Getting to Know You
Are you humming that Rodgers and Hammerstein song now too? No, just me? Well, whether you know the music and lyrics from The King and I or not, did you know that customers who wander into your store can feel much like that musical’s protagonist—a stranger in a strange land?
Getting to know your customers helps put them at ease when they visit your store. It also takes time and energy. But that’s time and energy well spent.
Start a Conversation
This might seem rather elementary, but when a customer comes into your store, greet him by walking over and introducing yourself. Demonstrate that he is valued. Ask how he is doing or if you can help him with anything. As you build rapport with that customer, find out what is important to him. What are his interests, struggles or aspirations? But don’t rapid fire questions all at once. Be patient. This is a process that will take time over several visits. You want your customers to feel comfortable, not like they are being attacked.
“You get to know customers by simply being friendly and talking to them. Of course, we try to remember the names of our regular customers and greet them right away with their name whenever possible. I never start out with a sales pitch. I usually try to give them a compliment (e.g., you look so pretty today) or say something like, ‘It’s so good to see you again.’ If I know some of their personal details, I will ask a question like, ‘How is your husband doing?’ or ‘How are your grandkids?’ If I can’t remember their name, I use the Bookstore Manager POS system that displays their name after you enter their phone number. That way they are impressed that I ‘remembered.’ We try to take the time to really listen to our customers and demonstrate care and concern for each one. We also pray with many customers. Maybe that is why we are still in business after 62 years!”
-Donna Baker, Dightman’s Bible Book Center, Tacoma, WA
Listen and Observe
The most important part of effective communication is not talking but listening. When you listen to what the other person is saying, you will be better equipped with how to respond. An equally important part of listening is observing what the other person is not saying. Notice non-verbal cues, such as body language or the type of products the customer is looking for.
Ann Kardos of Logos Bookstore of Kent in Ohio noticed that two of her customers had similar tastes in authors and were close in age. When one of the gentlemen would ask her to order a book, she’d order two, setting aside the second for her other customer. One day both of the customers were in her store at the same time. Ann said she introduced them to each other, and after a good laugh, they became friends.
The conversations at our stores are the most precious moments we can have
“Getting to know customers effectively does not involve data mining or spreadsheets nearly as much as engaging in genuine conversation with them. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have worked the register at my store every day except for four days. Sometimes, it can be pretty stressful; but most of the time, it is a delightful privilege. I have seen the items that people have chosen to give as Christmas gifts. I have seen the expressions on their face as they select the gift. Do they buy with excitement? Did they just grab anything that would help them check off a list? I have seen them wrestle with which color of a Bible cover would make more of an impression. I have helped a woman find a book to give to her friend who would be giving birth to a baby who would probably be going straight into the arms of Jesus. The conversations at our stores are the most precious moments we can have.
“I try to keep up on national and local news too. I try to pay attention to what is affecting the people in my area. I try to pivot based on the perceived needs of my customers. Sometimes they tell us what they need. Sometimes we guess at what they might need and want. Knowing our products and our vendors’ offerings are key to being able to make suggestions to customers when they present a situation or an opportunity to us. Every day is like a day of pop quizzes.”
-Ann Kardos, Logos Bookstore of Kent, OH
In this digital age, it’s easy to do some extracurricular research on your customers. No, not cyber stalking. Try posting surveys on your social media pages and see how each customer responds. If you have a POS system, look at their past purchases to see what their interests are. Getting to know them will help create a more personalized shopping experience for your customers.
“COVID caused us to stretch our shopping offerings. We were closed for both Easter and Mother’s Day in 2020. We had a sign outside that said, ‘Call in for Curbside.’ Customers, both brand new as well as faithful shoppers, were able to call in and ask for help with ‘that perfect gift for a special occasion.’ Customers would give their price range and tell us whom the item was for (i.e., gender, age range, etc.), then we were able to send them texts of options. This created a true personal shopping opportunity. It was so successful that we continue to offer the service, and the customers love it!”
-Andrea Lovvorn, The New Covenant Christian Bookstore, Shelbyville, TN CRA