Break these bad habits now if you want to close that sale

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

The vernal equinox isn’t a Chevy SUV, it’s the start of spring, and this year it arrived on March 20 at 11:33 a.m. But for many of us, it didn’t really feel like the spring season until we flipped the calendar to April.

Warmer weather, light rain, and blooming flower buds remind us that it’s time to start the “Honey Do” list, as in “Honey, do me a favor and clean the flower beds,” or “Honey, do me a favor and paint the deck.” After a few springs, the task list becomes habit, and each time we complete a chore on the Honey Do list, we make life a little nicer for ourselves and our families.

I’ve heard that anything we do for 21 days in a row becomes a habit. In our Retail World, we can develop habits too. Some of those actions keep our companies ordinary and become sales prevention habits rather than routines that build our businesses. I call these the “Honey Don’t” list.

Sometimes these negative behaviors are done in the name of expediency and others are just not customer friendly.  Look and listen around your retail empire and check how many of the following are happening in your store.

The Pointer. Your shopper enters your store and asks for a specific department or area in the showroom. Since your sales team is familiar with the product layout, they point the customer in the right direction.  It seems like a sound practice to us, but your shopper doesn’t know the layout, gets lost again, becomes frustrated, and leaves without buying.

Nordstrom’s grew from a local Seattle department store to a national chain because of its attention to customer service.  Pointing was a forbidden practice in their stores, and associates were encouraged to walk the shopper to the desired location, even if it was only the restroom.

Help your shoppers out! Walk and talk with them rather than sending them on a Lewis and Clark expedition.

The Fast Talker, Part 1. Even in this age of emails and texting, an amazing amount of communication is still voice-to-voice over the telephone. Probably because of all the phone scams, your customer may not pick up your incoming call and you’ll need to leave a voicemail message.

It seems like the goal for many people leaving messages is to win the race in words per minute. When listening, your shoppers hear a garbled name and return phone number that they can’t understand. It becomes frustrating when they need to play it back several times, and some shoppers just give up and never return your call.

Follow this practice: Clearly state your name and the business name.  Then slowly pronounce your phone number.  Help your shopper out by repeating the message, starting with “Once again, this is Jenny Tutone from Bob’s Bedding Barn at 876-5309. Please return my call.”

The Fast Talker, Part 2. Your website, print and digital advertisements feature your phone number, with the goal of getting people to call your store for information on solving their product needs.

Good phone etiquette starts with a happy greeting. It’s tiring to hear a rush-job greeting of the business name alone (“Mike’s Mattress Mart,” blurted out in 2.4 seconds). Begin with thanking the caller, stating the business name and your name, followed by a simple question. Some shops post the script near the telephone. You can write your own or start with the following: “Thank you for calling Sleep Central. This is Tim Ticketwriter, how can I help you?”

The customer service people at my celluar carrier finish their greeting with “How can I make your day sparkle?” Quite remarkable, don’t you agree?

The Vulture Pit. Your shopper has seen your ads, collected the phone info they requested, and braved traffic to visit your store. They pull open the door and see two to five salespeople gathered near the front door, seemingly ready to swoop on to the next victim.

Retail sales is a social event and it’s fun to socialize with the other team members, but look at it from the shopper’s point of view. Many people don’t want to be sold something and most certainly don’t want to confront a barrage of retail sales associates upon entry.

Make it a practice to keep the salesperson who is on point near the front door.  Everyone else should clear away.  One successful store manager I know would hold his fingers up in a “V,” like the victory or peace sign, to remind his team to break up the vulture pit. It may be lonely waiting by yourself, but you’ll remove another barrier to preventing a sale.

Habits are hard to break and may require that same 21-day period of practice. Store leaders can ensure a remarkable shopper experience with training, coaching, observation, and reinforcement. Spring forward this season by ending the Honey Don’t’s and rewarding the Honey Do’s.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YourSource. You can reach him at

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