Alternative to -"Can I help you"

17 replies
Across the land in a retail world.

When a customer wanders in...

99/100 the salesperson says the immortal words…

"Can I help you?"

The more savvy might say…

"How can I help you?"

And 98/100 shoppers will immediately say…

"No thanks I'm just looking"


So, what is the right thing to say?

(caveat no "Are you looking for X or Y)

I'm told it rarely works - because the customer tends to get agitated at the miraculous attempt at "mind reading"

And simply says "No, I am just looking" (leave me alone!)

So, whose got the ultimate, break the ice, build rapport, don't upset them, non manipulative, get them talking wonder phrase?


Steve


P.S. Steve, "All good and well you sneaking in from the copywriting forum and asking us a question, but wtf would you say?" I can hear you scream.

Well, I've never worked in retail so I haven't got a clue. I guess I would try humor.

Something like "You don't want me to say "Can I help you?" do you? - but if you need any help just ask"
#alternative #can i help you
  • Profile picture of the author adamZA
    when i worked retail, i quickly learnt that "Can i help you" didnt work 99% of the time.

    What did work was throwing in a line about whatever the customer is looking at.

    eg. if he was looking at say an Xbox One game, I'd say something like "i just started playing Fallout 4, and was itching to call in a few days stick" get his retort and then keep the conversation going.

    1) customer realises you are passionate about the product
    2) its not a question, just a conversation which hopefully leads to a sale and easier conversion
    3) you gotta know your wares. Dont be talking about PS4 to an XBox fanboy.. actually that could work too.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    Can't remember if it's Hopkins or a retail pro...goes something like:

    "Hi, I'm {YOUR NAME}, and I work in this department," (you can be a bit self-effacing, jokey here, "I know, duh, right?" if you like)...

    "I know a lot of people come in and don't want to be bothered, so I'll leave you to it." Turn away..."But if you have any questions, I'll be right over there." And go over there.

    When they realize they don't understand the geography of where stuff's located or the technical features of this vs that, they'll come on over.
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    • Profile picture of the author bizgrower
      Originally Posted by Jason Kanigan View Post

      Can't remember if it's Hopkins or a retail pro...goes something like:

      "Hi, I'm {YOUR NAME}, and I work in this department," (you can be a bit self-effacing, jokey here, "I know, duh, right?" if you like)...

      "I know a lot of people come in and don't want to be bothered, so I'll leave you to it." Turn away..."But if you have any questions, I'll be right over there." And go over there.

      When they realize they don't understand the geography of where stuff's located or the technical features of this vs that, they'll come on over.
      Eddie Bauer stores use an approach like that. They also have employees ask if you are looking for something in particular they can help you find, tell you about special sales, and then they "go over there".
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  • Profile picture of the author yukon
    Banned
    You could try this until mall security shows up.








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    Hi
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  • Profile picture of the author laurencewins
    Personally I like the "How can I help you?" because it's not a question with a yes or no answer. I don't believe it would work ALL the time but nothing works every single time.
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  • Profile picture of the author helisell
    Here's what I learned and what I've been teaching around the world for the last 30 years.

    You walk straight up to a prospective customer with a big open smile and halfway there you say

    "Hi how are you?"

    The secret is in HOW you say those words.

    You say them in a voice that is the same as you would use with
    a friend that you haven't seen for a while.

    What happens next is extremely complex.

    The customer is taken aback and assumes

    1. You have met them before...or
    2. You think you know them but you are making a mistake or
    3. Some combination of those two.

    The ultimate pattern interrupt ;0)

    They instantly adopt the role that you would expect....slightly hesitant or
    rapidly thinking "Where do I know you from"

    This works, and always has done, in the real "rubber meets the road" selling world

    It works in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand...how do I know????

    Because I have shown people in all those countries how it's done.

    Remember though...you have to say it with complete conviction as if you really do know the person.
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    • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
      I'm the ultimate "don't bother me" kind of person, but when I am shopping and I *am* looking for something specific, if someone comes up to me and says, "Is there anything I can help you with?" then I will say, straight out, what I'm looking for and appreciate the help.

      I also appreciate knowing that someone is available and interested in helping me if I need it.

      If someone used the fake friendliness technique described by helisell, I am not sure I would respond positively. Most people can't fake friendliness convincingly. However, I remember a kid who worked as a bagger in my local supermarket who truly had a warm, open smile for everyone, and I remember him precisely because he was so unusual. (Unusual at least where I live, in New England.)

      Marcia Yudkin
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      • Profile picture of the author helisell
        Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

        I'm the ultimate "don't bother me" kind of person, but when I am shopping and I *am* looking for something specific, if someone comes up to me and says, "Is there anything I can help you with?" then I will say, straight out, what I'm looking for and appreciate the help.

        I also appreciate knowing that someone is available and interested in helping me if I need it.

        If someone used the fake friendliness technique described by helisell, I am not sure I would respond positively. Most people can't fake friendliness convincingly. However, I remember a kid who worked as a bagger in my local supermarket who truly had a warm, open smile for everyone, and I remember him precisely because he was so unusual. (Unusual at least where I live, in New England.)

        Marcia Yudkin
        Marcia, my 'friendliness' is totally genuine.

        I'm just about to talk to someone who is going to pay my wages which is why I've adopted the approach.

        The secret is to genuinely love dealing with people and helping them. You may be right that most people don't know how to do it.....that's the reason I've been able to make a living all these years ;0)
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        • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
          I own a retail store, and teach sales to retailers.

          I say, "I'm here to serve". I say it in a slightly louder voice than normal.

          It's impossible to say, "We're just looking" after that.

          The important thing is to break their pattern. If I say, "May I help you", their pattern is to say "We're just looking".

          But nobody says, "I'm here to serve". So there is no conditioned response.
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          • Profile picture of the author bizgrower
            Originally Posted by Claude Whitacre View Post

            I own a retail store, and teach sales to retailers.

            I say, "I'm here to serve". I say it in a slightly louder voice than normal.

            It's impossible to say, "We're just looking" after that.

            The important thing is to break their pattern. If I say, "May I help you", their pattern is to say "We're just looking".

            But nobody says, "I'm here to serve". So there is no conditioned response.
            I did not realize it would be a pattern interrupt, I just got tired of people trying to cram
            4 people into a hotel room with a King bed to save $5 or $10 total. (Fire codes and all,
            now I have one less thing to watch.)

            Anyway, I changed pricing so all rooms are the same price. ($5 for more people because
            more people equals more resources used.)

            Now the conversation is "No, really, you can have whichever room is best for you for at
            the same price."

            I guess that's the key - say something a bit different. I like being acknowledged quickly
            in a store or restaurant, and then left alone to shop or read the menu.
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            • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
              Originally Posted by bizgrower View Post

              I did not realize it would be a pattern interrupt, I just got tired of people trying to cram 4 people into a hotel room with a King bed to save $5 or $10 total. (Fire codes and all, now I have one less thing to watch.).
              Another thing I will do, if I see someone coming into the store, is to have my back to them, dusting off a vacuum cleaner. I'll give them ten seconds or so to walk in, and then I'll turn around and say, "I'm here to serve".

              Acting as though they interrupted you, changes the dynamic slightly. It's even harder to say, "I'm just looking", if they interrupt you.

              But it's important not to appear bothered by the interruption. I just set down the dusting cloth, walk up to them and slightly smile.

              Occasionally I'll just say, "Hello" when they walk in. It's also hard to say, "I'm just looking", after someone says "Hello".


              I had a customer once say to me, "Hi, how are you?". And I replied, "Hello". And they said, "That's good to hear".

              They were so conditioned to hear "Fine", they just continued on, as though I said it.


              I love it when customers say, "The last time I was here, they told me....".
              I say, "They? It's only my wife and me"
              And they will continue, "Yes, they told me that..."

              Humans.
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  • Profile picture of the author gjabiz
    Yes. Then you know about our _______ keep that in mind while you browse and just let me know if you have any questions.

    No. Well, my boss insists I tell you that we ________ and if you have any questions or need any help, just give me the high sign (if your personality can deal, make it something funny).

    Acknowledge them. Quickly educate. Respect them.

    But don't let them leave without buying, even if it requires a lock down (HA).

    gjabiz
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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      Originally Posted by gjabiz View Post

      No. Well, my boss insists I tell you that we ________ and if you have any questions or need any help, just give me the high sign (if your personality can deal, make it something funny).
      I notice the OP changed the title to "Have you been in the store before?". I've seen sales trainers use that. And it looks great on the surface. It may even be a great greeting if you are a clerk in a large store, with lots of clerks.

      But here is why I don't use it. What if they say, "Yes. I was in yesterday and talked to you. Don't you remember?' And it also doesn't further the process. They could just say "Yes" or "No". and walk away.

      You used;
      "No. Well, my boss insists I tell you that we ________ and if you have any questions or need any help, just give me the high sign (if your personality can deal, make it something funny)."


      I've seen this used in several retail stores. The only thing I don't like about it is, "my boss insists I tell you.." The reason I don't like it, is that it sets up this thought, "My boss makes me say this, so you don't have to listen, and it won't bother me. And I personally don't think this is important".

      I would rather use something like;
      "No."
      "In that case, you'll want to know that _________, and if you have any questions or need any help, just give me the high sign"


      But. What if they came in looking for something? What if they came in to buy?

      Why would you set them free, and make them attract your attention again?

      If someone is truly just there to look around, they will let you know by saying, "Well, I'm just killing time, until my wife is done shopping next door", or something along those lines.

      I always assume they are in my store to buy. And I treat them as though that's why they are there. Many of the "techniques" I see are actually turning buyers...into browsers.

      You can turn buyers into browsers. but why would anyone want to do that?

      I can see the recommended greetings, if it's a huge department store, and your primary job is to stock shelves.

      But let's say it's a furniture store? How many people drive to a furniture store, without the idea of buying furniture? I would always assume they are there to buy. And I would assume that they already have given it some thought.

      A great question in that case is, "Where can I direct you?" If I had a huge store, I may say, "I'm here to serve. Where can I direct you?"

      At least they can now say, "We're here to buy ___, ", without having to reconnect with me.

      Am I overthinking this? No. (although most people would think so). The greeting, and follow up questions account for much of the high end selling I do. You are setting the direction of the conversation.

      And what is browsing? Wandering lost in a maze, with nobody to guide you.
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  • Profile picture of the author bizgrower
    Maybe, "Hi, what can I help you buy today?" ?

    I do often say "Hi, what can I do for you today?"
    (I don't know if they have a reservation, or are a walk in, or are
    making an inquiry for their family reunion in July...)

    I agree on the danger of not recognizing someone who visited recently.
    People sure do like to be remembered. I see about 6000 people a year
    and sometimes we are so busy that it all becomes a blur. (I'm often
    sleep deprived, too.)

    ----------------------

    I often wonder if the hip retail chains realize how many buyers they might be
    losing because the music is sooo loud? Even a little distortion in softer music will
    create an irritation that people can't quite place and it makes them want to leave.
    (That's one thing being a doorman in a night club will teach you. LOL)

    -----

    Cart - horse

    Soooo chains like Wal-Mart cut payroll by having less staff available.
    How many sales do they miss?

    I did work at a Wal-Mart and had to ask them if I could learn how to mix
    paint because a lot of times there was nobody on duty who knew how.
    Not even the highest level manager on duty.

    I worked in the garden center, next to hardware, and before I asked
    they were missing at least two to three paint sales per week.

    Dan
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  • I had a hunch, actually I knew it was a good idea to ask you all!

    Thanks so much for all your replies.


    Steve
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  • Profile picture of the author Mark Singletary
    Where I live many just say "what do you want to buy?"

    Mark
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    • Profile picture of the author Claude Whitacre
      Originally Posted by Mark Singletary View Post

      Where I live many just say "what do you want to buy?"

      Mark

      I have a friend that used to own a retail mattress store. Why he owned a retail store, I have no idea. He really didn't like people at all...and made no attempt to hide it.

      A buyer would walk through his door, and he would be sitting behind the counter. If he decided to get up, he would sigh in disgust...walk up to them, and say "What?". He said it like a statement.

      That was his greeting, "What". And he would just stand there, waiting for a response.

      I talked to him about it, but he refused to believe that the reason he was going out of business, was that he was destroying any chance of someone buying from him.

      Someone would say, "We'll look around", and he would just say, "Fine" and walk away.

      He was a good friend, a genuinely giving person, and had phenomenal prices. But he did everything he could to guarantee that they didn't buy...and was completely oblivious to it.
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      "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity" Friedrich Nietzsche
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