Did you know that you’re speaking volumes to a customer before a word passes through your lips? Check your stance. Have you been standing for a while? Shifting your weight to one side? Where are your hands…on your hips…crossed in front of you? Are your shoulders slumped or are you standing tall?
This behavior could cost you a sale before a single greeting comes out of your mouth. Forget the ‘can I help you find something?’ opening statement. Focus first on what your body is telling prospective customers.
According to communication and negotiation expert Anne Warfield, body language speaks volumes and many of us are woefully unaware of what we’re saying. It should come as no surprise; Warfield states that only about four percent of people understand how to effectively read body language. “What is often called ‘women’s intuition’ or a ‘gut reaction’ is actually someone receiving non-verbal communication,” states Warfield. “They just aren’t able to understand exactly why they feel that way.”
Warfield’s expertise has been used on countless news broadcasts to evaluate the integrity of politicians, presidents and corporate CEOs, but her abilities have also been leveraged in many high-level business situations. She jokes, “I’ve even been asked along on a blind date or two!”
And it’s not simply a matter of looking uninterested in a customer’s needs. Many times, the signals we send out of nervousness are the same signals used in deceitful behavior, so a customer may interpret anxiety as dishonesty. The end result is still the same—the customer leaves without making a buying decision and may even feel uncomfortable returning to that particular business.
Learning to synchronize your body language and your words is a skill well worth learning. Being aware of the connection is a first step down this road, and as it turns out, you can change your cues by changing your mind. It’s important to think it through first.
Thoughts Become Behavior
If you want to change the customer experience, start first with paying attention to the dialogue happening between your ears. “Thoughts and body language are so intricately woven together that we cannot scientifically quantify which happens first,” counsels Warfield. Much like the advice given by many a football coach, it’s true you need to get your head in the game.
Envision your day going well and think about the satisfaction you feel when helping a customer find the perfect camera or accessory. You can even fantasize about a villa in the mountains; just don’t add the thought that you’d rather be there than helping a confused client. She’s likely to pick up on that distinction! Take a tip from professional yogis and focus on ‘being in the moment.’
Preparing Your Team
If you’re looking for some insight regarding how your employees interact with customers, take a peek inside your employee break room. Are the walls the color of oatmeal and in desperate need of fresh paint? Is your carpet’s true hue a mystery to everyone who enters? If this is the last interaction your employees have before going out on the floor, it’s no wonder their body language tells others that they’d rather be somewhere else.
Retailers often focus on how the store displays and show floor look, and while this is extremely important, it appears that the sale may actually begin in the break room. A little attention behind the counter can translate into dollars crossing said counter later.
As it turns out, telling your employees to get busy rather than allowing them to simply stand around is not only a good use of time, it’s good business as well. “Action changes your body language,” says Warfield, “and that action creates a positive energy and momentum in the store.”
In addition to keeping busy, employees can begin learning a new language by being aware of their nonverbal cues. One thing to note: If you tell an angry customer that you’d be happy to help her, make sure you’d be happy to help her. If you say this phrase through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes, expect her to treat you in kind. She’ll know if your comment isn’t genuine and will make her buying decisions accordingly, even if she can’t put her finger on why she doesn’t want to refer you to her friends.
Here are a few recommendations on how to positively interact with customers:
1. When greeting a customer, open palms are seen as warm and inviting whereas crossed arms or hands in pockets indicate disinterest.
2. Make eye contact at least 70% of the time. A lack of eye contact can indicate dishonesty.
3. Observe how much space your customer needs and adapt accordingly. Some need more space, others less. Just beware if you need more personal space than your customer; if you continue stepping back from a customer, he’ll think you dislike him or do not wish to assist him. Ditto if you need less space than he does; intruding on a customer’s personal space may feel pushy and aggressive. No sale there!
Same Signal, Different Meaning
Photo retailers are well-schooled in understanding many of the different decision making processes made by men versus women, but did you know that both genders can give you the same signal but mean very different things?
Women will often nod to acknowledge that they are listening to you whereas men are more likely to nod in agreement. This is an important distinction that can make or break a budding customer relationship. Just because she hears you doesn’t mean she agrees with you!
Nervous or Lying?
We must state that the material we’re about to cover does not mean that every ‘deceit cue’ is in fact a nonverbal lie. Many of these same behaviors stem from nervousness; unfortunately, your customers may not register the difference, and if they’re uncomfortable with the answer, it can translate into a lost sale.
If you’ve got a new salesperson or a sales associate who doesn’t have the answer to a question being asked, he may look at the floor. Instead of having him grasp for an answer he may not have, counsel him to bring in another associate who will likely know the answer. “Your salesperson may be thinking, ‘I should know this answer but I don’t so the cue is coming from him trying to pretend he knows more than he does,” says Warfield.
It’s OK Not to Know
It seems that even lying to yourself can be detected. Let employees know that if they don’t know an answer, skip the guesswork and find a partner who can assist the customer. In addition to the customer being served, the employee’s body language may improve through his understanding that it’s okay to bring in a bit of help until he’s proficient with the products being sold.
Knowing that there is a second language being spoken to customers before a word is offered can be a powerful skill in a retailer’s business tool kit. Helping your team understand the power of their nonverbal behavior may raise more than just morale; it may raise revenues, too. Even if you just can’t put your finger on why. yy