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How Do You Greet Your Customers? |  October 14, 2015 (2 comments)


Boston, MA—I have noticed an emerging and quite bewildering trend in recent months. For some reason, a number of seemingly disconnected businesses have adopted a greeting that is as nonsensical as it is impersonal.

At the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, The Row Hotel, Au Bon Pain and Duane Reed stores, the employees at the reception desks and at the checkout counters are greeting customers with “the following guest.” It’s hard to imagine why anyone thought this was an appropriate way to greet customers, but that they were then able to sell the idea to a number of hotels and retail stores is a total head-scratcher.

Instead of looking to the next customer in line, or the next guest at the check-in desk, and greeting them with a warm smile and a sincere welcome, I watched jaded clerks in the hotels, restaurant and retail stores, utter the inane summons without raising their eyes to greet the customers or guests, and all without a modicum of warmth.

It is, of course, entirely possible, that the employees of those respective companies were actually being conditioned to be impersonal by the very greeting itself.  The idea of Priming, which is to say that you set the tone for what is to follow, is not new. It has been around a long time but recent research using fMRI machines has lent ever more credence to the idea that we are, in fact, subconsciously led down a particular path when we are exposed to certain triggers. That could be as simple as craving a Coke, when we are exposed to the Coca Cola red, or picturing ourselves drinking a Starbucks coffee when we are exposed to the recognizable Starbucks green. By the same token, if we are boarding a plane and we notice that the guy taking the tickets is being very friendly, we are much more likely to respond in similar fashion.

Peter Smith

To that end, I am at a loss as to how announcing “the following guest” sets the tone for a warm and engaging exchange. I am convinced that the greeting unintentionally communicates to the employees that they are not expected to deliver a personal experience and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I was asked during a speaking engagement in California this summer what I felt an appropriate greeting was when a customer first enters the store. The question was posed by someone whom I would describe as a very thoughtful and engaged retailer. The fact that she was asking what should be a very rudimentary question speaks volumes to the lack of clarity or consensus on this matter. Some stores have a very specific greeting that they ask their employees to use, other stores leave it entirely up to their own people.

So, if it’s not “The following guest” What is it? For an answer, I’ll give a nod to the U.S. Supreme Court of 1964, when Justice Potter Stewart said that while he might not be able to describe pornography, he would know it when he saw it.

My version of seeing it was a recent trip to Nordstrom. It would be hard to describe exactly what the approach by their salespeople was but I know that it felt very right to me. I was greeted in a low-key but attentive way and every salesperson I passed made a point to make eye-contact and say hello. I felt no pressure and I was not aware of any stalkers watching me from behind clothing racks. I was ever mindful that there were ample numbers of salespeople at my disposal should I need them, but that I was welcome to peruse the clothing at my leisure until I chose to engage a salesperson. I walked out of that store that day proudly carrying a Nordstrom bag and I have never felt better about a shopping experience.

Everything about Nordstrom's sales and service culture has become legendary in retailing.

Dennis Postema wrote in Psychology of Sales, “Every first approach towards a customer should be relaxed, easy and friendly. Never walk up behind a customer. Make certain to always come from a sideways or front-facing entry point. Postema’s counsel and the Nordstrom culture of warm acknowledgement at a respectful distance feels about right.

Clearly, if a customer walks in to a store and approaches a sales person with a question, the greeting can be more direct and the engagement more immediate. Otherwise, a sincere greeting, a warm smile and a little breathing room strikes just about the right chord for me.

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Peter Smith, the author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent more than 30 years building sales-teams at retail and at wholesale. A graduate of Boston College and the Harvard Key- Executive Program, Peter has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference. He is also a regular columnist for National Jeweler and the Centurion Sales Newsletter, where he writes about sales, personnel and management issues pertaining to Independent Retail Jewelers. Smith has previously worked with companies such as Tiffany & Co., Montblanc and Hearts On Fire and he was recently appointed as president of Vibhor Gems.

Smith’s  Hiring Squirrels is available in print or Kindle digital edition on 

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Comments (2):

Dear Peter,

Again, you are spot on with your retail observations!
All B2C companies can learn from Nordstrom.
I just flew home from the West Coast with Hawaiian Airlines and was reminded of the stark contrast of the level of ‘caring’ compared to my prior flight with United.  When a company opts for more efficiency they often sacrifice effectiveness.

Keep up the excellent work- I love your wisdom!

Mike Han

By Michael Han on Oct 16th, 2015 at 5:28pm

Could not agree more!  Attentive and present without stalking!

By Kathi Main on Oct 16th, 2015 at 7:09pm

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