Monday, April 19, 2010

Engaging with the customer

“Can I help you?”

“Doing okay over here?”

“How’s everything?”

We’ve all been on the shopper’s end of these low-value contact questions in stores, restaurants and whatever chain retailer trains its associates with the blunt instrument of “engage the customer.” It’s gotten to the point where such expressions are so empty, they’ve become little more than verbal tics on the part of employees—rote recitations they almost cease to be conscious of even asking.

And there’s a perfect synchronicity to this, since customers are barely conscious of these low-impact greetings, either. In our work with retailers, we hear this literally thousands of times. As an example, associates are typically trained and expected by management to greet the entering customer. Too often, this requirement gets translated by employees into saying “hi.” From a courtesy standpoint, this may sound better than no acknowledgment at all, though we’ve yet to see a higher buy or conversion rate when comparing customers who get a “hi” to those who enter with the absence of any greeting. Not surprisingly, most customers don’t even acknowledge this greeting and walk right beyond the associate saying it—not even saying “hi” back. That’s a big bowl of nothing for a key component of a customer engagement initiative.

“Doing okay over here?” is another low-percentage expression, a perfect invitation for the customer to say yes, fine, just looking.

Once we diagnose how interactions like this are working or aren’t with video and audio behavioral analytics, we provide retailers with the approach to make contacts count more—not in a theoretical, one-off way, but with a selling model that can be scaled.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on how retailers are pushing enhanced sales tactics to drive top-line growth. The realization to bring about more sophisticated training is sinking in, which comes from the realization these chains have a way to go before they can gain more traction on the sales floor.

Home Depot is doing something simple and smart by training cashiers (sometimes the only store personnel who shoppers interact with) to ask customers if they found everything they were looking for—and if not, to call the aisle to determine whether the item is in stock (the secret to success will be if the cashier has better luck finding someone than the customer perhaps did—but the idea of the cashier backstopping the sales process is a good one). While “did you find everything you need?” runs the risk of becoming a new verbal tic at Home Depot, it certainly has a fighting chance of success because the inquiry is offered at an important moment of truth, and requires a specific action step for the cashier to take should the customer be wanting.
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