Palmer Retail Solutions Blog

Retail Counter Etiquette: How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Posted by Kathy Heil on Oct 27, 2016 1:48:17 PM

Retail Counter EtiquetteArrrrgh! All businesses have to deal with difficult customers from time to time, but in retail, this situation is so common that sales associates should receive special training in dealing with difficult people. Ideally, you want every customer to leave your retail counter happy. But how? Here are some tips on counter etiquette to help deal with difficult customers.

They can be difficult in any number of ways. You’ve probably encountered the shopper who just couldn’t make up her mind, no matter how you tried to help. Or the one who wouldn’t stop chatting, backing up the line at your retail counter. Some shoppers are twitching with impatience. Or they’re demanding, insisting on favors or special treatment.

It’s not about you

You’re a business person, and your retail counter is a business setting. Don’t take negative comments personally, even if an angry customer tries to make it personal. You cannot control other people’s behavior so focus on the issue, not the emotion or irritating mannerisms. Your goal is to understand the problem, so you can find a solution as quickly as possible.


The one thing unhappy customers want most is to be heard. Let them tell their story, even if they’re ranting. Pay attention, and don’t fidget. Take notes, if needed. Let them know you care, saying something like, “I’m so sorry that happened.” A simple apology can defuse many touchy situations.

If you’re at the retail counter and you fear this might be a lengthy process, say, “Excuse me just a moment while I get someone else to man the counter so we can talk uninterrupted.”  

Watch your (body) language

Maintain an attentive posture – eye contact, a nod now and then to show you’re listening. No crossed arms, which can send a combative message. Don’t allow yourself to match their tone, if they’re rude or loud.

NEVER tell someone it’s not your job to handle their problem. And NEVER point the finger of blame in any direction. Ask, “what can I do to help?” What matters is moving forward, quickly and positively. Don’t say, “I don’t know.” Say, “let me find out.”

Ask what they want you to do

Yes, it’s up to you to resolve the problem if at all possible. But start by asking what the customer would prefer – a refund? A replacement product? A discount on a future purchase?

Assume you have an audience

Even if you don’t, this will help you remain calm.

Staff training – including practice dealing with difficult customers – is essential. Associates need to know how to respond when an uncomfortable situation arises. And they need to know which store policies are rock-solid and which might be “gently ignored” if a small fix will please a dissatisfied customer. Associates with information and authority are much better equipped to handle problems smoothly.

However, on rare occasions where the customer is abusive or intimidating, it’s up to you as manager to step in and take over. But remember to do it in a way that shows you’re supporting your employee (because you are), not “replacing” them.

Download the Retail Psychology eBook

Topics: Customer Experience, Employees

Leave a Comment