Engaging with customers

It isn’t always easy to engage a prospective customer in conversation but that is what we need to do if we are to identify their needs and offer a solution.

Years ago retail staff used the greeting, ‘Can I help you?’ A really bad question because there are only two answers and most people use the negative one. Once we’ve replied, ‘No thanks I’m just looking’ the assistant is left with no real way of taking the conversation further. So retailers learned that ‘Can I help you?’ was a bad question and substituted, ‘Are you OK there?’ Even worse! It’s worse because it implies that I might look troubled and does nothing to convince me that the assistant could or would help.

This week, visiting Westfield in West London we discovered a new greeting, ‘Are you looking for anything in particular today?’ Oh dear, don’t retailers ever learn? What struck me and my students was that all of the assistants had a real desire to help but they go about offering that help in the wrong way. Ask a closed question and the chances are your prospect will give you the brush off leaving you stranded in no-man’s land.

Question mark

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Before we can begin to sell we need to establish a relationship with our prospect. ‘Good morning, how are you?’ is welcoming and shows interest. If the customer is a familiar face we need to make that greeting more personal, a name is helpful but anything which shows the customer they have been remembered will be appreciated.

It’s really important that we develop our own personal style. When I reviewed our Westfield visit with my retail management students we had all been greeted with, ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ It didn’t matter which shop we were in or which assistant spoke to us. That makes it all too easy for us to give the assistant the brush off without even engaging in eye contact.

Finding a personal style that is both genuine and engaging takes effort. We Brits have a reputation for talking about the weather so that could be one approach. The French are known for their concern with their health so ‘How are you?’ might work. A compliment about something our target is wearing is a possibility. Seeking an opinion from a prospect will often lead to a conversation, e.g. ‘this is a new line, what do you think?’ If all else fails then at least use open questions, ‘How can I help you?’ ‘What brings you here today?’

Do you have any tried and trusted ways to get your customers in conversation? Why not share your ideas by commenting on this article?

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2 thoughts on “Engaging with customers

  1. Thanks Andrea. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some targeted questions like, ‘What is your skin type?’ ‘How far have you got with your Christmas shopping?’ ‘Who on your list is difficult to buy for?’ Good luck with the events this week and in the run up to Christmas.

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