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    Carey Smith on "Can I Help You"?


    This is one of the most frequently used sales communication techniques in retail today.  Has it ever really changed?

    Is it effective?  The rules of communication 95% of the time come into force with a response of – “No I am okay I am just looking”.  I wonder how many times a day this happens in a retail shopping environment?

    So today I did my own research.  A mystery shopper if you like.  Firstly to see how often I would be asked this question and if I was asked or approached in any different ways.  I had 2 hours for my experiment.  So off I went.  First I started with a coffee – my experiment was already flawed!  “Can I help you?”  “Yes I would like a flat white and a …….”  So maybe it does work in some cases of retail.  Is food the exception to the rule?

    can-i-help-youInto a phone retailer, after taking some time a salesperson comes across to me and asks “Can I help you?” “No I am just looking thanks.”  End of communication.  I think to myself I will try another phone shop across the mall. I walk in and an attentive salesperson comes up to me and says “We have some great specials on today would you like to buy a phone?” – I just about fell over backwards.  So my experiment is not in vain. Off I go thinking maybe I have it wrong. Into a clothes store but unfortunately no one comes up to me – maybe too busy, but I was the only the one in the shop. Off to a chemist – one of the bigger ones – the question is slightly different – “Can I help you find something” – I manage to find an excuse and wander off. But I thought not bad, I think all Chemist shops are laid out different maybe on purpose. Into another clothes shop – sports store – same question same answer.  My last stop is into a shoe retailer but no one comes up to me.  To be fair they did look busy.

    So what are there rules around the question “Can I help you?”  I think the first is if it is a known purchase then we can safely use  “Can I help you?” as an opening line which is useful and polite.  In an unknown purchase however it would not appear useful and will tend to drive the customer away rather than engage the customer in coming closer to a buying decision.  How good was the phone shop assistant?  How many customers are just burnt off by poor communication in retail?  There is a better way to communicate – it is about engaging the customer and giving them something they want which is good service.

    Going straight to the buying decision questions! Most people do not walk into a phone store etc unless they have some interest in buying a phone. If that assumption is correct then to go about it the way the second salesperson did with me has to be much better than “Can I help you?” maybe is as simple as “Would you like to buy a new phone?’

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    One Response to “Carey Smith on "Can I Help You"?”

    1. Peter Driscoll says:

      Thought provoking and well said – it would seem need versus impulse plays a part on how the typical question resonates – but a more direct question when understanding the first question has been answered by ones mere presence allows for a more interactive response – clever

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