Have you ever walked into a party and immediately decided whether to talk to a person, based on the way they looked or acted? Were they engaged in lively conversation or were they leaning against a wall with their arms crossed? Did they make eye contact or avoid it?
With anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of communication being nonverbal, it’s almost crazy how little significance we place on nonverbal cues in retail sales training. Especially knowing that people will draw a conclusion about whether they want to talk to a person—or buy from them—in as little as a few seconds.
So, what do you need to pay attention to increase customer engagement—and repeat business?
Make eye contact with every customer—and try to smile, too.
Eye contact immediately establishes a personal connection, and when you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And the payoff goes further than that: because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually creates a positive emotional state for that customer.
Show that you’re listening.
Don’t multitask while engaging customers. Avoid the temptation to check your phone, your watch, or to scan the room. Instead, turn your head and torso to face them directly and make eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding and tilting your head are other nonverbal ways to show you’re engaged and paying attention. While it’s important to hear people, it’s just as important to make sure they know you’re listening.
Open your arms and keep your hands out of your pockets.
Across contexts and cultures, crossing your arms or putting your hands in your pockets are almost always seen as defensive or aloof gestures. When you keep your arms open, you not only appear more approachable, you’ll actually retain more information that your customers tell you. (Fun fact: A group of research volunteers who listened to a lecture with unfolded arms and legs remembered 38 percent more than a similar group who attended the same lecture but were asked to sit with folded arms and legs.)
Stand close enough, but respect personal space.
Most people want to be able to have a conversation without feeling like they have to raise their voice (too far from each other) or that they have to step away because their personal space has been invaded (too close to each other). A good rule of to follow with customers is to stand three to five feet from them. Any closer, and you’re in too intimate of a space for someone they don’t know extremely well. Any farther and you’ll come off as not fully present or engaged.
The most powerful nonverbal cue is touch. In fact, shaking someone’s hand or touching them on the arm or shoulder for as little as 1/40 of a second creates a human bond, according to researchers.
Use your best discretion, but if the right conversational opportunity arises outside of taking someone’s drink order, a handshake can make a lasting, positive impression. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them, and that people are more open and friendly towards those with whom they shake hands.
Remember, while you may have a beautiful coffee shop or restaurant and your food and beverages may be the best in town, you still need to establish exceptional rapport with customers to keep them coming back.