businessOnce you get past the part of getting your customer’s attention and motivating him or her to drive over to your store, the next phase in the sales cycle is focused on engaging that customer and persuading him or her to want to do business with you.

Regardless of whether you like it, you’re being judged on everything. There’s a local restaurant chain running radio ads stating that it is now analyzing and acting on the “200 points of contact” it has with a customer during his or her dining experience. As a result, it is designating 2015 as “The Year of the Guest.” When I first heard that, it really made me think. Two-hundred points of contact? Really?! The next day, I took my wife out to eat, and I started analyzing every part of the process. I paid extra attention to everything. I assessed the walk through the parking lot, how the property looked, my impressions when entering the building, how we were greeted, how long it took to get a seat, etc. I quickly realized that 200 points of contact could add up rather quickly.

It’s imperative that you step back and put on your consumer hat. Take a look at the store from a consumer’s point of view. Start with the outside of your building. Is it well lit? Are your signs readable? Does it make sense to the customer that you are a music store? Does it invite him or her in? Is your entrance clean and presentable? What catches a customer’s eye within the first five seconds? Once you’re in the store, take a look at the layout. Does it invite people to browse and get their hands on your products? Is your staff friendly? Dining out and shopping for musical merchandise should both be viewed as enjoyable experiences. Let’s do all we can to help make people’s experiences in our stores worth remembering.

Case in point: think of the greeter in Walmart who informs you of the current promotions and invites you to stroll a bit and take advantage of the good deals. For as much as you might dislike Walmart, it certainly has this part of the shopping experience figured out. Personally, I get a kick out of the range of personalities waiting for me when I go to the store.

Think of the last time you received exceptional customer service. How did it make you feel? Maybe you went to a store and knew exactly what you wanted. Your plan was to get in and out as quickly as possible. Then, you met a sales associate who was truly engaging. Regardless of whether you needed or wanted the help, I’ll bet you were pleased with the attention you were shown. Feeling important and welcome are two of our most basic needs. I’ll bet you left the store with more than what you planned on buying!

On the other hand, let’s compare what we’ve learned with those “other stores.” You know what I mean…the places where sales associates rush around with their heads down, conversing only with each other and having no interaction or communication with customers. Their peripheral vision allows them to see you when you’re approaching, and then they quickly make a beeline for the stock room in a clear act of avoidance.

When the first Home Depot opened in my community, I gave them a shot. Maybe it was due to the overall “newness” of the store, but it literally took 30 minutes actually to speak to someone. I like to live with a “three strikes and you’re out!” attitude, so I gave the store another chance a few months later. Same scenario. This time, I was so disgusted that I didn’t even wait to speak to someone, choosing instead to leave. The final straw was a few months later when I was having a plumbing emergency and that was the only store open. The same thing happened again. This time, I found a manager and let him have it. All he said in response was, “A smaller staff helps keep our prices lower. Maybe you should plan on spending more time here the next time you come in.” Well, there still has yet to be a “next time.”

On the other hand, I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am with my local Ace Hardware store. I have never left that store without an answer, some advice or a suggestion. I hate to state the obvious, but which store do you think I tell all my friends and family to patronize?

The same holds true for your customers and how they view their shopping experience at your store. Yes, it’s all about that initial engagement that determines how the rest of the shopping experience will go.
Let’s take a closer look at the skills and qualities required by top retail professionals who know how to facilitate positive engagements with customers.

1. Multitasking: Being able to set priorities on the fly, while always keeping customers happy, is critical.
2. Friendliness: Customers don’t want to deal with salespeople who are hard to talk to.
They can sense when someone is insincere.
3. Confidence: The confidence to make eye contact and strike up a conversation with strangers is
absolutely essential.
4. Patience: Dealing with people on a daily basis means that you will have to take the good with the bad.
The patience to deal with all types of customers is imperative.
5. Flexibility: When dealing with the public, things can go wrong. You have to be flexible enough to roll with the punches and, sometimes, to think outside the box.
6. Respectfulness: The customer might not always be right, but he or she is always the customer. Treat him or her with respect, even in the most challenging situations.
7. Positivity: The best salespeople can sense when a customer is stressed or upset and they instinctively know how to be one step ahead and proactively offer solutions.
8. Empathy: Being able to look at a situation through the eyes of a customer is an extremely valuable skill that can enable you to provide the highest degree of service.

How your sales staff engages with customers can make or break your store. With the nation taking more notice of independent retailers and supporting “shop local” initiatives, consumers expect that independents have a greater focus on customer care, and that they’ll provide better overall service. However, big-box stores can also harness the power of engagement, and many are trying to combat this growing trend. What makes the difference? How do you draw customers and keep them coming back? It all has to do with how well your sales staff relates to, and engages with, your customers.

When it’s all said and done, it’s about how your staff interacts with customers. How that goes will ultimately determine if the customer will buy and recommend your store to his or her friends and family, or turn around and walk out, never again to return.

Lastly, I wanted to report that I have recently taken a new position as the Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music. Although I started my career in music retail, most of my work has been with B2B sales and technology. It’s with great pride that I join the ranks of our readers as a music retailer. I look forward to providing interesting and helpful insight as I further develop my career in music retail.

David Hall is Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, a full-line, 15,000-square-foot, freestanding facility with more than 2,500 students per week. Contact him at

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