customers you encounter on your way to even greater success:

Common Courtesies

One of the most common complaints in the new service economy is that people are no longer taught courtesies that were once taken for granted. Cashiers, for example, rarely say "Thank you" following a sale. Retail clerks have all too often become order-takers rather than sales personnel and customer-service representatives for their organizations. They don't know what to say to facilitate a sale; they don't know how to dress and present themselves effectively; and they don't know how to encourage customers to return.


There You Go

Our culture has become more casual about many things. In some ways, this is good. We now have more options in dress, behavior, and relationships than we have had in the past. We can wear casual clothes in restaurants that previously would have required patrons to "dress up" to receive service.

The general lack of formality, however, has also resulted in a general absence of rules governing interpersonal exchanges of all types. Please and thank you are rarely heard these days in situations where previously expected. Sales clerks and others in customer-service positions chew gum while attending to customers. Those providing service use their customers' first names far too readily and far too often.


Obnoxious Behaviors: Smoking and Chewing Gum

Appropriate Dress

Making Change

May I Help You?

That's Not What You Want




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