3 Psychological Triggers to Prevent in Retail Customer Service 

March 3, 2020
3 Psychological Triggers to Prevent in Retail Customer Service | Upset girl holding shopping bags

Do our customers have hot buttons? Types of interactions that immediately trigger a negative emotional reaction? 

When I ask these questions in our customer service trainings, the answer is always YES. However, we often tend to thing of these triggers as individual. But this is only one type of trigger.

Each person has their own triggers that set them off, and one of the most important things we can do in customer experience is learn about our customers, what their preferences are, what drives them, and make sure we deliver experiences that avoid their personal triggers. 

Yet, the reality is that in so many industries and in newer customer relationships we will never know our customers that well. So, back in 2012, I asked the question: are there common triggers?

Things that tend to set customers off across a wide variety of industries and interactions.

Eventually, I identified what would become the 7 Service Triggers

Just listen to the names of the Triggers, and I bet you’ll  relate to a few right off the bat:

  1. Being ignored
  2. Being abandoned
  3. Being hassled
  4. Being faced with incompetence
  5. Being shuffled
  6. Being powerless
  7. Being disrespected 

Now, we later followed up this idea with research and publication in Be Your Customer’s Hero.

So how do we use the 7 Service Triggers?  The 7 Service Triggers are built upon the idea that our customers do not come to us as a blank slate. Even if they are new to our business, they’ve had experiences with companies like ours before. 

And no where is that more true in retail, where every customer has experience, baggage from bad experiences, and expectations. 

When looking at which of the triggers are common in retail, three stand out as not only prominent, but preventable by leadership. 

So, today, let’s take a look at the three psychological triggers — the service triggers — that we want to prevent in retail customer service. 

#1: Make Sure Customers Don’t Feel Ignored

Service Trigger #1 is being Ignored. There are few more frustrating things for retail customers than walking in a store and not being greeted, approached, or at the very minimum, being given eye contact.

Now — as we know — many shoppers today don’t want interaction. They don’t want help. They want to use automation and technology and self-service to process their transactions.

However, that does not mean that they don’t want to be greeted or acknowledged or treated like a human. It does not mean that they should be ignored.

Despite increasing preferences for self service, retail customers still want to be treated like humans and never want to be ignored.

Also, this is one of those areas where the data and the reality of human behavior tend to diverge a bit. Those customers who don’t want interaction, feel that way right up until the moment they don’t. And then they are super quick to feel ignored.

What happens with some retail reps is they have a few experiences where a customer might have been short with them when they greeted them, “I’ll call you if I need your help” — kind of thing.

But like anything in customer service, these exceptions to the rule should not change our standard practice. Even customers who don’t want interaction are okay with a friendly greeting or a check-in. 

For leaders, you simply want to institute service standards — rules if you want to use that word — about acknowledging customers.

Is everyone greeted when they walk in the door?

Are your teams trained to read body language and to understand when a customer may feel lost or need help?

Depending on the retail establishment, you can use the 10-5 rule, meaning somebody is acknowledged if they’re within 10 feet or and greeted within 5 feet. Do team members know how to approach customers who are browsing and offer their help without being intrusive? 

The key to making sure customers don’t feel ignored is simply to be aware of the customer and be proactive in making them feel paid attention to. 

#2: Customers can feel abandoned even if they weren’t ignored.

Service Trigger #2 is Being Abandoned. One of the bigger challenges in retail is making sure the customer doesn’t feel abandoned.

Greetings can often be systematized. The customer is funneling in through a couple of different entrances, it’s often easy to see when they enter and to make sure someone greets them, but once the customer’s out in the store, behind shelves in corners, out of view, the customer can feel abandoned — especially if they can’t find a team member to help them.

The customer can feel abandoned when they look around a store — obviously looking for help — and retail reps don’t break away from their conversations with each other or when they purposely don’t make eye contact. 

Just as in being ignored, awareness is key.

To make sure retail customers don’t feel abandoned, awareness is key!

However, from a training perspective, more focus is  needed on making sure customers are followed up with and on making sure that retail reps understand that when a customer is looking for help, whatever they’re doing at the time, is almost always less important.

Even when they can’t break away — say they’re helping another customer or doing something safety-related — they can still take a brief moment to acknowledge the customer and let them know that they will be right with them. 

Training is essential here because so many retail reps fear getting caught up with the customer they’re acknowledging so much that choose not to acknowledge them.

This is because they don’t have the verbal skills or the body language to know how to do it without getting caught in conversation. 

#3: The Hassle-Free Experience

Service Trigger #3 is Being Hassled. Here’s the reality of most retail today: you’re competing with digital.

If you’re in retail today, you’re competing with digital. Create experiences that digital can’t replicate.

Hassle is still one of the most pernicious and problematic service triggers in retail because hassle is exactly what the customer often eliminates when they choose an online competitor.

Now, we talk a lot about how retail, today, has to be an experience. It can’t just be about the best price, at least for most business models. Retail has to create unique, real-world experiences that digital can’t replicate.

But before that happens, retail businesses first have to make sure that they’re not hassling customers, that customers aren’t having to go through unwanted hoops. 

What types of hassle do you find in retail? 

I can’t do that. 

I need a supervisor. 

I’ll have to call the warehouse. 

We’re out of stock. 

I can have it shipped over from the store on the other side of town. It’ll be here in three days and you can pick it up. 

Retail organizations need to understand that their journey must be as hassle-free as humanly possible. Only once they have prevented this negative side of the customer journey will they truly be able to create memorable, impactful experiences that are unavailable or impossible in the digital realm. 

How do you do this?

Make sure staffing is adequate. Review policies and procedures. Try to figure out how to minimize the friction at every step in the customer’s journey. 

Figure out how to minimize friction at every step in the customer’s journey.

The retail landscape continues to shift.

However, what we are learning during this time of transformation is that the human desire to connect in person, to be social, is still very strong. Retail still has a powerful opportunity to create experiences that are not replicable in the digital realm.

Essential to that success, however, are the fundamentals of retail experience, a trained staff that does not ignore or abandon customers, and policies, resource allocation, and design that results in hassle-free experiences.

By preventing these three psychological triggers — these three service triggers —  retail establishments can pave the path for emotionally resonant, positive interactions and more loyal customers. 



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