Say What? 15 Things Your Employees Should Never Say to Your Customer

Say What? 15 Things Your Employees Should Never Say to Your Customer


One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is “To be better you must be different.” Differentiation is a vital element of success in today’s retail world of commoditized products, look-a-like malls, and same-old-same-old customer service. Differentiation is important in your merchandising, in your product offerings, in your marketing materials, and most important, in how the staff engages your customer.

To differentiate your approach, take a look at these fifteen sentences your retail employees should avoid saying to their customers:

1. “How may I help you?” – It’s old, tired, and way overused. If you visit ten stores on a shopping trip you’re bound to hear it at least five times, which also means you were probably ignored three or four times. Kill it.

2. “Feel free to look around.” – Also old, tired, and way overused. It’s like you’re giving me permission to look around in your store.

3. “Let me know if you have any questions.” – Okay, maybe not as tired as the first two but definitely overused. If you use this one, think about changing it to “I’ll be happy to assist you at any time.”

4. “Let me know if you need any help.” – See #3.

5. “We’re out of stock but you can call us after our truck comes in.” – This virtually invites the customer to shop your competition because you clearly don’t care if that person makes a purchase from you or not. Always offer to call the customer.

6. “I don’t know when (insert another employee’s name) is going to be in.” – Either check the schedule or offer to take the customer’s name and phone number.

7. “I wouldn’t know.” – This is only acceptable if it is followed by, “But I’ll find out.”

8. “I can’t do that.” – Hopefully we say “yes” more often than “no,” but sometimes we do have to tell a customer we’re unable to fulfill a request. Instead of saying “I can’t” it will sound a little better if you say “I’m unable to.”

9. “Hold on please.” – If you need to put a customer on hold, ask if it’s okay and estimate how long she can expect to wait. “May I put you on hold for about thirty seconds while I find the answer?” Someone once asked me what happens if the customer says no. While I’ve never heard of that happening, I guess I wouldn’t tell the customer I’m putting them on hold but that I’m putting the phone down. As a side note, if you’re busy or whatever you’re going to do will take longer than a minute or two, consider calling the customer back. Time passes slowly when you’re on hold.

10. “Anything else?” or “Will that be it?” – Usually these are feeble attempts to add-on to a sale. The customer almost always replies “no” to the first or “yes” to the second. To enhance a customer’s purchase the employee should either suggest a product or at least not ask a close-ended question.

11. “No problem.” – Ahhhhhh! No problem is not a proper substitute for, “You’re welcome.” If you listen for it today I will guarantee you hear it at least once, quite possibly coming from your own mouth.

12. “Uh-uh.” or “Yea.” – These are not a proper substitute for “yes.”

13. “What’s up?” – At the very least this shouldn’t be said by or to anyone over the age of 30.

14. “How’s it going, guys?” – “Guys” could be the most misused word in society today. I do understand that it has become an informal term for people but my personal opinion is it if it is used with families or women over the age of 30 that it shows a lack of respect. (Disclaimer: I’ve arbitrarily picked 30 as a cut off point. I think it is something that you should determine according to your customer base, market segment, community, etc.)

15. Any personal conversation between employees. It has a negative impact on the customer experience and kills more sales than most retail employees know.

Doug Fleener is a veteran retailer with over 25 years of hands-on retail experience with world-class retailers including Bose Corporation and The Sharper Image. Contact him at