4 tips for truly helping customers

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In your own life as a consumer, how many times have you encountered a customer service nightmare, where you felt as if there was no one around to give you any assistance or direction?

At a recent conference with a representative for Ace Hardware, I learned a motto that drives their customer engagement practices: “Helping you is the most important thing I have to do today.”

Wow, if a business can actually get that rubber-stamped into the conscience of everyone who comes in contact with customers, and who actually believed it and acted in accordance with that, there would be zero customer issues.



Think of your own frustrating customer experiences you may have had, where you became locked into some sort of system “loop of death”, getting bounced from rep to rep. Or perhaps you genuinely needed help, but there was no one around to even ask. These are instances where customer-helping is essential, and where encountering an employee who’s “most important thing to do today is to help the customer” is a godsend.

But what about those times where you really do want to simply browse, and you have no need of assistance, but every two minutes, someone comes up to you and asks “Can I help you find something?”

A very funny clip demonstrates this quite well. (While the embed was disabled for this video, clicking on the YouTube link below will take you to see a 52-second comedy clip (clean and appropriate) from the British sitcom “Black Books”, where one of the employees tries to help a customer who apparently doesn’t want it…)

Whew! While you and I may not have interacted with a customer like that (please share if you have!), it does draw attention to the fact that not all customers want outstanding attention. Outstanding attention is not the same as outstanding service. Why? Because an outstanding service experience occurs when the help is genuinely needed, not when it isn’t; otherwise, the repeated offers to help (even though sincere) come across as pestering and annoying.

Some tips:

  • Ensure employees understand how to gauge the customer’s body language and act appropriately.
  • Craft some sort of non-threatening introduction question when they are not sure of the customer’s intent, such as “Hi. Are you just browsing, or can I be of assistance in some way?”
  • Maintain a presence without being in the way.
  • Be able to instantly respond to the customer when requested, and provide all pertinent information and assistance.

As to that last point, one of the things I love about shopping at our local Target store is that even though there may be no one in sight, one press of the “Need Assistance” button brings a friendly employee within 30 seconds. Additionally, they have walkie-talkies to ensure that if they don’t personally know the answer, they can reference someone else right away who does have all the information on stocking questions, or check-out assistance ready at any time.



Find ongoing ways to provide knowledgeable, accessible assistance to your customers when needed, make truly helping them “the most important thing to do today,” and you will be creating a large and loyal customer base.

Just for fun…

“Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.” – Redd Foxx

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