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A Tale of Shopgirl “Affection”

A customer gets help from a smiling employee

All too often we as marketers and salespeople see customers as numbers on a balance sheet, or as checked boxes on a demographic survey. Other times we are fearful of rejection, and may push too hard to compensate. But our customers are living, breathing humans with feelings and circumstances; everyone is fighting a daily battle with something. We ought to be cognizant of how we make people feel when doing our jobs, regardless of simply making a sale. Could we unwittingly be making someone feel insecure, or fearful? Or perhaps we might wittingly make their day?

Bear With Me for a Minute

I had just spent the very last of my money on something I needed, and was in a bad mood, under both personal and financial strain. Feeling stressed, frustrated and a little angry at the world, I really just wanted to be left alone. Having nowhere to be, I thought I would appease the Fitbit and get my remaining steps in by walking the mall, just as the other senior citizens do. (OK, fine, I’m not a senior citizen — not yet — but I have been surprised with the senior’s discount on several occasions, so I’m getting close. I plan to ride that donkey as far as it will go.)

As I walked, minding my own business, a young woman intercepted me and stood in my way. I attempted to walk around her, and she blocked my path. She’s probably about 22 years old, a very attractive brunette with great big brown eyes. She stops me, standing a little too close, and hands me a sample packet of some sort of lotion from a stack of a dozen or so in her hands.

She hands me another, then another, and so on until I am holding all of the packets. I accept one, put it in my shopping bag, then hand the rest back to her, saying “I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t have any money to spend here. Sorry.”

Taking my hand, she led me to the other side of the kiosk and motioned for me to sit down. While I was moderately annoyed, I figured there was nowhere I had to be, and decided to humour her for a little while as she produced this cream that is supposed to smooth out the wrinkles in the crepe-y skin underneath the eye. No doubt, I must have really looked terrible.

As she starts applying this rejuvenating product on my left side, I said, “I really don’t know why I’m doing this; I seriously do not have a nickel to spend here, just so you know.”

She replied in a slightly exotic accent, “Why you are doing this? Perhaps because I am pretty, yes?”

Aside from her evident abundance of self-esteem, she had a point. “Oh, that you certainly are,” I replied, “but I also have more than one pair of socks that are older than you.” She seemed to find that amusing; or, at least, she pretended to.

She was very playful and flirtatious, and asked me if I was married. I answered “No, but I’ve known my share of women who would have made great ex-wives.”

“How is it possible you are not married, when you’re so handsome?”

I reply “Nope, I’ve never married, but I do have a son.”

“Oh, is he handsome like you?”

“He’s much better looking. You’d like him. Very handsome, very athletic; I’ll introduce you.”

Shaking her head, she says “I’m sure your son is very nice, but he would have to be Jewish.”

“Your accent — is that Israeli? (she smiles and nods) … Well, not only is he not Jewish, he’s got a whole bunch of tattoos. Swing and a miss!”

At this point, I check out my reflection. “You’d better do the other side, or else people might think I’ve had a stroke.”

She then takes notice of my right hand, on which I wear two gold bands. “Ooh, look — you are married — you are wearing a wedding ring.”

“No,” I reply, “these are my parents’ wedding bands… just something to remember them by.”

“Ohhhh, you must miss them very much.” This is true.

I inquire about the price of the eye cream. Eighty dollars per tiny jar. (!) “If you buy two jars, it’s twenty percent off. If you buy three, I go home with you.” Now that’s what I call funny.

Oh Please, Give Me a Break

At no point did I permit my 52-year-old brain to think, even for a moment, that this attractive young woman thirty years my junior was actually into me; honestly, I’m not that stupid. This is a sales technique, and an obvious one at that. In fact, I was consciously irritated throughout this entire process.

“Not only do I not have anything to spend right now, but this is not really a priority for me. Nobody cares what I look like. But I gotta say, this stuff works pretty well. I’d better go now, and stop wasting your time.”

It did work well. I highly recommend it.

She takes my hand to shake it and then holds on to me. It was as if I’d just said, “I’m Batman, and I have to go stop the Joker,” and as my hand slipped out of hers it was as if she’d said, “I’ll wait for you, my one and only love!”

Again, at no point did I take any of this seriously. On the contrary, I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes. But as we parted ways, I marvelled at just how skilled she was at this, and was frankly shocked at how good it made me feel — despite myself. At all times I recognized this as a sales technique and was properly annoyed by it, but for the rest of the day I had a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I’m still not sure what to make of that, but I’d like to think it says more about her skill than my own gullibility.

Her technique worked on me in spite of my conscious resistance and I was genuinely surprised, probably in the smug assumption that I was much too smart to be validated in this way.

Is shopgirl affection a good substitute for therapy? Maybe not, but it briefly was an effective substitute for genuine peace of mind.

I felt accosted, but predictably I cooperated because she was nice to look at. That said, I believe she would have been just as skilled and effective with any other customer. She just had a very practiced technique for making people feel good about themselves, and it provided a welcome break from an emotional malaise.

Making a Difference

Here’s the question this experience brought to mind: is sales just about closing the deal and getting the money, or is it more than that? Can sales be about making someone feel good in that moment? The answer seems obvious. If you don’t make a sale at that time, you might increase your chances of making one tomorrow.

More salespeople could benefit from thinking less about the dollar and more about the experience they provide (after all, here I am writing about this one). While face care is not a priority for me, I would certainly recommend this mall vendor to someone who is interested in that.

Life is short, and if you have the chance to interact with someone, it doesn’t have to be about the money. If you prioritize brightening someone’s day, regardless of whether you make a sale in the process, at least you can enjoy your job; it’s a sure fire way to feel better about what you do.

When you’re out there interacting with people in business, ideally you should be out there caring about them legitimately, and elevating them. In that regard, this salesperson could be considered a little over-the-top — maybe just a little too sexy for comfort — but I believe she consciously chose this technique based on certain quick judgments about me, and let’s face it, her judgment was pretty sharp! She observed an unaccompanied middle-aged man and pushed those buttons. I am certain she has other strategies for those of different ages and gender. Bottom line, she’s a people person, and I envied her skill.

In sales and service, there is always a certain degree of artifice to your relationship with the client, but you can’t know the client’s state of mind when they walk in, or the impact your interaction may have. Using your job as an opportunity to make strangers feel better can surely pay dividends in the long term — goodwill is contagious.

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About the Author - Richard Erickson
A master of nit-picking and an artful user of words, Richard’s love of language began as a kid. He enjoyed reading (including reading the dictionary!), winning spelling competitions, and analyzing word usage. As senior editor and copywriter at Tenato, his 20+ years in information technology and the performing arts have enhanced both the technical and creative elements of his writing style.