Every customer who either walks into or telephones your business has a need. If your employees satisfy that need, the end result will most likely be a sale. But these situations are much more than a chance to ring up the cash register. They’re an opportunity to develop a long-term relationship with a customer and that ultimately results in repeat business, multiple sales and increased profits.
Your customers come to you with the expectation of interacting with someone from your store who is friendly, who listens to their needs and educates them on appropriate products and manufacturers. They expect to hear recommendations for appropriate solutions that meet their needs. Customers want to feel they’ve made the right decision to spend their money with you.
It clearly is important to make certain your staff has the skills to develop rapport with customers, to listen, educate and problem solve. But many people in today’s work force didn’t learn these skills in school. Unfortunately, most of us are not taught to be effective communicators and persuaders. We enter the work force with only the communication tools we learned from our friends, family and the media. In many cases, these tools are not enough to help us communicate appropriately with customers.
So in order to make certain your customers’ needs are identified and met, your staff must possess the necessary skills to communicate with them. In the simplest of terms, your staff doesn’t need to be trained as aggressive sales people. They only need to know how to communicate with your customers and sales will naturally unfold.
Here are some areas in which your staff should be trained:
Greeting – A sincere smile while making direct eye contact goes a long way toward making your customers feel comfortable. These two actions convey an attitude of friendliness and sincerity. That puts your customers at ease.
Opening acknowledgements your employees make set the stage for all future interactions. Train your employees to greet your customers not only with a sincere smile while looking them in the eye, but also to ask your customers a question other than “can I help you?” Every one of us expects to hear that question and the vast majority of the time, our answer is “no, thank you.” That question programs your customers to decline your offer to help. Establish a number of opening phrases that create a dialog with the customer and communicate to the customer that you care about them.
Train on Rapport Skills – Research shows that of our communication:
7% comes from the words we use
38% comes from our voice tonality, pitch and pace of the words
55% comes from our physiology (body) and posture
Simple techniques such as matching voice tonality with the pace of your customer’s voice can speed the development of rapport and increase the customer comfort level.
Ask Questions – The most important thing an employee can do is ask questions in order to understand your customers’ needs. If an employee understands what customers need or want, it’s much easier to provide solutions. Compose a list of the 10 most important questions an employee should be asking each customer.
Most customers want help. They want information that helps with their buying decision. With so many choices of ingredients, processes and manufacturers, decision making can be a frustrating experience for customers. Train your staff to not only ask questions but to listen intently. Questions will encourage your customers to reveal their concerns and problems. These two skills alone will put your employees and your store in a class above the competition.
Product Knowledge – Today’s consumer tends to be more knowledgeable than in the past. This makes it even more important to educate your employees on product, process and manufacturer knowledge. Customers rely on your staff to give them factual information to help them with their buying decision. If your staff has the ability to accurately answer their questions and to further explain and provide information, your customers’ confidence will skyrocket – as will the likelihood of a sale.
It’s equally important to teach your staff that if they don’t know the answer to a question, the appropriate response is to say so and then find someone who has the information. It is absolutely unacceptable for an employee to guess or make up an answer. Providing misinformation to a customer is a deadly practice that places both you and your customers in a position neither of you want. Your employees need to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to explain that they don’t have the answer and that they will try to get one. Customers appreciate honesty.
Educating your staff on product knowledge is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing process. Ask your employees to compile a list of the most commonly asked questions from customers. Use this as a basis for training.
Here are some other ideas:
Do weekly quizzes on products to determine your employees’ knowledge.
Reward them for increasing their product knowledge.
Allow them to sample products. It’s easier for an employee to tell customers about a product when they have used it and experienced the results themselves.
Teach employees how to use reference materials to find information that is important to the customer in the buying process.
Become A Coach – Skill development never ends. At regular intervals, pay attention to how your employees are handling customer interactions. In private, invest the time to let your employees know what they did well and where their opportunities for improvement exist. Acknowledge the skills they are using to become a better communicator.
Practice, Practice, Practice – Role play various customer-buying situations with your staff. Role play the new customer, the demanding customer and the unfriendly customer. Practice each of the steps from greeting through helping the customer make the buying decision. Your employees will demonstrate more confidence in selling when they feel they have the experience to handle any type of customer they may encounter.
The interaction your staff has with your customers is critical to the success of your business. They can make the difference between no sale, a one-time sale or developing long-term relationships with customers. The time and money you invest in your staff to educate them with knowledge and skills will come back many times over.