The Forbidden Phrase part 1


I have been reading with interest the comments on the “can I help you” post. Personally, from 20+ years of retail experience (sales, training, management and ownership) I can verify this is the number one block to a successful sales experience for both the customer and the salesperson.

Teaching a salesperson to avoid the phrase or anything that sounds like that phrase MUST be the first goal of any training program.

Substituting the phrase with “what brings you in today?”  “What are you looking for?” “Can I show you something?” blah, blah, blah does not help one bit.  Yes.  You’ve changed the question, but not the premise behind it.

The fact is; your customer is expecting to hear “Can I help you?” so even if you ask “Is it raining outside?” or “Ever run through Rome wearing nothing but shoulder pads and goat leggings?” – two out of five customers will respond “No thanks. I’m just looking”.  The reality is, they’re paying very little attention to what you’re saying.

In my world of retail electronics in the 80’s, it was such a competitive environment that every new sales trainee was told in no uncertain terms that “if I hear anything that sounds like can I help you, what brings you in today etc. you are “fired”, no second chances.

So… “WHY” does this happen?  Why are customers so resistant when first entering a store? They presumably have an interest or need for something your store has to offer.  They recognize that at one point they will have to interact with an employee at some point.

So why the “FEAR”?

“Can I help you” is conditioning from our past, it screams “SALESMAN, SALESMAN, BEWARE, BEWARE”

It is only in relatively recent times, as our population and the quantity and the variety of available goods has exploded, that competition for customers and profit has taken centre stage. Previous to this, “sales” consisted mainly of order taking.  You usually went to a General Store.  You knew what you wanted.  You asked for it or picked it out, paid for it, and you were out the door.

Simple.  And emblematic of a simpler time.

There was little or no competition, little selection, and everyone “knew the rules”. “Can I help you” was genuine, expected and accepted as a sincere gesture in a kinder, gentler time.

The competition for customers and profit produced the “Salesperson” as a ruthless, conniving, sleazy, fast talking individual that would be expected to lie, cheat and steal to take all your money and give you little or nothing in return. This was heightened and broadcast by Television caricatures of the “used car salesman” with the loud clothes and fast talking style that everyone hated. Unfortunately due to ignorance and inadequate training “Can I help you” was carried forward

Fast forward to today: most everyone entering a store is programmed to expect a fast-talking, insincere individual who will attack immediately and force them to buy items they don’t want or need.  Before they ever enter the store, they consciously or unconsciously prep themselves, raising their defences, and mutter to themselves (figuratively) “I’ll just tell him to get lost”.

And so “Can I help you” has come to mean “I see you and I’m going to pressure you into a 200-year extended warranty”.  And “No thanks I’m just looking” has come to mean “Not a chance.  Get away from me”.

My next post will cover the solution to this ever present challenge in today’s retail environment and explain the right way to approach your customers.

——

Thanks for reading!  For information on cellular point of sale, visit our website: mmspos.com

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Posted on September 5, 2012, in 'We Get Retail' Business Tips, Consumer Psychology Files and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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