And why using the wrong one can derail a sale

By Rich Lindblom, YSN

It is widely believed that the way a customer is greeted upon entering your store is one of the key factors in ultimately making a sale. Because of its importance, I’d like to share my thoughts on what makes for a strong welcome.   

Sometimes, when greeting the customer, it’s not what you say, but rather what you don’t say. Let’s start with the old standby, “How can I help you?” We’ve all heard it at some point in our lives and I’m sure many of you are guilty of using it as well. Because if you ask me, this is the worst possible greeting! Yet it’s used over and over again in retail.

The way I see it, there are several things wrong with this so-called “greeting.”  For starters, it’s not a greeting, it’s a question.  You haven’t welcomed a person into your store; instead, the first thing you’ve done is ask them something. Unfortunately, not only is it a question instead of a greeting, it’s also a bad question.  It’s a question that can put a person on the defensive the instant they walk through the door. 

Maybe this person really doesn’t want your help at that moment, or maybe they’re the type of customer who needs to get the lay of the land before they are willing to engage with a salesperson.  By asking if they need help, you’ve put them on the spot and forced them to either get defensive or to answer you in a negative way.  This is definitely not how you want to start a customer/salesperson relationship. 

Let’s look at it from a different angle. When a friend or relative comes over to your house for a visit, what is the very first thing you say to them?  Do you ask them a question? (“Can I take your coat?” “Would you like a drink?”) Of course not, you greet them. You say hello in some manner or another, welcoming them into your home.  So why would you treat your customers any differently? A perfect customer greeting starts with saying hello in a sincere and natural fashion that suits your personality.

Now that you’ve said hello, the next step is to make them feel welcome in your store. How do you do that?  It’s actually pretty simple: You thank them for visiting your store.  As sincerely as you can, let them know that you truly appreciate their having chosen your store to shop. They could have gone to any showroom within fifty miles, yet they chose your business, so you should be sincerely grateful. Now convey that gratitude to your customer.

OK, you’ve greeted them and thanked them for visiting. What’s left?  Introduce yourself. Tell them your first name. It makes things more personal, but perhaps more important, it suggests that you would like to know their name as well and creates an opportunity for them to share it with you. And if they do give you their name, write it down or commit it to memory, because being able to use their first name in conversation is a powerful tool in establishing a rapport.

I’ve given you the first three parts of what I believe to be the perfect customer greeting. But the fourth and final part is up to you. You need to be able to customize your greeting using words that seem natural to you.  Think about how you greet your friends — do you say hello or hi?  Maybe you add in something about the weather if it’s appropriate.  Do you include your store name?  The key is to not be a robot or sound like you’re reading from a script.  It should flow off your tongue naturally. Simply put, talk to your customers the way you would your friends.

Here’s an example: “Hi there, thanks for stopping in today. We really appreciate you visiting, especially with the weather as cold as it’s been.  My name is Rich…”  Let it trail off and look at them.  Maybe lean in their direction slightly to prompt them to volunteer their name in return. 

Some may disagree with these pointers, but I believe they are the keys to the perfect customer greeting.  Try them out and let me know how well they work for you.

I have three goals in mind with my columns: To motivate, educate and entertain.  If I have achieved at least one of those, then I’ve done my job. Don’t be shy about letting me know if you agree — write me at egvrich@gmail.com.