How much attention and assistance should the employees of a business place give to the customers who walk in? As much as possible, right? Wrong!
Let me tell you a story.
An older professor at my university once told me a story about how she and her husband visited an Audi dealership to purchase a new car. They had always had Volkswagens and were looking to upgrade.
She said they entered the store and started looking around the cars, waiting for a salesperson to attend to them.
However, they had all been busy talking to the other customers there.
After being ignored for some time, the couple had stormed out, walked across the street to the Volkswagen dealership, and placed an order for the newer version of the same model they had been using.
Now imagine someone stopped reading this article right at the above line. Let’s imagine someone actually did that, and his name is Roy. This is where the Roy’s story begins.
Roy is an aspiring entrepreneur with a sneaker and streetwear store. After reading the story, Roy thought about how Audi lost a sale that day because of their poor attention to customers. He wants to make sure this sort of thing never happens at his business place. Because in business, every sale matters. So he gave himself some business advise.
He says to himself, “Roy, you have got to always pay attention to all the customers that walk in the door. Assist them as much as you can. They are the ones paying your bills after all. Make them feel special. Give them a five star service. Then your business will stand out among others in the neighborhood. More people will shop here more often because of the great customer service you provide!”
So he does just that. He greets every single customer that walks in. The moment a customer starts checking out a product on display, he is right next to them, offering his assistance. He runs around the store all day making sure nobody is left out.
By the end of the day he is exhausted, both physically and emotionally. But he is happy about his performance and enthusiastic to repeat the same thing tomorrow.
Roy goes home. He has dinner and goes to bed. And he starts browsing his social media accounts until he falls asleep, as you do. Then he gets an alert about a new Google review for his business.
You might need to zoom in to read it.
Roy is heartbroken. All he wanted to do was to improve the in-store experience for his customers, not chase them away. And it was not easy to do that either.
But then he starts to think about what the reviewer has said. And it does make sense. Who wants to shop at a place where you feel pressured to buy something as soon as you start checking out the products? Nobody, right?
So Roy decides to go back to his old ways.
But he never figured out why his plan to give more attention to his customers backfired on him. How can you really know how much attention is the right amount? Maybe the answer is to not give too much or too little, but be in the middle? But then how do you know which way you should lean towards to improve?
The answer is in (perceived) value.
You see, what makes a customer spend money at a business place is perceived value. The reason this is called “perceived” value is because it is not absolute. It changes according to the perception of each customer. And even for the same customer, it changes over time. Customer satisfaction also refers to the same concept.
The more value a customer “feels” from a business, the more money they will spend more often. And the attention and assistance provided by the employees of a business is one of the many factors that affect the value perception of customers. But there is no hard and fast rule that can be applied to the customer service of every business.
In the context of the Audi dealership in the story, more attention from the salespeople could have created higher value (as perceived by the couple). But in the context of the shopper who reviewed Roy’s store, less attention could have created higher perceived value for him.
Well, for starters, they are two different sets of customers. If the older couple was sneaker-shopping for their grandson, they might have appreciated Roy’s extra assistance. But, more importantly, these two businesses are selling two different things. And that matters.
The general brand image of Audi is one of luxury. And that’s the way Audi likes it too. So they make sure that aspect of their brand is conveyed from their dealerships. From the architecture of the building to the dress code and grooming of the salespeople, Audi wants to create a feeling of luxury, indulgence, affluence and aspiration. That is what works for them. (By the way, not all luxury brands want to create exactly the same perception of luxury. More on that in future lessons.)
This is also exactly what makes someone storm out of a business place when they feel they are being ignored. Their insecurity about not being worthy of being associated with such a luxury brand gets validated. They see it as an act of belittlement. And that makes them angry.
Remember, the couple in the story were first time Audi buyers. So they probably already had preconceived notions about the brand. Becoming a consumer of Audi probably meant an achievement to them.
On the other hand, Roy’s sneaker and streetwear store is a local fashion boutique. And what works for these
In theory they should feel flattered. But remember, customers are not perfect. This is something we talk about in detail in the lesson “The blind leading the blind.”
Now, you can see very clearly how this story does not help the claim I made at the beginning of this article. In fact, it might actually convince you the opposite is true — Audi lost a sale because their salespeople didn’t give assistance to a customer who walked in their doors. An aspiring entrepreneur who reads this story would tell themselves to give attention to every single person who shows interest in their business, because unless, it could cost you valuable sales (which does sound right in your head). It’s so obvious isn’t it? Who wants to give their money to a business that ignores them?
Let’s just assume this is the correct takeaway from this story for the sake of the argument. Let’s assume you read the story, give yourself the above advise and you take it to heart too.
Now let’s imagine you run a sneaker and streetwear store.
You are determined to use this knowledge to improve the customer experience of your store. Right away you start to greet every customer that walks in. The moment a customer starts checking out a product on display, you’re right next to them, offering your assistance.
You sell some stuff that day — maybe just as many as you usually sell in a day, maybe more, maybe less. But you’re excited to follow your new customer service strategy tomorrow as well.
You go home. You have dinner and go to bed. And you start browsing your favorite social media until you fall asleep, as you do.
Since you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, you follow business-related content.
So this post pops up in your feed.
The title of the link grabs your attention. It suggests that you should do the complete opposite of what you have just started doing.
It’s a study done by HRC Retail Advisory in 2018 by polling 2,900 North American consumers.
According to them, “Ninety-five percent of consumers want to be left alone while shopping unless they need a store associate’s help. Many shoppers are moving away from the hands-on, personalized service from store associates, and instead turning to their friends and family via social media to share pictures and gather opinions before they buy, particularly in apparel.”
Of course! What were you thinking? Who wants to shop while being stared at by store employees? You need time to look around before you decide what you want to buy.
So you panic a little bit and think you have been overdoing the attention-giving thing. You feel a bit stupid too because you were not really your normal self today. You wonder how many customers must have you turned away by following them around and making them feel watched?
You conclude that you don’t need to give so much attention and assistance to customers. And you become the most relaxed and laid-back streetwear store in the neighborhood. You only attend to a customer when they ask you for assistance. They can come and hang out as long as they want. You never put any pressure on them to purchase anything. That should make more people come back right?
You practice this philosophy for a day and your store gets the following Google review the next day. You might have to zoom in to read it.
Let’s just assume that Daniella is not acting unreasonably entitled, because she is a “Local Guide” and has 447 reviews under her belt. And the fact that 32 people have approved this review probably mean more people have had similar experiences at your store. Clearly this is bad for your business.
So what went wrong here? Is there no winning? You are just eager to grow your business by providing a good customer experience, that’s all. Maybe you got too enthusiastic and went to two extremes? Maybe the answer is to not ignore customers completely OR follow them around — stay in the middle.
The research did say consumers want to be left alone while shopping unless they need a store associate’s help. So you pay attention to people from afar and jump in to assist them only when they look like they need help — basically what you had always been doing.
Wrong assumptions made earlier: There are exact intrinsic (lying within themselves) qualities in shops in that every customer that walks in will have the same perception/see the same patterns and therefore will require the same amount of assistance.
If a salesperson at the Audi dealership came to assist the couple, they would have definitely bought a car from them.
So, the moral of the story is pay more attention to customers and try to assist each one of them? Well, you would certainly be inclined to think that.
However, that would be extremely misleading advise.
INTENDED EMOTIONAL REVELATIONS: There’s no grand theory that spells out the standard amount of attention to give to customers in a store. There are theories that suggest you should give as much as possible, and ones that say you should let them be. All those theories come from a place of trying to not offend the customer. Sure, we mustn’t offend our customers — it would be bad for business, but if we make it our main goal, we are going to lose sight of what’s more important. Making sales! In order to make sales…
And when you start from there and work backwards…
What type of emotion are you looking to generate in the mind of your customers?
Maybe you want them to feel like they are getting a quick bargain (to get people to make one-time impulsive purchases). Or maybe you want to make them feel like they are free to browse your store for a really long time looking at products before making up their minds. And they can always come back whenever they have time to kill. That’s the kind of feeling some stores depend on to generate sales.
Are you selling a feeling of convenience? Or are you selling a feeling of exclusiveness/prestige?
Although I say attention, what I actually mean is active attention… which can be paraphrased as “assistance”. Therefore, the words attention and assistance will be used interchangeably for the purpose of this article.
Passive attention, where customers are observed without their constant awareness of it (like security cameras, movement tracking for analytics etc) are not discussed in this lesson.
The combined set of emotions that generate sales for your business cannot be summed up in a word or two… it’s very complex. The same type of business can benefit from different emotions in different neighborhoods, times, price points etc. So there is no one-size-fits-all for every store.
Although you can’t always get it right, you can still identify the core emotions that make people spend money at your business place the most. By the way, the emotions that motivate purchase behavior can change from customer to customer as well. So you might observe slight changes between different customer segments as well. Some people like to receive more assistance than others. And when you’re trying to figure that out, the optimal amount of attention you need to give to each customer will reveal itself to you. It’s part of an emotional package that is unique to each store.
Bear in mind, this feeling can change over time.
There’s a reason why you don’t hear stories about someone walking out of a DOLLAR STORE (unlike a car dealership) after being ignored.
How much attention should the employees of a business give to customers who walk in to its stores? As much as possible? Sounds about right, but don’t people hate being followed around and being watched all the time?
Surely that doesn’t mean ignoring them completely is the . Maybe there’s a sweet spot — the right amount of attention that makes people want to shop at your store the most. But how do you know for sure how much that is?
By the end of this lesson you will have the knowledge needed to decide exactly how much attention you should give to your customers visit your store.
It seems to be a never ending puzzle that nobody has answers for. This says give as much as possible, this says to leave them alone.
The answer is in a different approach.
You can find many complaints on the internet about people visiting shops and being ignored by the workers there. Maybe you too have had such unpleasant experiences.
These incidents certainly seem like loss of valuable sales to the business. And when customers talk about such experiences on the internet, more people get negative impressions about the business, which can damage its reputation.
Surely there’s a valuable business lesson to be learned here.
One might think the lesson is that you need to pay attention to your customers and assist them as much as possible (and it does sound right), but surprisingly, that is really not the case. In fact, such advise would be very much misleading.
Why do some shoppers feel like they are being ignored in some stores? How bad is it for a business when that happens?
Have you ever visited a store and felt ignored by the staff there? How did that make you feel? Did you end up spending your money there? And more importantly, did you ever return to that store?
Shoppers being ignored by the employees of a business place can make them seriously angry.
So what can we learn from this? Pay attention to your customers and assist them as much as possible? Well, not exactly. It’s more complicated than that.
It seems that most business owners don’t have a clear idea about how much assistance they should give to customers who visit their stores.
Buying a Brand New Audi
If you have never done it yourself, you must have at least heard stories about people walking out of car dealerships out of anger/annoyance. While it might happen for different reasons like salesmen trying to give you a bad deal, being rude, trying to trick you etc, this lesson is going to be about people walking out because they were being ignored.
If you search the terms “ignored at car dealership” and “ignored at car Walmart” separately (without the quotation marks), the first one will bring you many stories of people
The insecurity that needs to be validated right away (that they are not worthy/are peasants/invalid/poor/no status)
Sounds like missed opportunities from the sales people’s perspective
Off-topic about people going to dealerships dressed like they’re poor
Makes sense not to entertain them from the POV of the sales people? How about if it’s going to be on YouTube? How do you maintain the VIP experience while still entertaining everyone who walks in? How does it depend on the type of business? Loyalty/priority programs? Worth the trouble? Just how many people have boycotted an entire brand/dealership based on one experience? A lot? Whose loss is it really?
Notice how the first paragraphs of this lesson makes absolutely no sense regarding places where you WANT to be ignored. But it paints a picture of stuck up employees who think they’re too good to assist you and makes you think you’re not worthy.
Notice how I avoided taking stores where the owner doesn’t usually leave the cashier to assist the customers (gas station grocery store deli) when taking examples. For those types of stores, following customers around trying to get in their face is an obvious no-no, generally. However, for local shops in close-knit communities, the owner will greet you when you come in and come to your assistance if you call for him. In that context, they’re not playing the typical roles of business owner and customer. They’re basically just friends. The distance is absent.
In the beginning of Roy’s story, I wrote “In business, every sale matters.” Yes, every sale does matter. But this can be wrongly interpreted as every person that person that shows interest in your business can be and should be converted into a customer. This mindset can lead you down a path of deep despair. The line was used merely to make Roy’s thinking sound realistic.
What happened to Roy was he did not look at the story as it is. He drew similarities between his business place and the one in the story. One couple went to one Audi dealership, then walked out of it because they got annoyed by being ignored by the staff. It does not necessarily mean every person that walks into every shop will go through the same exact emotions.
Roy was blind to all these details when he came up with his conclusions. This is because his thinking was driven by the guilt of not paying enough attention to his customers. Now this does not necessarily mean he was not paying enough attention to them. But he felt guilty about not doing enough. When you are running a business and trying to improve it, it’s common to get into tunnel vision and think you need to force yourself to do something difficult in order to succeed.
Remember, just because something is difficult (or easy) to do, it doesn’t mean you should do it to succeed. It seems common knowledge but you would be surprised how many times people fall into this trap.
If Roy had a clear understanding about the core emotions that convert the visitors of his store to customers, this wouldn’t have happened. Clearly, the emotional satisfaction of having the store owner/employees attending to you like personal assistants isn’t one of them. In the context of his business, most customers will perceive such attention as pressure to spend their money there without taking much time to decide.
We will talk in detail about how you can identify these purchase emotions for your business later on in future lessons.
The truth is, there is no right amount of attention that every shopper expects from every shop. It changes with context.