Customer service and retail

A well-known rule of business is that it’s easier to sell to your existing customers than to find new ones. A satisfied customer is not only a good advert for your business, but they’re likely to buy from you again. An unhappy customer, on the other hand, is not just a customer you’ve lost—they can also do untold damage to your reputation.

No wonder, then, that a whole field has grown up devoted to keeping customers happy. In a small shop, customer service can be as simple—and important—as the person behind the counter giving a friendly greeting and helping shoppers to find what they’re looking for. Larger businesses and other organisations might employ a dedicated customer service team, whose job it is to answer questions, give advice and offer refunds on faulty products or services. They’re also the ones who have to sort out problems and deal with complaints.

Customer service often involves dealing with the public face-to-face, but as many companies now have clients all around the world, telephone call centres and computer help desks are becoming increasingly important.

As well as serving their existing customers, businesses need to find new ones and persuade them to buy things. This is where sales comes in—salespeople persuade customers to buy products or services, and the business they bring in keeps the customer services team busy.

Customer service is at the heart of most business activity, so the skills gained from the apprenticeships in this section will prove valuable across a range of industries and roles.

Despite huge growth in online retailing over recent years, there is still a demand for real staff working at physical sites. There are around 290,000 retail businesses in the UK with three million people working across departments as varied as HR, visual merchandising, operations, marketing, buying and IT. In each, there are a variety of job roles from first rung to the top floor and it doesn’t matter what level you start at—this is an industry with a wealth of opportunities to progress.

At a glance

  • The retail sector employs nearly three million people—around 10% of the working population
  • More than half of the retail workforce is based in sales and customer-service-related occupations
  • More managerial positions will become available in the coming years to meet challenges brought by technology and more sophisticated supply chain management

Industry figures from


  • Be a good communicator
  • Be friendly and polite
  • Have confidence
  • Have a good phone manner
  • Have a strong commercial sense
  • Be presentable
  • Be patient, understanding, and a good listener
  • Know how to solve problems and think on your feet
  • Have an excellent understanding of the organisation you work for

Useful contacts

The Building Futures Group—Representing the property, housing, cleaning, facilities management and parking sectors in the UK

Skills CFA—Issuing authority for business-related apprenticeships

People 1st—Skills and workforce development organisation for the hospitality, tourism, leisure, travel, passenger transport and retail industries

Customer service and retail apprenticeships

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