The Retail Doctor 08 | 09 | 15
Listening For The What
Being able to listen is related to concentrating – but adds the what, not just the why.
When I first started working on my choral-conducting, my professor Rod Eichenberger, would stop me mid-phrase and ask, “Are you getting the sound you want?”
“I dunno” I replied. I was so concentrated on why my hands had to move in a certain way that I failed to connect my actions to what I was hearing from the chorus.
Notice, he whispered in my ear... and I restarted.
Noticing is listening. It’s what tells another human being they are worthy of your interest.
When we don’t feel listened to, we shut down.
How we hear someone is falling on deaf ears as we text, emoji, and gif our communication skills.
But if you want to be a professional, a salesperson who enjoys their job and the fun of selling, you must standout from those who are awash in a world of words they fail to hear.
I came face-to-face with such an unlistening person behind a counter at a deli...but it could have been anywhere.
When she asked what I wanted, I said “A six-inch chicken sub on white with green peppers.”
She put on her gloves and asked, “Was that white or wheat?”
“And what did you want?”
“A chicken sub with green peppers.”
“Was that a six- or twelve-inch?”
“What did you want on it?”
“Did you want cheese?”
“No, just the peppers.”
“You don’t want me to warm it up first?”
“Yes, I want it warm.”
“Well you said something about it being cold.”
“What are you talking about? I never mentioned anything about cold.” As I looked down, she was preparing a twelve-inch sub. “Uh, that’s supposed to be a six-inch.”
“Oh, I really can’t do two things at once.”
“Then you are in the wrong business,” I said.
Brutal like Donald Trump, maybe.
But the point is there are millions of employees working in retail who are only half-hearing what people are saying.
That means they’re only half-understanding what their shopper is trying to solve.
That translates into only half-caring about what that shopper wants.
And probably only half-caring that they work at your store.
No wonder so many shoppers feel disconnected when they go shopping in a brick and mortar store...the one place their money should be making people listen to them.
So how do you develop your employees’ listening skills?
A fun exercise to use in a meeting is to select a true story you have experienced with a shopper. Write it out so you make sure you get all you want into the story. Give as much detail as possible but don’t make it so straightforward; include some irrelevant details about the weather, or you getting to work on time, or the trash overflowing - doesn’t matter.
Give your employees pads of paper and pens. Tell your story. (If you really want to test them, leave out one or two sentences.) At the end, ask them to write down three relevant details you mentioned in the story. Ask them to identify two things that had nothing to do with the story. Ask them if there are things they feel were left out.
It isn’t important that they get this perfect; it is simply a lesson in listening.
When you’re able to develop concentration and listening skills you’re ready for the third trait…
Empathizing to understand
Empathy is the ability to imagine all the sensations of another person. You want to feel what they feel.
Maybe a shopper is frustrated an old favorite jacket has worn out. Because you can empathize with how that would feel and use all of your knowledge about the products in your store, you hold the solution.
Maybe they have been searching online for a purchase, but something has been holding them back. When you have empathy, you understand that you have the wisdom to sort the options and solve their problems.
Untrained salesclerks might only sympathize with how awful it is something wore out. In their world, yea it sucks is something they identify with. And that’s the end of it.
Because they can’t empathize and feel what that shopper feels, they can’t help the customer move past and solve that problem. Both the clerk and the shopper are stuck.
How do you develop your empathy?
You cultivate your curiosity about strangers. Studs Terkel once said, Don’t be an examiner, be an interested inquirer.
To develop empathy, you have to give up the idea that as a salesperson, you're in charge. The truth is your customer is.
And to attract and keep more buyers, you have to make sure you aren’t treating them like they are felons who did something wrong, or like they’re third graders needing to be prodded for every piece of information.
To develop empathy, rather than just asking what are you looking for, ask questions that help you understand the frustrations, excitement, or perspective of the shopper standing in front of you. Then concentrate your listening on what they say.
The problem isn’t how do I get more customers into my store?
And it isn’t how to turn them into buyers…
If each person on your team will concentrate, listen and have empathy for each person who walks through your doors, it will happen because...
Shoppers are human beings looking for a friendly face...Someone who can concentrate on their needs at that moment. Someone who can listen to the emotion behind the purchase. Someone who can empathize and provide the solution just right for them.
When you develop the ability to concentrate, listen, and empathize, you’ll be in the moment...
And customers will tell their friends you did.