The Art of a Cold Reading

Josie Leavitt - September 24, 2012

Retailers often have one chance to work with a new customer. Staff help gets judged immediately by customers as actually helpful or actively not. There is an art to reading a customer. If you squander your one chance, you very well might have lost a sale.
Here are some things we try to remember as customers come in.
– Greet them, but don’t approach right away.
– Pay attention to their body language. Are they engaged in browsing or are they sighing because they can’t find something?
– Let some time pass before asking them if they need help. We always say as we walk by with a stack of shelving (always best to have a task so the customer doesn’t feel trapped), “Let me know if I can help you find anything?” This question is far less threatening than the “Do you need help?” It allows the shopper to look around and let you know that they can’t find the poetry section.
– Never hover. Nothing can ruin a quiet day at the bookstore more than an over-eager bookseller who just won’t let you be.
– Again, the art of noticing body language comes into play during the browsing phase. Some people don’t ask for help, but clearly would appreciate some. It’s your job as the staffer on the floor to aid this person in finding a book. People have lots of ways of letting you know they’re stymied. Sighing is a big clue. Saying to the children in a voice just loud enough for you to hear: “I wonder if they have that book by Eric Carle?” If you hear this, then you go up and ask them what they’re looking for.
– If they ask for book recommendations, do not overwhelm them. I find it’s easy to get carried away and that can be detrimental to book purchases. It’s far better to pick two to three books you’re passionate about and talk about them rather than throw a huge stack at someone. However, there are also people who want big stacks. They will be leaning in and actively listening.
– Never, ever, make someone feel bad for their choice of book. There can be nothing worse than passing judgment on someone’s reading. I don’t really care what people are reading, I’m just glad they’re reading and looking for books in my store.
– Lastly, most customers have made a conscious choice to visit your store. Remember that without them, we’d have far fewer people to talk to about books.

2 thoughts on “The Art of a Cold Reading

  1. Misti

    Good advice, for librarians as well as booksellers. The tendency to overwhelm with book recommendations is one that besets more librarians than just me, I’m sure! I will often ask how many books on a topic the patron is looking for, before I start making suggestions — if they only want two train books for their toddler, fifteen will certainly be overkill.


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