• Frank Epton

Use the force for good

Updated: Apr 7

Experienced retail staff know how to influence customers. Sometimes for the good of both customers and product, but not always.

She approached with confidence and a bright smile. An assertive nod and palms open as if to stop me from speaking;

“Hey, you all good here?” …It sounded like a question but it was pushed into my head like an answer.

Instinctively I followed her lead and bobbed my head along in agreement as she backed away.  Without saying a word I had bent to her will. I had agreed that I preferred to wander the store blindly. Unfortunately it wasn’t true. I’m a guy and I need a lot of help in a store. First of all I’m on a mission. It’s always a mission. Get in. Get out. Secondly, left to my own devices I may wear socks with my sandals and suspenders with shorts. — I need to be stopped. Third, I’ll never ask for directions or help. Not because I don’t need it but because I’m afraid to ask. Afraid to admit that I don't know what I'm doing, even if it's obvious.


So what happened? Why had she employed the Jedi mind trick on me.

“These are not the items you are looking for.” she said. “You could go about your business.” I replied. “I'll move along.” 

Moments later I realized I was wrong but it was too late. She was gone.

She was a smart and seasoned staff member. She knew she had to leave every customer with the impression that she was helpful but she also had a list of things to complete before her shift was done. So there it was. The dark force or tasking. The true enemy of sales.


Now, I understand that stuff gotta get done! Tidy that wall. Sku check. Hang items. Replenish items. It’s part of the job. The mindless easy part of the job actually. 

Talking to customers, inventing ways to engage with them takes effort and practice. Learning the ‘why’ of your customer takes a lot of interaction and it’s not for everyone. Those who practice the skill get faster and more efficient. Those who master the skill will ultimately out perform and excel in any environment


Connect with as many people as possible

The fix: Lets identify the issue. Tasking while customers are in store is not the issue. Ignoring or more to the point dismissing customers to complete a task is. Fortunately the fix is pretty easy; talk to your staff. These are experienced employees that have gained a degree of mastery in their job so coaching will be closer to a peer to peer conversation. Ask them to use 'open ended' questions to greet customers. An open ended question is one that can not be answered with a yes or a no. They help you gather information, qualify sales opportunities, and establish rapport, trust, and credibility. You can help your staff, both experienced and novice by brainstorming several in advance that they can alternate through.


Open ended question examples:

  • Are you looking for (shoes) or (socks) today?

  • What features are most important to you?

  • Are you looking more for savings or durability?

  • Are you just starting out (with this product/service)? ie. skiing, running, computers or your first fridge.

  • Have you used one of these (items) before?

  • What is your level of use for this product e.g. are you planning on running 10k, half or full marathon? Will you be standing at a bus stop or skiing in this jacket?

  • What alternatives have you looked at? — This is a great one. Customers will tell you where they are in their buying decision and who your competition is.

Here is a list of many more open ended questions

Quick trick:

Ask a staff member to complete a theoretical task. An impossible task of finding a solid red marble in a giant box filled with marbles.


Palm outstretched and with a small nod, push the answer at them in the same manner they have been referring to customers.


“You can find this marble on your own right?”


When they agree ask if they would find it easier if you divided the jar in half removing all marbles with more than one colour. Naturally they will agree. Then ask them again if it would help to reduce the marbles one more time so that only ten marbles remained. — the answer is obvious.


Now explain that the solid red marble represents the intangible item customers are looking for. The box represents your store and all the other marbles; the multitude of products within the store. Customer can muddle through on their own but it's not easy. More to the point it's their job to help customers by asking open ended questions and shrinking the wall, reducing the options, until they have a manageable selection of products.



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©2018 by Frank Epton.