Sometimes we need a sales associate’s attention, and sometimes we need to be left alone. For those in customer service, it can be tough to tell the difference, and getting it wrong can cost businesses sales and customers. As college stores seek to become campus destinations that offer memorable experiences, knowing how and when to approach a shopper is critical.Recently, I went to a discount store in search of an iPhone™ case and found the tech department a mess. When I tracked down an employee and asked him whether the store sold cases, he shrugged.
“Don’t know,” he said.
“Don’t you sell iPhones?” I asked, knowing they do. Again, he shrugged, clearly not making — or not caring to make — the connection: If you sell iPhones, you probably sell accessories. I went home and bought a case online.
Even if we expect mediocre service, apathetic or rude responses from sales associates can be enraging. I can’t say I’ll never go to that discount store again, but the experience reinforced my wish to visit it as little as possible.
It’s not surprising that poor customer service costs businesses a full $62 billion annually, according to a NewVoiceMedia survey. The consultancy also found young customers are more likely to take their business elsewhere after a bad experience than baby boomers.The No. 1 complaint? Rudeness and neglect.
To avoid such issues, some retail outlets train associates to offer assistance to every customer who comes in the door. That, too, can backfire. An overzealous sales associate can — as we all know — drive a shopper away.
There’s a problem with the question, “Can I help you?” Although I don’t have scientific evidence to back this up, I’d venture to say the answer to this question is “No thanks” about 95% of the time. Being asked if you need help the moment you walk in the door, for instance, is ridiculous. How do you know if you haven’t yet had a chance to become confused? Of course, you’ll say “I’m good.”
Because the question is overused, it also doesn’t sound authentic. Rather, “Can I help you?” often translates as “What can I sell you?” or, even more deadly, “What can I get from you?”
Meanwhile, an associate who stays too close while you’re browsing can leave you feeling pressured, or worse — creeped out.
Associates need a degree of social intelligence when it comes to approaching customers. The best sales reps rely on intuition and body language for cues about when a patron truly needs assistance. The worst hide in the backroom or gather in cliques and gossip.
The best avoid cliched questions like "How can I help you?" which put the burden on the customer to articulate a problem in a moment of difficulty. A little observation offers clues about customers' needs. Someone standing next to a computer in the tech department is probably contemplating the purchase of … a computer. You can ask a more specific question like, “What would you like to know about this model?” Or you can say something that adds to the customer’s knowledge like, “This one is super-fast.”
At MBS Systems/Wholesale, we think reaching out to customers with a genuine wish to serve — rather than sell — makes the best impression.
We’ve all had experiences with neglectful and over-zealous sales reps. We’d like to know your views on the subject.