Are you a closer?

by Michelle Mangen on February 11, 2010

in Guest Writers

Are you a closer?

Guest Post by LaTosha Johnson

Follow LaTosha on Twitter: @TargetStars

I am a savvy shopper who has gone to a couple stores (department, electronic, etc.) over the past few weeks with the intention of buying a particular item only to walk out with a completely different one. The store employees that I refer to as “closers” caused me to deviate from my shopping list by providing excellent customer service.

A closer is someone who is able to assess the problem and do what it takes to resolve the situation. These employees could have easily allowed me to wander aimlessly searching throughout the store trying to locate the products I needed, but instead they chose to be a closer. Here are three skills every closer must master offline and online:

  • Greet: This might seem like a pretty obvious one, but I believe stores are missing out on sales because they fail to speak to their customers. In every instance where I bought an item that I hadn’t intended on purchasing I was greeted by someone from that store. In order to provide great customer service, you have to acknowledge customers. I do not know about you, but I get frustrated when I cannot find what I am looking for and there isn’t a single person around to help me. Depending upon how much energy your customer has, they might “tough it out” until they find what they seek, but more often times they will choose to give up and go some place else.
  • If you fail to greet your customers online, by making sure the aesthetics of the website are inviting, the website is easy to navigate, etc. they will not even bother to “tough it out” they will just go to another website. Therefore, it is imperative that you provide top notch customer service online by making it easy for your customers to find you in case they have questions. This can easily be resolved by making sure that there is a Contact Us page or link somewhere on the website.  If I cannot find what I am looking for and cannot find a location to seek assistance is the equivalent of asking me to leave. A company with a great online presence will never put themselves in this situation.
  • Guide: In order to provide guidance to your customers, you must be willing to do some investigating. Asking, “Did you need help finding anything?” is a great start, but do not end the conversation there. The customer will respond oftentimes with a short response such as, “I am looking for external hard drives.” Take it a step further and ask them what type of information they are going to store on the hard drive, if they have a particular brand in mind, etc. the more information you have, the better you can assist your customers. Sometimes, your customers may think they know exactly what they need, but with a little prodding you may save them some trouble in the long run by suggesting a better product or service.

Providing guidance to your customers online can be a bit tricky. You want to provide as much information as you can about the variety of products and services that you offer, but you also must be careful not to overwhelm them. One website that I feel does a great job guiding their customers to the product(s) they seek is Zappos.  Zappos is an online retailer that provides products varying from shoes to houseware and is known for providing stellar customer service. The site helps customers find the products they seek by enabling them to “drill down” to them via the alphabetical brand index, departments, categories, etc. Being able to “drill down” to the customer’s specifications increases their ability to find the product they seek in a minimal amount of time. Allowing your customers various ways to find what they need provides for a pleasant shopping experience for all.

Go: Once you have identified your customer’s needs and they have the product in hand, help them get through the next hurdle—checking out so they can leave the store.  I cannot tell you how many times I have received great customer service from the employees working in their respective departments only to have the experience tainted because only one person is working at the register and there are 15 people waiting in line.

If you own a store, empower your employees with the ability to hop on a register when they see it is busy without having to go through layers of management to do so. Your customers are busy and anything you can do to speed up the process of checking out is appreciated and will increase the likelihood of them returning to your store. Simplify the process of checking out online by making sure your customers are able to easily add their products to the shopping cart and allow them a variety of forms to pay for their purchases.

Being a closer online or offline is not difficult, it just requires more time; however, the effort will be well worth it once you close the deal.

LaTosha JohnsonBio: LaTosha Johnson is President of TargetStars, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to providing top notch marketing and virtual administrative services to small companies and solopreneurs at an affordable price.

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  • CJ Bowker

    Interesting take on being a ‘closer’, it might have a slightly different connotation. I can’t stand it when I got into a store and they say, “can I help you?”. How many times do people ever say ‘yes’ to that question? Those poor employees must hear ‘no’ hundreds of times a day because they ask the wrong question. Why can’t stores come up with a better question to ask? They might even engage the customer properly so that they can do a better job of guiding them.
    .-= CJ Bowker´s last blog ..Verizon Phone Adventure =-.

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  • CJ Bowker

    What if they don’t ask a ‘yes or no’ question? Maybe you nudge people to a more favorable response by asking an ‘either-or’ question. An example might be in a clothing store “Are you looking for work clothes or maybe something for a night out?” Throw in some body language and a little tonality, you just might get an answer that can start a conversation.
    .-= CJ Bowker´s last blog ..Verizon Phone Adventure =-.

    • http://www.thevirtualasst.com Michelle Mangen

      CJ – I like that answer though people don’t always share. Like LaTosha mentioned I am often asked, “Did you find everything you need?” but if I didn’t and indicate what it was that I am looking for they never offer to tell me where it is or call someone over to get it for me.

      In my virtual world when I do a phone consult I ask, “What would you like to achieve with XXX?” that typically starts conversation as it gets the prospect telling me all about what they hope to achieve with a Virtual Assistant. In addition to giving me more insight into what they desire it also enables me to “filter” them to find out if they are my ideal client or if they would be better suited to working with a different virtual assistant.

  • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

    CJ,
    Stores are in a catch-22 situation. If they do not ask, “Can I help you?” They are often accused of providing poor customer service, so I do not foresee this changing anytime soon. I have been to some stores that ask, ” Did you find what you are looking for?” Both questions often receive ‘no’ as the answer, but you have to ask because in case someone does need help (many times people won’t bother to ask so this question serves as a prompt) you’re able to help them. Thanks for your comment.
    .-= LaTosha Johnson ´s last blog ..How to Experience Guest Blogging Success =-.

  • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

    CJ,
    I used to work in retail a long time ago and used a variety of approaches to get a conversation started with patrons. Honestly, regardless of what approach you use you run the risk of getting turned down. However, one thing I found to be interesting is when you start getting too detailed (i.e. asking them what they are searching for and why such as your example with the clothes) some may find this to be a turn off. You can’t please everyone, which is why I feel most stores tend to just stick with the safe bet and ask, ” Can I help you?”

    I have to piggyback off of Michelle’s comment because when you start a conversation with a question along the lines of how can I help you, also demonstrates a genuine interest in your desire to help them solve a problem.

  • http://www.wchingya.com Ching Ya

    The first time I came to know what does it mean when referred to as a ‘closer’, thanks to LaTosha. :-)

    I have had the experience of dealing with customers back in my working days. It’s true that it’s always good to be the initiator to approach customers, even with a friendly smile or a gesture of ‘how can I help you?’ , with or without saying it. Body language and the tone of voice are of great importance especially when some customers are a bit uneasy been stalked by the ‘silent’ service provider around the store/office. It’s always a good thing to ask, politely.

    What I think important to be a close is not only the knowledge but the PR skill, the way you reach out to people, how to make them feel comfortable and trust us as service providers — honesty is important to build trust as well.

    A very enlightening post, Michelle, thanks for introducing us to LaTosha. ^^

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker
    .-= Ching Ya´s last blog ..7 Features to Brand, Market, Manage with MarketMe Tweet =-.

    • http://www.thevirtualasst.com Michelle Mangen

      Ching – so glad you stopped by to read the post and have now connect to LaTosha – if you aren’t following her on Twitter – I highly recommend it! She’s awesome!

  • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

    Hi Ching Ya,

    I don’t mind it when store employees initiate the conversation. A friendly demeanor can increase the employee’s chances of closing the deal (I hate being stalked around the store—saying something is always the way to go!). I agree that store employees do have to possess some level of PR skills because they are representing the store and are on the “front line.” Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for your comment!
    .-= LaTosha Johnson´s last blog ..Book Review: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur =-.

  • http://www.lionslinger.com Walter

    I guess I can call myself a closer but not in a trade kind of way. In my everyday encounter with people, I’m more of a closer when someone approaches me for guidance or assistance. :-)

    • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

      Hi Walter,
      I believe we are all closers to some degree. The main point I was trying to get at is not to allow opportunities to pass by when people are need of your assistance (doesn’t sound like you have this problem!). So many people fail to take advantage of these opportunities and then wonder why they can’t close a sale or why their business is not progressing. Thanks for your comment!
      .-= LaTosha Johnson´s last blog ..Book Review: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur =-.

  • http://www.LandscapingPerth.com.au John@ kerbing Perth

    We used to own a store and because I really don’t like to be bothered by sales staff, I made a point of not asking if I could help. I acknowledged their entry into the store with a smile, and simply said “I am right here if you need anything.”
    Only when they approachd the till or headed towards the exit did I ask if they found what they were looking for and offer assistance if they haven’t found what they came for.
    Who likes hovering sales staff, – I certainly don’t.
    .-= John@ kerbing Perth ´s last blog ..Landscaping =-.

    • http://www.thevirtualasst.com Michelle Mangen

      John:
      Hovering definitely can be bad – if someone hovers are they hovering because they want to help or because they suspect you may walk off with something?

    • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

      Hi John,

      I also do not like salespeople hovering over me. However, I do not believe that asking customers while they are looking around if they need assistance is hovering. However, the one thing I might add about waiting until the customer is headed out towards the door before asking them if they found everything okay is that the chances for closing the sale decrease.

      Some people may say no simply because they do not want to walk back to where the merchandise is located out of defiance because they may feel someone should have been working in that department. I totally understand your point, but I don’t think asking the customer once earlier in their search will be considered hovering.
      .-= LaTosha Johnson´s last blog ..Book Review: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur =-.

  • http://www.handbagsandhandguns.com hotpants™

    That’s very true about cashiers needing permission before they can hop on a register. I’ve never understood this, especially during the holidays.

    I’m stopping by from SITS. Welcome to the group.
    .-= hotpants™´s last blog ..Naps, Hockey & Shutter Island =-.

    • http://www.thevirtualasst.com Michelle Mangen

      HotPants:
      Never working retail myself not sure why that is either.

      Thanks for stopping by from SITS – just gotta love the awesome-ness over there!

    • http://www.targetstars.com/blog LaTosha Johnson

      Hotpants:
      I worked retail a long time ago and to this day I still don’t understand this either. I honestly think it is out of pure laziness. They want to reconcile as few registers as possible in hopes of being able to go home faster. However, if you don’t have many registers open and the line continues to grow you will not get home any faster. Totally goes against their efforts to “save” time.

      Thanks for your comment!
      .-= LaTosha Johnson´s last blog ..Book Review: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur =-.

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