How to Win Over a Customer in 10 Seconds or Less

A consumer psychologist shares effective strategies to make a stellar first impression.
Judging the mood of a customer is a key to delivering great service and closing a sale. (Photo: racorn/Shutterstock)

A customer’s first impressions of your store and your salespeople can make the difference between browser and buyer.

Consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers,” advises retailers on how to boost profitability by improving the customer experience. Here are four of his top strategies for making a great first impression.


A genuine smile is crucial, according to Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.” (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

Judge your customer

Customers shouldn’t be the only people forming impressions. Retail staff need to make a quick judgment about what a particular buyer is looking for in a salesperson and respond accordingly, said Sanders. Shoppers’ demeanors, expressions, voice tones and interactions with other members of their group reveal clues to what they want.

“The best approach to selling is determined by characteristics of shopper,” he said. “There needs to be a decision in what role the shopper wants you to play.”

Sanders said customers generally want the salesperson to play one of three roles: guru, playmate or coach.

Guru: The shopper who wants a guru is looking for a salesperson who won’t ask a lot of questions but can easily guide them to a product choice.

Playmate: Customers who come in with a big smile or group of friends are often looking for the salesperson to be a playmate, said Sanders. “These shoppers want the salesperson to make the experience fun, to joke around a bit.”

Coach: When customers seem out of their element (think: man shopping for lingerie), the salesperson should play the role of coach. “Sometimes what the shopper is looking for is reassurance.” Gently gather information on what they may be looking for and educate them on product choices. Empower them to make a decision, said Sanders.

Smile genuinely

People often size up others based on their faces, making judgments about attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness in as little as a tenth of a second. Keep that in mind when you greet a customer.

A welcoming smile can help put shoppers in the mood to buy. “Research has shown that people are willing to pay more when they’re dealing with someone with a smile rather than a frown,” said Sanders.

The smile needs to be authentic to have a positive effect. A simple mindset shift, said Sanders, is the secret to making your grin genuine, not phony.

“When a person comes into the store, remember that they’re someone who is key to paying your salary. This is the person who can help me pay my bills.”

Give them space

Staff should approach every customer during a greeting. But this is a delicate situation, and one of the biggest mistakes Sanders sees retailers make is not giving customers enough space when they enter the store.

“The best salespeople will let individuals settle in for a few moments,” said Sanders. “Stay away from swooping body language.”

This is especially true for shoppers who may have endured bad weather, struggled to find parking or had to load children into strollers. Sanders said these people will need a little extra time to feel comfortable in the new environment.

“If the customer looks physically uncomfortable, then back off in a gentle way.”

Ask open-ended questions

Even though it’s one of the most common ways to offer assistance to a shopper, asking “May I help you?” lowers the potential for a sale, said Sanders.

“That customer will say no 90 percent of the time, but they’ve come into the store for a reason. It’s just that that question is putting them on the spot. Once the person says no, that becomes the mindset.”

Instead, greet them with an open-ended question, such as “What may I help you find?”, “What brings you into the store today?” or simply “How may I help you?”.

“From the beginning, it’s’ how can I be of service to you?’ We’d like the mindset of the customer to be open to possibility.”

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