Don’t Hover

How can you deliver great customer service without being intrusive?

Nothing can make me want to leave a business faster than the salesperson who asks if I need any help, and upon hearing the reply, “Nah, I’m just looking”,  continuing to keep an uncomfortably close hover position. It’s like I’m Fred Astaire and they are Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards for every move down the aisle I make forward. Within minutes I have them walking backwards toward the door. As the door is closing behind me, it cuts off their final salvo to me, the exiting customer, “Come back anyti…..”.

Granted, there are times I walk into an establishment and I need help immediately. That is when this type of salesperson is most needed. And coincidentally, that is the time when I struggle the most to find one. I have always wondered why that is. Must be that Murphy character and his confusing laws at work.

This is probably one of those topics with so many viewpoints, and so many valid reasons why businesses choose to conduct themselves in whatever fashion they choose. For my two cents worth, adjusted for inflation of course, the salesperson should sum up the customers purpose fast and then help or get out of the way.

I am one of those people who prefers to find things myself. For years, I hated going to Barnes and Noble because you had to ask a clerk if they had a book in stock, then follow them as they took you to its location. Then, they’d hover as you tried to skim the table of contents. Borders on the other hand, set up computers where you could look it up yourself, then go and peruse at your leisure. That is bliss. If I needed their help, I’d ask.

So this got me to thinking, what is a good phrase to use when a customer walks into your establishment? It would have to be one that lets them know you are there if they need it, and out of their way if they don’t.

The old, “Hi, I’m Joe, just holler if you need anything”, is OK, but it seems  to me like Joe doesn’t really want to be bothered. Hovering is annoying, at least to me. “Can I help you”, is always great of course. But I was thinking there might be a phrase that lets the customer know that you will hover if need be, leave them alone if desired, and help them no matter what.

Here’s a possibility. Start with, “Hi, I’m Patrick (insert your name here), is there a direction I can point you?”

This lets them decide how to use your services. If they want to browse, they will tell you a direction to point them. If they want help, they’ll ask. It puts them in charge and hopefully keeps them from thinking you will try to push anything on them. You are getting their permission to sell to them.

And that is always a good place to start any relationship.