Greeting Customers: ‘How may I help you?’

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 6, 2018

by Ken Barnes

A colleague of mine once came to the office very upset, asking me, “Do I look like a shoplifter?” He was in a store earlier that day and one of the associates asked a simple, everyday question, one asked by nearly every customer service practitioner: “How may I help you?”

I suggested to my colleague that the store associate probably wanted to help him navigate his way around the store, and he responded with, “Do I look like someone who wouldn’t know his way around a store?”

As a minority, he doesn’t feel comfortable when he’s approached by store personnel who ask if they can help him.

While teaching a customer service training session to mid-level managers, I asked them what they thought about that simple question, “How may I help you?”


Below are some of the answers given by the participants in that class:

  • It makes me feel welcomed.
  • It is disrespectful, as though you are inadequate.
  • I don’t see anything wrong with it.
  • As a minority, that question makes me feel like I am being profiled.
  • I think they should wait for the customer to ask for help first.
  • The attendant is asking if I know why I am in the store!
  • It depends on how it is asked.
  • To me, it amounts to hustling.

Participants in the class could not agree on the usefulness of that favorite question, but they agreed that the associate’s tone, attitude, posture, and the general body language and expression are critical. The participants also agreed that asking the question with aggression does not help.

I asked the class which question we should ask in place of “how may I help you?” The following were some of the answers given:

  • Hello Sir/Ma’am; how may I be of service to you?
  • Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
  • Welcome; let me know if I could be of any assistance.
  • Hello; let me know what I can do to make your visit worthwhile.
  • Hello; I hope you are finding everything you need. Please let me know if I could be of any assistance.

It is crucial for all customer service practitioners to note that more than half of your customers will return based on a superior customer service experience. Traditionally we believe that if we dress well, smell good and smile to our customers we will win them. That is true, but we also need to exhibit knowledge about the product we sell, as well as the industry involved, and walk customers to the products they are looking for.

Again, where we most often drop the ball is in how we acknowledge the customers. Anytime a customer is made to feel hustled, unwelcomed, aggrieved or threatened during the acknowledgment stage, it’s a strike against us. From there, no amount of customer service will change the negative impression created about the store, shop, or eatery.

Note that little things go a long way to make a customer your raging fan. One of them is how you receive them.

Ken Barnes, MBA, DBA, is a management consultant with Specializations in Entrepreneurship and Business Management. You can reach him at kbreginc@gmail.com

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