Customers' First Impressions - Are Your Customers Invisible?

Mike Dandridge

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You walk through the door marked “City Sales. " It’s 7:20 in the morning. Behind the counter the parts guy is sitting down reading the newspaper. He must not have heard the chime that triggered when you entered the store. You clear your throat, loudly. No response. Am I invisible? you ask yourself. Finally, you speak.

“Excuse me. I need some material. "

The paper doesn’t drop. No head peeks over the top. Only a voice replies, “We don’t open until 7:30. "

Too stunned to even respond, you turn around, walk back to your truck, vow to never cross their threshold again, and drive to the next supplier. True story. The contractor that it happened to shared it with me two years later. Living up to his vow, he never bought anything else from that wholesaler.

No one likes being ignored. Common sense tells us that. But don’t pretend you haven’t done it. You’re waiting on a customer, or you’re on the phone. Maybe both. Another customer walks in. You could say, “Come on in. We’ll be right with you. " Even on the phone, you could nod and acknowledge his presence. But you don’t. You avoid eye contact, fearing he may ask you a question and then you’d have one more thing to do. You don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that, well, you’re busy.

Or you’re an outside salesman and you hurriedly cut through the counter area. Customers are three-deep waiting in line. Both countermen are already in the warehouse filling orders. You haven’t got time. That job bids at 2:00. It’s worth half-a-mil. This counter stuff is nickel-and-dime. You pick up the pace and rush by the customers. You don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that, well, you have to prioritize.

It’s time to rethink the relationship between your sales counter and your customers. For many distributors, it’s an afterthought, just a place that serves up the “table scraps" – miscellaneous leftovers needed to complete a job, odds-and-ends for a service call, parts and pieces picked up by the DIY homeowner. But your counter’s “reach" can go far beyond that small percentage of sales currently shown on your financial ledger.

Your sales counter can become a good will ambassador for your entire operation. American psychologist, Abraham Maslow said one of the most important social needs of a human being is the need to belong. Through your counter, your branch can provide a sense of community for your customers. And it all begins with a few simple steps.

1. Make everyone a greeter. Obviously, most companies don’t budget for a professional greeter. So, make it everyone’s job. Explain that any employee in the entrance area is to greet customers and ask if someone is helping them. If the employee isn’t trained for sales, he simply tells the customer that someone will be with him soon. For example, a warehouseman filling an order would look up from his clipboard, make eye contact with the customer, greet, and assure him that help is on the way.

2. Watch your language. Most of us never received training on proper ways to greet a customer. The assumption is that we’ll “just know. " As a result, most of the time we come across as abrupt. “Wha’cha need?" we’ll demand. Or, “Help you?" as if it’s too much trouble to get out a whole sentence. And some of us don’t say anything at all. We simply stand there waiting for the customer to speak. It’s not necessary to follow a script, but the way you phrase a statement is the difference between seeming bothered and disinterested or being friendly and helpful. For instance, “How may I help you?" has a couple of implications. First, it indicates a willingness to help. Secondly, it shows confidence that you are able to help. Of course, always offer a casual greeting first, such as, “Hey" or “Yo, " or whatever is customary in your region. When known, address the customer by name.

3. Lasting impression. How you say, “Goodbye, " is just as important as how you greet your customers. Express your gratitude at the close of any business transaction. “We appreciate your business, " is always appropriate. Again, you don’t need to follow a script. The main thing is to show sincerity. Act as if your livelihood depends on it. Oh, yeah. That’s right. It does.

4. Un-Curb Your Enthusiasm. The previous steps won’t matter if you don’t get this one right. If a good friend of yours that you hadn’t seen since high school walked into your counter, chances are you would act glad to see him. Even if you were busy. Even if you were on the phone. Now, take that imaginary enthusiasm and apply it to each customer that walks through your door. “Too much, " you say? It won’t come across that way. Showing enthusiasm tells the customer that you care about his business.

The smart entrepreneur understands that his continued success doesn’t hinge on a single business point-of-contact. Rather it relies upon a collection of all of the connections that make up a mutually beneficial affiliation. The sales floor can serve to deepen this partnership between the customers and the company. Or it can destroy that relationship altogether, as it did in the story at the beginning of this article. By the way, the name of the ignored contractor was Josh Coleman, owner of Coleman Contractors, third largest builder in our market. The distributor that “didn’t open until 7:30" lost more than “table scraps, " that morning. He cost his company millions of dollars worth of jobs that Josh Coleman handed to us. You see, we just happened to be the distributor he drove to next that morning. Fortunately, our parts guy had already read the paper.

Mike Dandridge Mike is the founder of High Voltage Performance, a consulting firm that specializes in designing customer experiences for the industrial marketplace. He is a keynote speaker and a seminar leader with 25 years experience in wholesale distribution. Dandridge is author of, The One Year Business Turnaround, a book based on his years in the wholesale industry, and containing over 50 ideas for improving your customer service. You may reach Mike at 254-624-6299. Visit his Website at . Subscribe to his blog at .


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