Sher-Locking in the sale with attentive customer service

When Sherlock Holmes, a detective whose skill is only eclipsed by his fashion sense, walks into a room for the first time he immediately begins to observe every single little detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant, so that he can mentally piece together the puzzle that is the unknown.

It might be the mud on a gentleman’s boot, which indicates the location from which he has come, or a tan line across a lady’s finger revealing a long-worn wedding band that has recently been removed. Much of the theatricality and genius behind Sherlock’s famous (albeit fictional) crime solving is due to his ability to notice what other people typically miss.

When it comes to customer service in retail, your success depends on the relationship you manage to cultivate with your customers. People relate more to someone who understands them and can anticipate their needs, using nothing other than sheer, observational investigation, a la Sherlock Holmes. Nobody is looking for help from a retail assistant who is simply haphazardly guessing and checking, like an inept Scotland Yard detective.

As a retail customer service representative, keeping alert is absolutely essential to sparking a successful relationship with your customer. If you’re chatting away with a colleague and only lavish attention on your customers once they express a query, chances are you’ve lost them long before “hello”. Always keep your eyes and ears wide open; because piecing together who this customer is, where they are from, and ultimately what they are looking for, begins the instant they walk into your store.

“As a retail customer service representative, keeping alert is absolutely essential…”

Let me share a personal pet peeve from some of the earliest days of my ever blossoming obsession with motion pictures: incompetent customer service at the video store.

Allow me to elaborate: there were two ways in which I used to enter my local movie rental store. Either I’d stride in with purpose and search with deliberation for a specific film. Or I would meander along the aisles, idly searching for a movie I had not yet seen and was willing to spend my precious pocket money on.

Almost every single time, the customer service reps would manage to either misread me or not even bother to observe me at all. If I was searching fruitlessly for a specific movie, they’d be sitting behind the counter picking at their nails. If I was leisurely browsing the catalogue, I would inevitably find myself the victim of incessant Can-I-Help-You’s.

I was clearly not being Sherlock Holmes-ed.

Had the customer service rep been doing his/her job properly, they’d have been watching my mannerisms, body language and facial expressions. It would have been easy to ascertain what kind of a customer I was and consequently how I should be effectively approached.

The important point is that as a customer service representative your key to success is to gather as much information as you possibly can, so that when you do approach the customer you can cut straight to providing for their every whim.

Listen out for a name (people love hearing their own name and it grabs their attention instantly), look out for signs of confusion or determination, take note of who they’re shopping with, what conversation they’re having, listen for any mention of a specific occasion and observe in which section of your store they are looking. Knowledge is power, and it is your job to gather as much knowledge as you can.

Once you engage the customer, use the opportunity to take control of the conversation, armed with the clues you’ve uncovered, to be used to your advantage. Don’t force the customer to ask all the questions; proactively suggest different varieties, options and alternatives that they might be interested in. Keep them engaged and keep them interested by relating to them and their needs. By maintaining control, you can close that sale, every single time.

It’s not hard to become Sherlock Holmes – but it does take proactive observation, uncompromising alertness and the willingness to put in that extra effort to transcend the hum-drum of most customer service. Remember what the great detective himself said: “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

– Aaron