Learning to be Likeable

In order to cultivate a loyal customer base, pet store employees must first know what they are really selling.



Logic demands that customers first do their homework—research options, compare prices and consider various offers—and then think about what they’ve learned before they make a buying decision. But customers often don’t buy rationally or logically. They buy emotionally. 

When customers go into a pet store and buy far more than they ever expected, the secret ingredient is almost always the sales associate. Customers buy from people they like, in stores they like. Likeability can be more powerful than years of experience and even product knowledge.

When a customer walks into your store, sales associates are selling themselves first, then the shopping experience, the store and finally the merchandise. Customers have to like the sales professional they’re dealing with. They have to feel confident that the salesperson can be trusted to help them find the merchandise they want—and ideally, help them have fun doing it. 

Customers are influenced by how stores make them feel. They may not be able to articulate exactly why, but in the right sales environment, they ultimately feel like they belong. That sense of belonging converts browsers into buyers. 

Associates are also selling the store itself. While it may seem obvious, make sure associates know that they should never say anything to customers that is negative about the store—or about the people who work there. These types of comments make associates appear unprofessional, causing them to lose credibility. As a result, they lose your customers’ trust—and often, your customers.

Ultimately, sales associates are selling the pets, supplies and services in your store. But too often, sales professionals jump right to trying to close the sale. It is important to remind your team that the real goal is to establish the customer relationships that are critical to making the sale.

Understanding the Likeability Factor
Each customer service experience and business transaction includes both a business and a human component. During the human part, associates are focused on:

•  Creating emotional connections with customers.

•  Figuring out how customers see themselves.

•  Finding merchandise to reinforce customers’ self-image and make them feel good.

Any time customers are emotionally involved in buying or service situations, likeability matters. While likeability is more important to certain personality types, it is an important part of the service experience for every customer because:

• Customers prefer to do business with people they like and avoid doing business with people they dislike.

• Customers are more likely to accept sales suggestions from associates they like.

• Customers are more receptive to attempts to resolve complaints when dealing with salespeople they like.

Becoming More Likeable
Helping associates make themselves more likeable is the No. 1 way to help them sell the pets, supplies and services. Any associate or manager can use the following guidelines to become more likeable. 

Upgrade their attitude—Bad attitudes are bad for business. Remind associates that attitude comes through clearly in what they say, how they say it and what they do. Ways to upgrade attitude include:

•  Greeting customers with a smile and smiling frequently while helping them.

• Being enthusiastic as associates go about their work. Your team should make sure that their facial expressions, body language and tone of voice tell customers that they look forward to helping them.

•  Keeping their focus on the sales floor instead of talking or texting on their cell phone.

•  Offering to help, whether by carrying the customer’s purchase to her car or by pitching in to do more at the store.

•  Knowing what to ignore. Sometimes people say or do hurtful things. Rather than responding negatively, particularly if it may lose the store a customer, encourage associates to try to let it go.

Focus on the customer—Remind associates that customers want to feel comfortable in your store. Associates can provide world-class service and become more likeable by keeping their focus on the customer.

Examples include:

•  Asking the customer questions. Good salespeople don’t talk about themselves, they talk about the customer. 

•  Listening carefully to what the customer has to say. 

•  Asking for the customer’s opinion, which signals that they respect and appreciate her point of view. 

• Matching how they talk to the customer to show that they are in sync. If the customer speaks slowly, the associate should respond by speaking slowly. If the customer likes using examples, then the associate should respond with examples. 

•  Being patient with customers as they ask questions and absorb information. Everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds. 

•  Complimenting pets that are shopping with their owners.

Avoid universal turnoffs—There are certain things that people say or do that make them immediately unlikeable. Encourage associates to avoid these universal turnoffs:

• Threatening customers’ self-esteem. Finding merchandise that makes shoppers feel good and reinforces how they see themselves is an important part of customer service and successful selling. Comments or behavior that question the customer’s self-image is a sure way to lose the sale.

• Preventing customers from achieving their goals. Telling customers their ideas won’t work sets up the associate as a roadblock and frustrates and antagonizes them. Instead, encourage team members to focus on how they can work with customers to solve their problems. You should also coach associates on how to tactfully suggest alternative solutions.

• Failing to meet customers’ expectations. Unrealistically high expectations cause the majority of customer complaints and dissatisfaction. Successful sales associates work to discover customers’ expectations and — when necessary — educate shoppers so they can make informed decisions and avoid disappointment.

• Questioning customers’ values and beliefs. If associates believe they’re right and what others think is unimportant or stupid, that attitude will come through loud and clear to your customers.

Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit www.petstorepro.com to register and begin using the program.

This article was adapted from “Advanced Customer Service & Sales,” one of 26 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. 


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