Body Language Should Be Part of Your Customer Service Training

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Body language speaks louder than words.

Have you ever walked into a room and decided whether to talk to a person based on the way they acted or looked? Were they involved in a lively discussion, or were they on the periphery of the room with their arms crossed? Did they make eye contact with you, or completely avoid it?

The same scenario plays out dozens or hundreds of times a day in retail sales. People draw conclusions about whether they want to talk to a person—or buy from them—in as little as a few seconds. Yet even though 50 percent to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, little emphasis is given to body language in retail sales training.

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If you make body language part of your customer service training, you're guaranteed to increase customer engagement—and repeat business. Here are the basics:

Make eye contact with each customer—and smile.

Eye contact establishes a personal connection, and when you smile at someone, they almost always smile back. The smile you receive also creates a positive emotional state for the customer, since facial expressions elicit corresponding feelings.

Make it clear that you're listening.

While you're engaging customers, focus solely on them instead of multitasking. Definitely don't check your phone, your watch, or to scan the room. Instead, turn your body directly toward them and make eye contact. You could also lean forward, nod and tilt your head, to show you’re paying attention. While it’s important to hear people, it’s just as important to make sure they know you’re listening.

Keep your hands out of your pockets and open your arms.

Across the world, putting your hands in your pockets or crossing your arms are seen as aloof or defensive gestures. When your arms are open, you appear more approachable and you’ll actually remember more of what customers are saying, according to research. A study that involved asking volunteers to listen to a lecture with uncrossed arms and legs, and another group to listen to the same lecture while folding their arms and crossing their legs, found that the volunteers who kept their arms and legs uncrossed remembered 38 percent more than the other group.

Stand close enough, but not too close.

It's always nice to have a conversation while standing close enough to someone that they can easily hear you, but not so close that you have to step away because your personal space has been invaded. A good rule of to follow with customers is to stand three to five feet away 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.

Shake hands—maybe.           

The most powerful way to communicate nonverbally is via touch. Shaking someone’s hand or touching them on the arm or shoulder for as little as 1/40 of a second actually creates a human bond, according to researchers. A study by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are more open and friendly toward those with whom they shake hands—and twice as likely to remember them.

Use your best judgment, but if the right opportunity arises outside of taking someone’s drink order, a handshake can make a positive, lasting impression.

Remember, while you may have a cozy coffee shop or restaurant and your menu may be the best in town, you still need to establish genuine rapport with customers to keep them coming back.

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