Ever have that experience where you know what someone is trying to do, but they just keep missing the mark? You want to give them points for trying, but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atom bombs.
I had that experience last week at a Barnes & Noble store.
The store was having a sale. Several tables right inside the front door and up that middle aisle were clearly marked 50% off. A few tables on either side had new releases at 20% off. The staff was obviously pumped up for the sale.
I was greeted at the door by an associate who thanked me for coming in (good so far). She excitedly told me all about the sale (also good). But then she committed the one blunder too many sales associates do. She asked me,
“Is there anything I can help you find?”
I was just inside the door. My eyes had barely adjusted from the sunlight to the interior lights. I was greeted and told to browse all these tables for great deals. But before I could even approach the first table I was asked to stop browsing and start finding the item I came in to buy.
The problem with asking, “Is there anything I can help you find?” is it is the first cousin of, “Can I help you?” It causes a knee-jerk reaction that caused me to say, “No thanks, I’m just here to browse.”
Let me repeat that in case it wasn’t clear …
I just told a sales clerk out loud that I did NOT plan to buy anything, I only came in to browse.
I reinforced it in her ears and in my mind. I took buying off the table before I even began browsing.
Obviously the gal was trying to be helpful. In her mind she was giving me awesome customer service. The greeting and mentioning the sales table were a good start, but then she ruined it with a deal-killing question.
Worse yet, she didn’t realize she was asking this of a guy. When guys shop, once we get what we came for, we’re out of there. Browsing comes to a complete halt once we get what we wanted.
It would have been better if she left me to browse after mentioning the sale and then approached me later. Give me a moment to catch my breath and take in my surroundings. Give me a moment to plan a course of action. Give me a moment to collect my own thoughts.
Instead she pounced and turned me into a liar or a non-shopper—neither of which are good.
It wasn’t just her. Four times over the next ten minutes I had associates approach me and ask if I was finding everything okay. It was getting creepy. I almost wanted to walk away from the sale tables just to get away from them.
One even asked me if I wanted him to price out the book in my hand. It was clearly marked with the price, and the sign clearly said 50% off marked price. (I was in a bookstore so you would think he would assume I could read and do the simple math?)
In their minds, these associates were thinking they were giving me great customer service. Instead they were creeping me out. I knew it was a direction from above, too, because the manager approached me not once but twice with, “Are you finding everything okay?”
A LITTLE FOREPLAY FIRST
Here is where they were missing the boat. The first gal notwithstanding, the others all approached me while I was perusing the sale tables. That isn’t where I would expect to find what I came in to buy, so it wasn’t even an appropriate question there. The question would make more sense if I was scanning titles in a particular section.
Even then it would have been better if they first asked a question or said something to engage me in conversation. They could have used phrases like:
- Who’s your favorite author?
- What are you reading currently?
- I see you were looking at a spy novel. Have you read the Red Sparrow trilogy?
I would have answered those questions. We would have had a dialogue, a conversation, the beginning of a relationship. I would have felt they were actually interested in my reading habits.
I would have believed they could do more than just point me to an item I already knew I wanted.
Isn’t that the point of selling? Isn’t your job to gain the trust of the customer and then help her solve problems? Anyone can lead a customer to a product they already knew they wanted. A true salesperson shows you the stuff you didn’t yet know you absolutely had to own.
You’ll never get there asking, “Are you finding everything okay?”
PS I applaud them for trying. Unfortunately, without proper sales training, they’ll try this for several weeks, see no improvement and probably fall back into their old habits. Worse yet, they’ll think approaching the customer is overrated and pooh-pooh any further suggestions otherwise. “We tried that and it didn’t work.”
PPS I did actually engage the fifth time I was asked if I was finding everything. I told the guy they didn’t have my favorite game in stock. He asked which one? I told him Honga, one of the HABA games I sell. (It really is my favorite right now.) He looked it up and is going to bring a couple in now. So at least I got that out of the experience.