My parents’ retail business—a jewelry and gift shop—was central to my family’s life.
Before I was old enough to serve customers (that would have been the ripe old age of eight), my parents put my dexterity to work fashioning bows that could be tied quickly onto packages during the busy Christmas season. You have to realize that I’m referring to the olden days before handy gift bags and wired satin made pretty packaging simple. In our store we meticulously wrapped boxes with fancy paper tied with ribbon that had to be looped, twisted and curled to achieve the final elegant effect.
To this day, if you give me a spool of curling ribbon, I’ll return some spectacular bows!
If it seems that my parents were sticklers about presenting a beautifully gift-wrapped package, a signature of our store and symbol of the “total package” of quality we extended, you can bet that they were adamant about the way I presented myself to each customer. The ultimate offense was to ask, “Can I help you?” Of course, I could help the customer. Didn’t I have arms, hands and legs attached to body with a brain? “May I help you” was also unacceptable because it elicited a yes or no answer. “No, thank you, I’m just looking.” Looking for what? That would begin a game of cat and mouse, wasting everyone’s time.
At Dorchester Jewelers we inquired, “How may I help you?” The polite question necessitated a useful response. “You could show me your pearl bracelets.” “I’d like some suggestions for a wedding gift.”
Raised in retail, I can tell you this for certain: There’s an art to asking the right questions and guiding a customer to the appropriate selection of merchandise.
I also learned that while giving a customer the space to browse is polite, staying away too long (especially if you disappear) is sales suicide. (Isn’t it frustrating to find that all the salesclerks have evaporated just when you need one?) Therefore, whether or not the visitor intended to make a purchase, I knew to stay nearby without hovering to answer questions and retrieve requested items from the showcases.
“How may I help you?”
The words have become my mantra for Write Lady. It doesn’t matter that I have served countless clients without meeting them face-to-face or that many projects begin and end entirely through email correspondences. No matter how my client and I connect, I strive to express my willingness to serve.
Since technology minimizes personal contact, I find that a periodic self-assessment of the attitude I present is all the more essential for quality control. No matter how you connect with your clients—over the phone, by email, in your printed materials, on your website, through pod casts—answering the following questions could help you recognize how you might convey your helpful, willing attitude:
- Do I regularly demonstrate my desire to provide and obtain mutually beneficial information?
- Do I make each encounter as satisfying as possible—even when prospects are “just looking”?
- Am I telling customers and prospects that I am “here to help” and in business to serve them when they are ready?
- If they are window shopping, have I welcomed them inside for a closer look?
Would “How may I help you?” enhance others’ perceptions of your business? How may I help you convey that you are willing to serve?