six questions your employees must be able to answer

By Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor®

When we think of retail sales training, we rarely think of the most often asked questions of an employee. But the worst place to learn is in front of a customer, where an employee is shamed for not knowing.

Here are six common questions, the thought behind the customer’s question, how to correctly answer it and what to avoid.

1 If I buy this and don’t like it, what is your return policy?
What they’re really saying is, “Can I get my money back?”

So start with that. If you do it, say it first, then clarify if there are any restrictions. No one wants to hear bumbling on this point so make it something like, “You can get your money back within 30 days with receipt, seven days for all sale items.”


2 Do you match price?
What they’re really saying is, “Are your prices negotiable?”

If you do, be very clear how and when because they are looking for loopholes, particularly to get bricks-and-mortar to match online. You might say, “Yes, if it is the exact item with printed proof of price and their restrictions, not online offers.”

Whatever you say, make it airtight because these types of customers can be demanding. You might even have your policy printed and laminated so if a customer keeps trying to find a loophole, the employee can state, “Here is our full policy so all your questions can be answered.” You don’t, of course, want them to just hand it over and say, “Here, read this.”


3 May I speak to the owner?
What they’re really saying is, “Who’s here now that I can complain to or ask a favor of?”

Again, be clear about who is there then that can deal with them; don’t put them off. You might have the employee say something like, “Jane is the person in charge right now; I will get her. So I can brief her and save you time, may I ask what this is regarding?” No matter what they say, still get Jane. Otherwise the customers won’t feel they received the respect they wanted.


4 Can I get some help over here?
What they’re saying is, well, “I need help—now.”

Tell them what you truthfully can do about it—without excuses. So tell them, “As soon as I’m done ringing up this customer, I will be right over.”

If the employee can’t, be honest, and get the customer’s name. For example, “I’m sorry, but it will be a couple minutes. May I get your name? I’ll be over, [customer name], as soon as I’m finished.”

Why the customer’s name? So the employee and the customer make a connection in a quick way. It’s much harder to be demanding if you as a customer are being treated in a personal manner.

What don’t customers want to hear in response to this question? “I’ll get someone,” or “Hang on,” or “I’ll be over when I can,” or “We’re shorthanded due to someone calling in sick.”


5 When’s your next sale?
What they’re really saying is, “I don’t think I can afford you and don’t want to pay more for items that might be on sale next week.”

Tell them something specific, such as, “We have a twice-yearly sale for customers on our special list; you can sign up for notifications in June and January.” Then hand them a pen and a sign-up form.

If you have a rotating sale each week, be specific, “We have about 20 items on sale each week. We post those on Facebook the day they go on sale.”

What they don’t want to hear is, “You just have to catch us.”


6 Are you hiring?
You should always be hiring. What they want to hear is the process, not simply “yes” or “no.” Remember, these could be potential customers someday, so the way you treat them now should align with the way you treat your customers.

Train employees to say something like, “Yes, you can fill out an application here with your availability schedule on the top. Our manager reviews them each week. He [or she] will send you an email to acknowledge receipt, and if he wants to interview you, he will call you.”

What applicants really want to know is that their applications will be reviewed, so the step of emailing them cuts down on applicants calling to “check up” on an application.

These are by no means the only questions your employees must be able to answer, but they are ones that, when emloyees are well trained, will save customers time and treat them properly and consistently.

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor®, has helped thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in every major industry, including hospitality, manufacturing, service, restaurant and retail. He is a nationally recognized expert on business strategy, customer service, sales and marketing.

With more than 30 years experience, beginning in the trenches of retail and extending to senior management positions, he has been a corporate officer, franchisor and entrepreneur. A frequent guest on MSNBC and Fox, Mr. Phibbs and his work have been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In addition, he provides business makeovers for the Los Angeles Times. His latest book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business, is available in bookstores or online at

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