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How to Talk to Customers

How to Talk to Customers

Superior customer service will set you apart from your competition. Here are some tips.

By Nita Robertson, AIFD, CFD

The easiest way to differentiate your business and stand out against the competition is to provide valued-added service. It is worth it to go above and beyond and make each customer feel special. 

The way we talk to our customers can make all the difference in a business’ success. For florists, the two key opportunities for in-person interaction are with telephone and walk-in customers. Making a good first impression and making every customer feel welcome are key. 

Always acknowledge customers as they enter your store. Be friendly and welcoming. Over the phone, it is important to always use a happy, friendly voice, no matter how busy or stressed you might be. Show enthusiasm, and make the interaction fun, when appropriate. Make a connection with your clients, and show them that you care. It is also important to train your employees to provide this level of extraordinary service. Being personable is one thing that can set you apart from your online and big-box store competitors.

Jean-Pascal Lemire, owner of Jean-Pascal Florist Studio in Los Angles, Calif., shares some insight on the subject. “It is important to listen to your clients. Let them talk, and really listen. For interaction with walk-in consumers, the most important thing is to make them comfortable.”

Lemire explains that, for him, making his clients feel comfortable is the most important aspect of good customer service. Provide an inviting space, and bring out your personality. He advises speaking in a warm “motherly” voice, and get them to talk. He has found that by putting flowers out, for customers to see and touch, works to provide conversation and interest. He brings life into every conversation, and makes a connection with every customer. 

Jean-Pascal Lemire

“Don’t let them be intimidated by prices,” he emphasizes. “If a customer can buy only a few stems, that’s OK.” Lemire’s shop is very upscale, but he does not want lower-budget customers to feel like they can’t shop at his store, too, so he makes a point to always have something to offer everyone. He makes even a small wrap of flowers special and makes each customer feel good about his or her purchase. He suggests talking about the packaging and how you are going to make it special. 

For example, Lemire has found great success in placing multiple buckets of sunflowers outside of the store, with signage that reads “$6, Pick your own!” The affordability plus the action of personalizing their selection gives them an activity to participate in and a reason to come inside (to complete the transaction),” he notes “That interaction now becomes an opportunity for you to share information about you and your brand, a unique promotion, etc. That is the real moment of value.”

Lemire also shares that if you notice a customer come in and take the famous “lap” before returning to the exit, break the ice by suggesting they touch something or stop to do any type of action. “I frequently say, ‘Oh, by the way, we have tomato-scented candles that have such an unusual fragrance. Have you ever smelled one?’ One sentence with a call to action creates a comfortable environment for them to identify with a product or product story and, ultimately, express their needs to you.”

“Take care of your customers, and they will stick with you.” Lemire concludes. “Be confident and honest, and let the emotion that flowers create lead your way.”

TIPS FROM CUSTOMER-SERVICE GURU, JEFF MOWATT, CSP

(jeffmowatt.com)

A. TEST YOUR TELEPHONE EFFECTIVENESS

If your customers aren’t impressed by you or your co-workers on the telephone, they can switch businesses by merely hanging-up and dialing the competition. So, your and your employees’ telephone skills can have a significant impact on your business.

1. How long does it take you to answer the phone?

After two rings, callers are wondering what’s going on. Your phone should be answered in-person by the second ring or by your voice-mail system by the fourth ring.

2. Do you answer your phone with either of the following?

a) “ABC Florist.”
b) “Good afternoon. ABC Florist. This is John. How may I help you?”

Both of these greetings have flaws. “A” is too abrupt and doesn’t provide enough information. “B” is too wordy and encourages callers to get to the point rather than identifying themselves. (Plus, it forces you to check the clock to see if it’s morning or afternoon!) A better greeting is, “Thank you for calling ABC Florist. This is John.” 

3. Have you ever said, “Please hold” to a caller?

Never put a caller on hold without asking for his or her permission (“Mrs. Jones, may I put you on hold?”) and then waiting for a response. Putting customers on hold without their consent is rude and a sure-fire formula to lose customers.

4. How long does it take a person on hold to become annoyed?

Studies show that after only 17 seconds, callers on hold become annoyed (today, some become annoyed much sooner!). The exception is when the florist explains to the caller why he or she is being asked to hold and provides the estimated time required (“Mrs. Jones, may I put you on hold for about 30 seconds while I check our inventory of white roses?”). Knowing beforehand how long a caller can expect to wait reduces the chance of annoyance. Another option is to offer the caller the option of either holding or having her call returned within a brief, specific time period (Mrs. Jones, may I put you on hold for 30 seconds while I find out when Mary will available, or would you prefer to have Mary call you back within 10 minutes?”).

B. HANDLING WALK-IN CUSTOMERS

If you’re like most business owners and managers, you’ll probably find that when you assess the phone practices within your company, there’s room for improvement. The good news is that with just a little training, it’s easy to develop the skills that ensure that your customers keep coming back. Here are seven tips to ensure that you and your employees greet customers in a way that makes them want to buy and keep coming back.

1. Acknowledge walk-in customers immediately!

Most important is that you acknowledge every customer the moment she enters your store. One study reveals that 68 percent of customers who leave a store do so because they feel that no one cares that they’re there. Picture entering an establishment, then use your watch to count off 30 seconds. You realize that even half a minute is too long to wait.

2. Show that you recognize them.

When dealing with customers, the two most important words/phrases are not “please” or “thank you”; instead, the most important words are the customer’s first and/and or last name (Gladys; Mrs. Jones).

If you don’t remember a customer’s name, let her know that you recognize her and are happy to see her by saying something like, “Good morning. It’s nice to see you again.” or “Welcome back. We appreciate you coming to see us again.” Customers return to secure, friendly environments. By demonstrating that you recognize them, they’ll want to come back. Such greetings remind customers that they’ve been at your business before, so it’s a familiar place. Familiar means safe; safe means trust, and trust means buy.

3. If you don’t recognize a walk-in customer, ask if he or she has been in before.

One of the best moneymaking greetings is, “Hi, have you been in before?” Michael Gerber, author of the best-selling The E Myth series of books, says that his clients who have switch from, “May I help you?” to “Hi, have you been in before?” have seen sales increase by 16 percent. In addition, if this is a customer’s first visit, you have a perfect opportunity to show her around, identify her needs and point out specials. 

4. Ask about the weather.

I realize the weather is an often-used topic, but it’s disarming and gets the customer talking about something where they can be the expert. The critical step that’s often missed is you need to respond to the customer’s comments. That shows that you’re listening—not just techniquing them. Once you’ve addressed a customer’s comments, you can then transition from the weather to identifying her needs: “Well, at least you’re in from out of the wind now. What brings you in aside from the cold weather?”

5. Use a conversation piece.

Interesting artwork, a talking parrot or anything you place near your entrance that draws comment is a great conversation-starter. It gets a customer talking, questioning and interested.

6. Compliment appropriately.

Be careful with this one. If you do it wrong, you can come across as being a phony, and you will lose the most important thing you need to sell: trust. So don’t offer a general compliment such as, “Don’t you look lovely today?” Instead, make sure any compliment is relevant and specific, such as, “That scarf is beautiful. Its autumn colors are perfect with your coloring.”

7. Never imply that serving a customer is a problem for you.

Under no circumstances should you ever respond to a customer’s “thank you” with the too-often-used phrase, “No problem.” Of course, serving a customer should not be a problem for you, and no customer wants to feel like you serving them could be a problem. A much more professional response is, “My pleasure.” (It’s the world-renowned signature phrase of the highly lauded Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.)

C. JUGGLING MULTIPLE CUSTOMERS

 

You know the scenario: Your workday is running smoothly and manageably when, suddenly, you find yourself dealing with one customer in front of you and another on the phone while a third arrives with “just a quick question.

1. Remember, this is a good thing.

Having lots of customers wanting to do business with you is wonderful. It means you and your business are in demand. The obvious solution to juggling multiple customers is to hire more people. Of course, that’s oversimplified and may make no economic sense, especially when there may be only one or two rush periods during a day or week. 

When you see more customers arrive, don’t let them see you sweat. Take the professional approach, and broaden your smile (even if it may be slightly forced!). Keep in mind the adage of Leon Leonwood (L.L.) Bean, who said, “Customers are not interruptions to your work; they are the purpose of your work.”

2. Don’t make things worse.

One of the most frequent gaffs in frontline service is when a customer needs to ask a question but the employees are preoccupied talking with each other! Even more aggravating is when staff members congregate to socialize, leaving customers to fend for themselves. The place for employees to chat and hold meetings is in a staff area; not in front of customers—and then, only when there are no customers in the store! 

When you’re on the floor, make yourself visible and available to customers. This also means not interrupting your employees or co-workers who are talking to customers. If you need to talk to an employee or a co-worker who’s assisting a customer, give that person a quick nod, and then let her come to you when she has finished with her customer. If you absolutely must interrupt, excuse yourself and apologize to the customer for the interruption and, as you leave, thank the customer for his/her patience.

3. Prioritize walk-in customers over phone callers.

A customer who made the effort to show up in person gets priority. That means you need to interrupt the call by saying, “Mrs. Jones, someone just walked in. May I ask you to hold for a moment while I greet her?” Wait for the caller’s agreement, and then greet the walk-in customer, tell her you’ll be a moment, and get back to and wrap up your telephone conversation. (Beginning with the caller’s name gets her attention immediately without being rude.)

If you’re alone in the store and talking to customer in person when the phone rings, allow an automated answering system or answering service to answer. Do not interrupt a visitor to answer the phone. If you absolutely must take a phone call, ask the visitor’s permission, explain that you want to focus on her and let her know that you’ll quickly take a message and be back with her right away. Then tell the caller that you are with another customer but will call her back right away—within five or 10 minutes. Abandoning in-store customers to answer the phone is rude and a guaranteed way to lose customers.

4. Acknowledge walk-in customers right away.

If you are on the phone or face to face with a customer when a visitor walks-in, acknowledge the new walk-in customer immediately with eye contact, a smile and a quick “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes (or however long it will be).” By acknowledging the visitor, you convey that you are aware of her and that you are working quickly. And it tells the customer in front of you that you have other people waiting (usually, she’ll get the hint that you need to wrap-up!).

For new arrivals who have “just a quick question,”—if it is, indeed, quick—ask your current customer for her permission to interrupt your conversation for 10 seconds, and then give the “quick question” customer 10 seconds. If it’s going to take more than 10 seconds, tell that person, “That’s going to take a few minutes to go over, so I’ll finish assisting this person, which will take me about x minutes, and then I’ll be happy to help you. Meanwhile, if you’d like to sit and grab a coffee …. Thanks for your patience and understanding.”

5. Address chronic staffing/line management issues

While hiring more staff may not be economically feasible, when customers constantly get the impression that your shop is disorganized, understaffed or uncaring about their time, that’s a problem that requires more than just having staff work faster. Possible solutions include hiring more staff, moving phone calls to a professional answering service and implementing line management practices (take a number, etc.). 

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