What separates the ordinary shopper from an expert customer?
Is it the frequent-customer card they flash just before they make a purchase? Do they know the owner? Do they have a secret handshake?
Perhaps. But the longer I spend studying customer behavior, the more I think it’s what they say that makes them ninja customers – not what they do.
Here are five things you should consider saying when you’re at the store.
“Hi, my name is Chris.”
The best customers always approach you in a non-threatening way. They greet you, they introduce themselves and maybe, most importantly, they ask for the name of the representative they’re working with. That’s important because it shows they intend to treat the employee like a person and expect to be treated like a person as well. (I know some expert shoppers who always read the employee’s nametag and greet the person by name, even before they’ve had a chance to ask them if they’re finding everything today. It’s unbelievably disarming.)
“I’m a valuable customer.”
You don’t have to flash your double-titanium card to establish your value to the company. In conversations with an employee (in person, by phone or even by email) you can either refer to your past purchases or to your future intended purchases. The most forward-looking companies keep close records of your purchasing behavior (think Starbucks Gold card) but all it really takes is a few words – even hints – that you could be very valuable to the company. The business many not lower its prices for you but it will almost certainly give you the best possible service.
“Please and thank you.”
Expert customers know that their most powerful weapon is politeness. It works well against apathy, disenchantment and boredom that you might encounter when you’re dealing with an employee. Think of it as an extension of your friendly greeting. The ninja customers keep a positive attitude – even the ones who are not by nature positive people – because it benefits them. Don’t lose that smile and never, ever lose your manners. Once those go out the door, employees tend to give you the bare minimum of service, if not attention.
This is not quite the same thing as saying you’re valuable, which an easily be achieved with some random references to your past purchases. Communicating the fact that you are, or would be, loyal to a business, is critically important. “I’ve been coming here since I was in school and I brought my kids here when they were old enough to walk,” says that you are not the kind of customer they want to disappoint. It says you’re loyal and that you’re not afraid to tell people about it. It also says you’re a customer for life. And, by the way, there’s no reason to stretch the truth when it comes to your loyalty. You can always say that you have been loyal to other businesses in the past and that you hope you can be loyal to this business, too.
“I love telling my friends about great service.”
In the 21st century, a customer with friends – lots of friends on Facebook, Twitter and Google – can be the best brand ambassador or every company’s worst enemy. Letting a company know that you love talking to others about your experiences will guarantee that they give you the very best service possible. It shouldn’t be that way, of course – every customer should be treated with the same deference – but employees are only human and if they think you could turn away hundreds or thousands of other customers if you’re disappointed, they’ll do their best to make sure you’re not disappointed.
In the end, talk may be cheap, but when you’re a customer, what you say can mean the difference between getting the service you deserve – and being treated like a coupon-clipper.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions at by email.