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Team Talk

Better Communication with our Customers

In the movie, "Cool Hand Luke", there is a prison guard played by Struther Martin who is frequently seen talking to a prisoner played by Paul Newman.  From the viewpoint of the prison guard, Newman was constantly doing things, (and not doing things) that drew the ire of Struther Martin.  If you saw the movie, perhaps you will remember the line that Struther Martin is most famous for; "What we have here is a failure to communicate".

I remember a similar story told by Bob Aiken, a noted speaker and retailer, about the first day on the job of a young part time employee.  The instruction given by Mr. Aiken was to clean certain areas of the business, and to "Get the mop, broom, detergent, and bucket out of the closet.  And, be sure to use plenty of elbow grease."

As you might imagine, a short time later the young employee has returned to Mr. Aiken stating that he has gathered all of the supplies, but "I can't find the elbow grease".

Our topic today is not dealing with giving instructions, but instead it is to demonstrate five ways your employees can better communicate with your customers.  These five techniques allow your customers to know your employees are interested in their wants and needs; ways that allow your employees to demonstrate a distinctive advantage over your competition and allow your employees to not only close more sales but to also have more add on sales.

The first type of question is the one that unfortunately is the most frequently used by employees.  It requires no training as it is the easiest way for a customer to be spoken to.

"Can I help you?"
"Is that everything?"
"Finding everything ok?"

What are the traditional answers to questions like this? Yes, and no; whatever is easier for the customer.  The answer being whatever is necessary to get your sales help to go away.  These are close ended questions.  A close ended question does not invite a follow-up question or additional response.

Anyone ever having gone shopping in any type of business, or doing business over the phone, has dealt with people that are asking close ended questions.  The salesperson is simply using a statement, quick and easy, that more often will close down the sale.  And when you think about the businesses whose sales staff uses close ended questions, you will probably agree the business has done little in the way of creating an atmosphere that causes customers to want to do business again with them.

"How can I help you?"
"Please tell me which styles you would like to see?"

Yes or no.  There is not a place in either of these questions for the customer to say yes or no.  A simple rephrasing of the questions has opened an occasion where the customer is invited to provide their feelings.  As the customer begins to explain, the well trained employee will not only know what the customer is asking for, but will begin to mentally list the additional products and services that may be of value to the customer.

"Say, you like these .... don't you?"
"Wouldn't you like to own this ...?"
"This item sure is pretty, isn't it?"

With each of these questions, you know exactly where the employee wants the customer to go with their answer; They want agreement.  And, many customers will respond accordingly.  Unfortunately, too often the sale will be cancelled or the merchandise returned.  Ask the customer why they have done this, and you will likely hear, "The salesperson was too pushy".

Leading the customer with a question will too often lead the customer to one of two things; out the door or to the phone to call your competitor. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know what the customer thinks about a product.  It will often help you to close the sale or obtain an add on sale.  It is just the leading technique that is incorrect.  In phrasing the question differently, you obtain substantially different results.

"Did you like the ....?"
"You had purchased this brand last time, would you like to look at that brand again?"

With this type of question, you are inviting the customer to give you their thoughts, opinions, preferences, and experiences.  Usually, you cannot start a conversation with the customer with this probing type of question.  If you use the first few moments of informal interaction with the customer to gain a level of confidence, you can then proceed to a probing question.

The fifth type of question is reserved for only the masters. Many times it is not even a question, but a statement.  I am not sure if you can train a person to become a master, or if it is just a personality trait that some people have.  All of us have experienced these people; employees that can let you know in 10 seconds that they enjoy the company of other people and are thrilled to have the customer call or walk in the store.

These masters always include three steps when making a sale. The first step in speaking with the customer is to simply engage them in conversation.  The master is now hard at work in the conversation selling themselves to the customer.  From the first step, the master will begin to weave the business they work for into the conversation.  Comments may include, "I think you are going to like the brand that we carry.  Our buyer says this manufacturer makes a quality product."

The master will now sell to the customer the product.  Notice the three steps?  Sell yourself, sell your business, sell the product. What is an example of the questions the master asks?  "Wow, I really like your watch, where did you buy it"?

I watched one person who was being waited on by a master. The customer enjoyed the experience and made several purchases.  Visiting with the customer afterwards, I asked about the interaction with the master.  Their answer was, "I wish I had more money."

"Why", I asked.

"I so enjoyed being waited on by that person and I felt bad that I did not have enough money to buy the other items that were suggested."

Yes, I had just watched a master in action.  If you are fortunate to have one of these individuals, treat them well and expose all of your sales people to the master.  Make sure they are learning as many of the master's techniques as possible.  If you are not training all of your people, ask one of the people walking out of your business without making a purchase, why they are doing so.

I think you will find the answer is, "We have a failure to communicate."

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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