Sell More by Seeing Your Store Through Customers’ Eyes

friendly retail clerkHow often have you entered a store. . . 

  • And observed two clerks continue to chat instead of turning to smile at you? 
  • To find that the order you called in the day before is not at the counter, ready for your quick pick-up and payment, because the clerk said she “got busy with other customers?” 
  • And asked the clerk a question about a product and get an “I don’t know” response, with no offer to find out? 

These situations describe Americans’ top three in-store pet peeves according to a multi-client Gallup Poll taken in January. 

In a stressful economic time, coddle customers to keep them.  In fact, give them bragging rights about “my store” so they come back and tell others. 

Next to value-priced quality products, a motivated staff is the most cost-effective way to stand out from the competition while avoiding costly price wars. So many no-cost and low-cost staff behaviors can make all the difference in how a customer feels about your store.  The devil is in the specifics because even the most well-intentioned staffer may unwittingly slight someone. 

As customer service expert, Holly Stuhl is fond of saying, “You never get bitten by an elephant.  It’s the mosquitoes that eat you alive.” 

Just as a cultural group has commonly recognized rules of etiquette, your store staff can agree on the specific behaviors that constitute “good store manners” – with each other and with customers. 

If everyone in your store agrees to propose and abide by specific  “Rules of Conduct,” (ROC) then each staffer knows what is expected and can feel it is appropriate to speak up when a co-worker, including the owner or manager, is not abiding by them or is demonstrating outstanding customer service, according to their “ROC.” 

For a brainstorming session with your staff to agree on your outlet’s “Rules of Conduct” here’s some suggestions to jumpstart the discussion:  

1. “Welcoming Smile”   

Smile at each customer immediately as she enters the door. Their instinct will be to smile back. Safeway asked their clerks to smile at customers and some staff accused the company of trying to “enforce friendliness.”  Some women on staff even said that smiling encouraged some male customers to flirt with them. 

Hopefully your staff feels comfortable in their ability to smile as a gracious gesture of welcome.  

2.  “Agree on Your Greeting”

Rather than leave greeting to chance, consider various phrases you think are fitting for your kind of store and market area.  Compare notes on what feels comfortable to say to demonstrate that you are willing to help if they need it. 

There is a fine line between greeting and overwhelming customers. Avoid opening phrases that don’t recognize their purpose in visiting the store, such commenting on the weather. 

3. “Sunshine Over the Phone” 

The four most frequent complaints Americans have about talking clerks with whom they speak by phone are that they: 

  • Speak too fast
  • Do not enunciate clearly
  • Do not sound like they care
  • Do not propose ways to solve a problem but simply answer the questions they are asked.  

Agree on the exact greeting and tone of voice for answering your store phone.  Some people on staff may resist spending time on a seemingly obvious and small detail, but, like the first face customers see upon entering a store, the “faceless” voice over the phone is the “stain” or “sparkle” of first impression. 

For example, you may simply agree to say warmly and clearly, without speed talking,(“name of store”) (your name) speaking.  How may I help you?”  Ask each staff person to practice saying your agreed upon phone greetings and give candid feedback to each other about clarity, warm, loudness, tone and rate. 

In a chain of Italian clothing stores, clerks are asked to listen to audiotapes of melodic, rich male and female voices, saying the greetings that the store owner believes most represents the signature style of the store.   

Practice with each other until you are proud of what you hear. 

4. “No Matter What” 

No matter what else you are doing, from re-stocking a shelf to talking with another customer, pause to smile at the new customer entering the store to acknowledge their presence.  It only takes a moment. 

If you are with a customer when a new customer enters the store, still take a moment to smile and greet that new customer, perhaps saying “Hello.  I’d be glad to help you right after we’re done here.” 

Research shows that people are more willing to wait for service if they feel that the moment they can see the clerk, the clerk makes direct eye contact and acknowledges their presence by a smile, nod and some greeting. 

5. “Serve the Line” 

Serve people in the order that they have asked for service.  If one customer interrupts you while you are serving another customer, be especially warm as you turn to the “interrupter” and say something like, “I look forward to helping you right after I’m finished assisting this customer.  Thank you.” 

6. “Advance Orders”

Actively encourage your customers to place advance orders by phone, fax or e-mail, indicating what is adequate time for you to prepare the order in advance of their coming in.

Even if people walk into the store as you are preparing that order, greet the newcomers and explain that you are completing a prior order.

Tell them how long it will take and ask for their patience, because you will be with them next.

7. “Their Go-to Expert on That Situation”

Become your customers’ top-of-mind subject matter expert. When people come into browse, ask if they would like some suggestions for their particular situation.  If they would like such assistance, ask sufficient questions so that you know something about the budget, the customer’s feelings and needs for the situation and what kind of similar products they or their friends have used and liked in the past. 

Understanding the big picture of how the customer sees their situation helps you advise them more specifically and thoughtfully. 

8. “Specific Sampling Scripts” 

Invite customers to participate, to offer advice and to learn.

Every action someone takes on behalf of a prospective sale moves him closer to buying. Set a standard of always having something to sample, ask about, offer suggestions for or otherwise take action on. 

For example, a gourmet store might offer samplings. Set the food to be sampled on a counter near a staffer.  That way the staff person can offer samples and engage in conversation, perhaps asking a question or making an offer. A sports equipment store might have a demo area. 

Asking for advice starts a dialogue where the focus is on the product not on someone trying to get another person to buy. That gourmet store staffer might ask:

  • (While holding a platter of sausage slices with toothpicks and three bowls of various flavored mustards): Would you mind telling me which mustard you think goes best with our new smoked chicken and apple sausages?” 
  • “Do you think this cheese is soft enough to serve on the kind of crackers you use?” 
  • (Holding a platter with three bowls of slices of different kinds of cookies, with stand up cards in front of each with the names of the cookies on them): Want to guess which one of these cookies is our best seller?” 

9. “Would You like French Fries With That?” 

Just as McDonalds instructs their staff to suggest additional food items, such as drinks or fries with each order, you can establish a low-key and helpful standard for making suggestions of products that would go with each other for a meal, a gift or other special situation. 

If in-store displays involve a combination of products for a timely occasion, staff will find it easier to refer to product combinations to buy as a bundle. 

10. “Cross-Sell to Stand Out and to Sell More” 

Let customers literally see a situation in which they’d enjoy using several of your products, as a natural extension of their lifestyle – or the life to which they now want to become accustomed. Stage a scene on a table or shelves or in the window. Sometimes include products from a partner’s store to complete the picture of that situation. 

In short, encourage more spending in your store by reducing the number of boring or irritating steps to do so and increasing the number of positive in-store moments and reasons to buy.

* * * * *

Kare AndersonAbout the Author: Kare Anderson is an Emmy-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter and speaker/strategist on collaboration, partnering and quotability, Kare Anderson writes two blogs, Moving From Me to We and Say it Better.


21 Reactions
  1. Excellent article! You know Kare, I can really relate to the situations you pointed on your first paragraph. I have experienced that many times before and your tips are great.

  2. Martin Lindeskog


    Please come over to Sweden and teach our service sector to be service minded! 😉 I miss the feeling hospitality and support in America.

    I remember one of my first encounters when I have moved to Troy, Ohio, and started to work at a manufacturing company. I went to a deli fast food place and was greeted by a smiling girl, asking what I wanted to order and she served me in a great way. I was thinking to myself that I was not used to this level of service from Sweden.

  3. This is a great post. About a month back I wrote something similar here about becomeing your own customer to see the big picture:

    I think it is important to realize that the closer you get to something, the harder it is to see when things need to change. This is the same in business, if you don’t step back to take a look from the outside every once in a while you will get lost.

  4. This is an important article for any retailer. It’s important that your employees know how you expect your business’ customers to be treated. Providing a friendly shopping atmosphere makes customers more comfortable to spend more time browsing and therefore spending. I can’t count how many stores I’ve visited for a first time and never went back because of feeling that negative vibe.

  5. I have to agree with Mary Grace here. I, too, have experienced the situations you refer to. Previously, I think stores and sales staff’s were getting away with this type of shoddy customer service but things have changed.

    Where I spend my money is important and even more important – how you are going to treat me if I encounter problems with my purchase?

    Treating me poorly prior to a purchase pretty much ensures that I will spend my money elsewhere. Excellent tips!

  6. Chris and Mary Grace – thanks for the comments. I agree – in many places service has improved yet I’ll bet it is still rare that owners/managers have discussed specific behaviors that make customers feel good or bad about being in the store (or other consumer-serving place)

  7. Kare
    Powerful list. If we’ve had a bad experience as a customer, we could carry this list to hand to store managers!

    My father worked in retail, and still does part time, and his stores were always top notch due to intuitively knowing these “rules” or concepts which you lay out. His stores almost always were in the top revenue producers. He always attributed his success to treating his team, his staff really well.

  8. Oops. I got cut off from my connection! My father’s work in retail always inspired me because he expected a lot of his team, but he gave them insights into how to do it, like you do with these ideas, Kare. We would go to company parties and it was very evident that his team loved him and believed in him. It has helped me to be a better leader in everything I do.

    #8 about sampling scripts is really helpful. It is all about engaging your customer in a way that they don’t feel you are the researcher with a clipboard running through a long list of questions.

  9. Oh Martin,
    Invite me over and I’ll be there in a Danish minute – what fun it would be to lead a seminar there on this topic and on profitable partnering
    TJ – I’ll bet your father’s approach to service and motivating his staff to embody it too has influenced how you approach your work.

  10. Oh Martin,
    Do invite me over and I’ll be there in a Danish minute – what fun it would be to lead a seminar there on this topic and on profitable partnering
    TJ – I’ll bet your father’s approach to service and motivating his staff to embody it too has influenced how you approach your work.

  11. Kare,

    Do you want to have a Danish, a.k.a “Rose of the Prophet Muhammad”? I will give a superberry smoothie together with “bread from Vienna” as it is called in Swedish (Wienerbröd). 🙂

  12. Great tips to live by when running your business. Like they always say…you only get one first impression. Great first impressions lead to happy clients who are happy to refer you on. Its the first step to building amazing clients and friends for life. Thanks for the article.

  13. This is great advice! Especially point #10 – not only will cross selling increase sales, but done effectively, will build customer loyalty & satisfaction.

    I always use the example of a customer going to a paint store. The employee helps pick the paint, etc, but doesn’t suggest other items. The customer gets home, only to realize he/she doesn’t have the right brushes. What do they do? They may run to the nearest store, not necessarily the store they went to, so they can buy the rest of the items they need. Not only is the first store losing sales, but the customer left without the feeling that all of their needs were met on their original visit.

    This article is full of great suggestions – something to share with our clients for sure!

  14. Wayne @ mobile site

    One way to improve your sales is converting your foot traffic into customers entering your business. If you have a business that is online or a physical business setup at a store, a mobile website is the best thing you can have because people are ALWAYS searching for nearby stores from their phones when they shop. If they come across a mobile website that has been well designed and represents your business clearly (eg no need to zoom in, and if it looks really messy, people will not enter), they will visit your store and hopefully increase your sales!

  15. Wayne and colleagues here, see more ways to attract customers to your local business with the right partnering method