How can sales associates successfully juggle customers?

Photo: RetailWire
Mar 21, 2017

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Doctor’s blog.

Do we ever want to leave a customer? Of course not, because you risk making the customer feel rejected and losing the sale.

But in this day of budget scheduling, salespeople at times more than likely will have to cover several departments and wait on more than one customer at a time.

Here are three tips on how to get away from one shopper and onto another with a bit of grace.

Give an honest reason and summarize your interaction so far. You could say, “I have to go greet those customers over there. I hope that’s OK.” (Wait for their response, which 99 percent of the time will be “go ahead.”) Then: “Before I go though, just to recap …” The goal is to let the shopper know that they have been heard by confirming what has been said. People who feel heard are more patient and forgiving. After you’ve paraphrased your interaction so far, you’ll hear the customer say, “Yes.”

Give them something to do while you’re away. This is easy with apparel because they can try on another size, color or additional item. Once you understand that you need to keep their minds busy so they don’t look at the clock, you can be creative. With other products, like furniture, have them find a picture of the room the couch is supposed to go in on their smartphone. For a new TV, have them use your Wi-Fi to send a picture of their kids to the screen. You get the idea.

Introduce them to another salesperson. Often the best salespeople will be in more demand. If that’s you, similarly to number two above, make sure you restate where you are in the sales process to the other salesperson and what the customer is looking to solve today. Introduce the new salesperson to the shopper by name. That way the shopper will usually offer theirs and they continue the communication human-to-human.

When you return to the shopper to pick up where you left off, thank them for their patience. Then recap where you left them, and get them to talk about what they’ve been doing since you left.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What tips would have for managing multiple shoppers on busy days? Can you add any suggestions to those offered in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It is no surprise that associates who juggle most effectively are top revenue achievers."
"Just acknowledging, as often as required, that “you’ll be right back with them” is more than half the battle."
"Full-service gas and full-service apparel — very similar. The customer wants SERVICE and SMILES."

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9 Comments on "How can sales associates successfully juggle customers?"

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Charles Dimov

Great recommendations! In busy times as long as you are attentive and tell a client who will require more time that you need just a few minutes to contend with a few quick customer greetings, most customers are OK with this. Just make sure that when you say you will be back with the customer in five minutes that you are back in five minutes OR LESS. Breaking this commitment — no matter how small — is a bad choice.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Excellent summary Bob. It is no surprise that associates who juggle most effectively are top revenue achievers. Retailers should use digital place-based media in a way that helps product narrowing so that conversion and cross-selling are the primary activities of associates. Cellular and electronics do a fairly good job of this.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Working the retail sales floor is one of the toughest jobs out there if done well!
Long hours, on your feet all day and having to be “always on.”

The Retail Doctor offers some very sound advice for retail sales associates. But there is also a key component that the store manager plays in recruiting the right talent with inherent people skills and then providing the coaching on critical relationship skills.

The most important sale today is not the product transaction at the cash register … it is the customer experience that creates a long-term relationship. That critical goal begins and ends with the store manager as the manager of customer experience in the store.

Ralph Jacobson

Good suggestions in the article. Staff training to learn how to prioritize and multitask is critical. This is not a perfect science. There will be a shopper who cannot be satisfied regardless of the staff attention. However, if the staff can learn which shopper takes precedence based upon who needs help first or if there is a more urgent situation, then most service issues can be appropriately resolved. Just acknowledging, as often as required, that “you’ll be right back with them” is more than half the battle.

Tom Redd

Do the same thing I did back when there was no self-serve gas and you had three cars waiting for gas:

  1. Ask one of the gang to help.
  2. If there’s no help (like during the late shift) then get each customer started. Ask for key information (size in apparel and type gas at pumps). Then drop off some items for them to look through and check back with them. Ask them something about their search or add more for them to look through.
  3. Work the pattern until all are served and smile a lot.

Full-service gas and full-service apparel — very similar. The customer wants SERVICE and SMILES.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
6 years 2 months ago

These are all great tips by the Retail Doctor! I think this highlights one important fact often overlooked by retailers — associate training is absolutely critical to a great shopping experience. Shoppers want to be respected as customers. Simply letting them know you need to either help another customer or go check on someone else goes a long way to making the customer feel respected. Have your best sales associates help train those that are either new or in need of additional help. Share the knowledge!

This is a difficult job, especially considering most customers enter a store assuming they know more than the associate and not necessarily wanting to be helped. Retailers that equip associates with the right tools (be it digital signage, assisted selling apps or mobile devices and the infrastructure to support them) AND training on those tools will be more successful!

gordon arnold
Store associates on the sales floor are predominately recognized and driven towards tasking. While customer service is the spoken commitment, it is seldom seen as more than a catch 22 type mandate. A visit to brick & mortar establishments with a designed agenda that measures the company dedication and focus on customer recognition and service might reveal some interesting results. If that is not cost effective, purchasing recent market reports from companies like a “pretend-a-shopper” will give retailers a look at several needs for improvement. The percentage of consumers that are never in contact with a human store employee is on the rise thanks to BOPIS, e-commerce with direct shipping and self checkout. This is often seen as a success by executive management, but consumer loyalty curves demonstrate a substantial difference of opinion is now owned by consumers. Customer service must be a core part of the company design and market plan, second only to safety for it to be a true first priority. Consumers should be free to choose the amount of service they… Read more »
Shep Hyken

It’s reasonable to think that a good sales associate could handle two shoppers at the same time. But, it gets tricky with three or four. Someone, at some point, will be waiting. Keeping customers engaged with product, versus a sales person is a good strategy. Introducing customers to each other can work with the right personalities. This article has some good suggestions. It all comes down to the personality of the sales associate. A good sales person can make everyone in the store feel special.

david salisbury

Helping those customers who are the most engaged would be a good rule of thumb, they will appreciate it more and enjoy the human interaction more so. While there may be rules of thumb for every situation, there’s increasing evidence that every sales associate should be equipped with a tablet because if they are, they are usually more able to help educate and inspire potential customers and sales.

More firms are now coming on board helping retailers with employee training programs. This is also because there’s such a high turn-over rate of sales associates.

Mirroring the customer and summarizing is a really good idea. Building a relationship in micro-interactions isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s the basis of sales. If reciprocity is the golden rule of nurturing relationships, sales associates have to be able to identify when their interactions are most welcome and back-off with those customers who are indifferent to them.

"It is no surprise that associates who juggle most effectively are top revenue achievers."
"Just acknowledging, as often as required, that “you’ll be right back with them” is more than half the battle."
"Full-service gas and full-service apparel — very similar. The customer wants SERVICE and SMILES."

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