Customer service skills remain a challenge for retail

A lack of customer service skills amongst staff is a major issue for the UK’s retail employers, according to the latest research insight report from People 1st.

The report from the skills and workforce development charity reveals that, despite the fact that customer interaction is central to all retail operations, over half of employers (59 per cent) feel that their staff lack customer handling skills.

Combined with the other skill shortages facing the industry, applicants’ poor customer service skills have led to 72 per cent of vacancies within the industry being considered ‘hard to fill’.

As a result, British employers have been placing more emphasis on developing existing staff, even though 18 per cent of retail employers do not believe that their existing staff have the skills to meet their business needs.

The research also found that while 63 per cent of retail employers invested in customer service training for their staff in the past 12 months, 39 per cent of them believe that staff performance did not improve after training.

“Employers need to be looking at whether the training they’re offering is relevant and that there is support for it at all levels, but it can’t stop there,” explains Martin-Christian Kent, executive director at People 1st. “They need to ensure that employees are empowered to make changes in their roles to ensure that customer service needs are addressed.”

Kent also comments that technology is also having a big impact on customer service for a lot of businesses, with the wide use of social media making sure that employers’ attention is drawn to customer service failings.

“Almost everyone in retail has probably seen at least one case of someone either complimenting or – more commonly – complaining about customer service on social media like Facebook or Twitter by now.

“Some businesses are highly attuned to this and are now embedding both social media and online shopping tools as a natural extension of their customer service offering, which is hugely encouraging.”

The full report can be downloaded from