Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Psychology of selling

One of the topics of conversation I had with Uncle Stan at the weekend was customer service. As well as painting pictures all his life he was also a hairdresser, and at one time he had a chain of shops. Indeed he still does cut the hair of his friends, so maybe I should change the word 'was', to 'is'. Stan has the gift of making people feel comfortable and special, without being overbearing and intimidating. Some of his customers started coming to him from a young age, they then got married and had their own children, which they also brought into Stan's shop for a haircut. So you can see that he really knows his stuff when it comes to keeping  customers happy.

I have spoke briefly about my own two small businesses in previous posts, one was an introduction agency, and the other a mobile shop selling fancy goods and giftware. Both of these required a certain level of good customer service. It is lucky that I am a people person. I love meeting new people and am able to chat, and equally important I am able to listen to what they have to say. With face to face interaction, body language also comes into the equation. Eye contact, gesticulation with the hands, and relevance of the words which come out of their mouth, are other traits one has to master when dealing with customers. Nervousness is often over compensated with waffle. Saying that, I do waffle a bit myself, but I put that down to living alone, I only have the cats to talk to here, ha ha.

You know how it is, you get an inkling about someone when you first meet them. You watch their facial expressions, you take note about how they position their body, whether they invade your space by getting too close, or appear to be moving further away from you as you speak. I pick up on all these little signs, I think it's natural to.

Putting all these little idiosyncrasies into one package, it is normal to form an opinion about the person in front of you, it's a process of natural selection. You select who you want to spend time with and who you would rather walk away from. When I ran my businesses I was friendly towards everyone, after all they might buy something from me. When you run a people business it's a very fine line differentiating who is your friend and who is your customer. There are times when the line is blurred, and it is possible that someone can fit into both camps.

The customers who bought giftware from me were definitely customers. They paid for a product and took it away, I only ever saw them once or twice a year so there was never time to build up a friendship. Yes we had banter at the various shows I attended, and that made for a nice working environment, so there was a certain level of customer service there.

On the other hand, I saw my customers from the agency business almost every week at the social gatherings I organised. It was my job to meet and greet, to introduce members to each other, and to get the ball rolling for them if they appeared a little nervous. With this level of face to face interaction it was inevitable that many of them became my friends. In fact it was a brilliant way for me to widen my circle of friends.

The edges became very blurred, on the one hand they were my friends, on the other hand I had to ask them for money. There was a three monthly subscription to pay to cover my costs. Asking for money has never been my strong point, but I had to do it. Most were happy to pay, but I suspect some weren't. Understandable really, they had made new friends through the meetings, and gradually dropped out. That meant I had to continually advertise for new members. When running a business you need to build up strong relations with your customers, which is what Stan did. You need them to come back for more.

It was through these experiences that I learnt about my strengths and weaknesses. I was never going to win the Apprentice, I just didn't have the balls. What I did have the balls for though, was to drive a 75 tonne truck, ha ha.

Don't want to go off topic, I started this post with an idea in mind, it has already veered off at an angle, ha ha. Customer service, what is it? I once bemoaned the fact that I didn't like being hassled in shops where the assistant pounced on me almost as soon as I went through the door. A few people slated me for that, saying the poor assistant was only doing their job and was trying to earn a living. Everyone has their tolerance level, and I for one don't like the pestering aspect that some assistants display, in some instances it is verging on bullying. And me being my stroppy self, will always walk away from that.

Transferring customer service skills to the internet is a different kettle of fish, you don't have the facial expressions and the body language to evaluate. The on line seller only has the basic tools of keyboard, photographs, and videos to assist them in pulling in their customers. Selling on the internet is supposed to make it easier, and it is in some cases, where the product sold is based on an item which is almost identical to what you can buy in a shop. A fridge is a fridge is a fridge.

Selling yourself on the internet is a lot harder. Someone who is good with words can tell you what they think you want to read. They want you to buy into them. A word perfect sales pitch is easily spottable, is that a word, ha ha. But, you cannot see their face, so you are never sure if what they are saying is the truth. Insincerity has the effect of turning me off, can't stand bullshit, creepiness, and false impressions. To suss out the genuine from the fake, consistency is the key. Give it time, read read read. You can then decide whether you want to walk away or stick with it.

What has all this to do with money saving, you may ask. Well, good customer service is what you get when someone recognises you as a fellow human being and does not try and rip you off. Good customer service is about letting the customer walk away in the hope that they might one day come back. It is not about grovelling, bullying, pestering, and demanding. It is up to you to form your own opinions on what you see and what you read. Look behind the facade of advertising. Some of it is in your face, but there is such a lot which is subtle and devious. When money is tight you need to learn the difference between those who are desperate to relieve you of your cash to line their own pockets, and those who do not ask for anything in return for your friendship. It's up to you to look after your own interests, no one will do it for you.
Toodle pip.


  1. I hate being pounced on as soon as I walk into a shop, they sometimes make me feel as though they don't trust me and they're letting me know that they're watching me. I wonder if anyone else feels like that?I like to browse first then look for an assistance if or when I need help. I like it when shop assistants are chatty and friendly and appear to be enjoying their job, it makes an unpleasant task (hate shopping) more bearable.

    1. I feel like that too, I feel that as a young person they expect me to try to steal something! Like you Carol, I prefer it if a shop assistant is chatty and just starts talking to me about something completely "random" (as people say now) and isn't so "wooden" about things. I don't like shopping either, spending an afternoon shuffling around looking at purses just feels like a waste of time!

  2. Your post reminded of a tv programme I saw on bbc iplayer, "Secrets of the Sales". It was a real eye opener. What I found most interesting was that scents in shops can make you feel the goods are better quality and the sales staff more trustworthy. I think they said that 85% of people are affected this way. It's on until Monday 13th if you're interested.
    I hate being pounced on by sales assistants but I also hate it when they ignore you completely either because they are talking amongst themselves or are just plainly disinterested. (Of course if they are talking to another customer, that's fine.) It's especially nasty in a small shop; a simple smile or hello is great; it's tantamount to saying, "I see you and acknowledge and I am here to help but only when you want help".

  3. I find there is a big difference between being pounced on by a shop employee and being greeted by a shop owner, who generally seems more sincere about welcoming me and urging me to browse and trying to get to know me and what I might like. And I absolutely want to be recognized as a returning customer/browser.

  4. Your Uncle Stan is a busy man, art and hairdressing. Everybody needs something to keep themselves interested in life.
    I worked in a shop when i first left school which probably helps to get along in life, dealing with people.
    I didn't know you were a businesswoman, i thought you'd been a driver most if your life.
    I had a small gardening round so i needed good customer skills as well as being the worker, estimator, salesman, book keeper, machinery repairman and any other skills that you need to have for a small business.
    You mention the Apprentice, the last lot couldn't do simple maths. I wouldn't mind a bash but i'm probably a bit older than they're looking for although he might like my business idea.

    1. Hi Dave. I ran my businesses while I was still driving. It was hard work, took all my time up.

    2. Hi Ilona, i ran mine while driving too, it turned out well when all the driving work went very quiet a few years ago. Trouble was, its seasonal and the weather isn't good round here.
      I know what you mean about it being hard work, i can imagine it was catch 22, not enough time to build a business but not enough income without the driving work. At least thats how it was for me.

    3. You're right. I would have loved to run a business full time and make money at it. The gift ware business was doing well, until the recession started, then people stopped buying non essentials. I had to close it because I was losing money. The income from the agency business was enough to cover the expenses, but no profit in it for me. Shame really, but at least I had a go.

    4. I'm sorry to hear that Ilona, i imagine that you put a lot of hard work and energy into it and them bankers have a lot to answer for.

      I like the idea of an internet based business, people seem to like ordering on-line, they pay up front and the overheads are low but for reasons people like us don't understand, people love spending money.
      So i'm hoping that we're not beaten yet.

  5. Talking about being a business savvy person and comfortable in the role of shop assistance must also have another big rule attached. Customer care and good service also means that the customer satisfaction should be considered.
    I work in a dry cleaners and serve customers every day. If I couldn`t ensure that I could apply enough care and attention to detail when pressing and handling the customer`s garments the shop soon would loose customers. I pride myself in customer care and a good service as well as friendly face to face contact, which means that I get customers
    coming back week after week with often lovely comments towards my workmanship. That`s what gets me through the day and makes me feel proud to be doing my job for them. And, I`m afraid customer care and good service often fall by the wayside in most shops I have to frequent. The attitude of staff can often turn your shopping experience sour, very quickly. I also hate it if I`m pounced upon as soon as I enter a shop, never even having given me time to get my bearings or letting me look around. I do like it though if someone will approach me after 2-3 mins just to enquire if I need any assistance at all. At least that way you have the chance to ask their advice or decline it if you had already found what you had been looking for. This kind of attitude of the assistance would then at least encourage you to return for further visits. I don`t think that proper training is given in customer care thesedays, though. I find it lacking in most shops.

  6. Such an interesting post, Ilona, with so many things going on in it. I was interested in the lower part where you mentioned what draws us to people we would have for friends. There is a saying that there are two kinds of people; one kind enters a room as "Here I am" and expects others to walk up and be friendly to them. Another kind enters a room as "There you are!" and that is the kind that makes the best salesperson since they put themselves out for others. You are definetly the "There you are!" type and being outgoing has served you well. On another tangent, entering someone elses space (home, office, small shop) is an awkward moment when we wonder if we are welcome and acceptible to the other person for something more intimate than a passing acquaintance. We chose people that put us at ease and that help us feel comfortable to be in their space. I had a dentist once that never said a word to me but would send in the assistant after he had seen me and the assistant would tell me anything the dentist had had to say to me. That was such bizarre behaviour that I felt like there was something wrong with me rather than his shyness was the problem. I found another dentist because he didn't feel he could talk to me.
    Anne in Pennsylvania


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