I recently went to two different stores. Both were medium-sized supermarkets, with a similar range of produce. The only difference was location – one was closer to my home, the other a short walk away from my office.
In line with government regulations, both supermarkets had their staff wearing masks. From the shelf stackers to the cashiers, everyone was wearing a mask covering their face. Both stores were kept scrupulously clean, with appropriate social distancing and contact tracing measures implemented.
Despite this, I will be patronising the store closer to my home a little more – even if it means driving slightly out of the way from the office to pick up groceries during my evening commute. Why is that? We’ll go into that later.
Mask ≠ Impersonal
Governments across the region are requiring face masks to be worn as part of running the business. Even if they don’t, wearing masks is part of the so-called ‘new normal’. Customers will need that reassurance of you thinking about their well-being as they shop at your premises. That means, wearing face masks.
This may present several challenges to you:
- Certain customers may object to wearing a mask. Many retailers across the region are adhering to a ‘mask-only’ policy in store. You may need to politely (but firmly) turn customers’ business away if they insist on being mask-free.
- This goes without saying, but your employees must also be wearing masks. You need to enforce this rule strictly. Breaches of this rule may ruin your reputation and even endanger your employees and customers.
- Wearing a mask may change your style of customer interaction. A mask provides a psychological barrier to customer engagement. You may find that some employees, who may have been outgoing and friendly in the past, be somewhat distant when they are wearing a mask.
Making a Connection
Going back to the stores that I visited, both stores had employees properly masked.
Here’s the difference: in the one store I visited, I was sincerely greeted by every employee I encountered. They looked up from cleaning and stocking to say hello. I could tell they were happy to see me because they were smiling with their eyes. It doesn’t mean that if half your face is covered, you can ignore your customers.
In the other store, this was exactly what happened. I was ignored from the moment I stepped in. This did not feel good. I don’t think the employees felt good either. Most humans are social beings, and we thrive on social connections. If you want your customers to shop with and buy from you, your employees need to make human connections. This is true even when someone has ordered online and is simply doing curbside or in-store pickup.
Masks and social distancing are what’s changed as a result of COVID-19. But we humans are innately social beings. We crave social interaction – which is why F&B outlets reported a jump in sales the minute movement restrictions were relaxed. Importantly, genuine connections are needed to create sales and capture revenue.
How do we do that? Here are some ways that I think we can do so.
- Greet every customer with a genuine smile. When someone is faking a smile, we can instantly detect it – their smile doesn’t reach their eyes. Though your mouth may be covered, your eyes aren’t, and that is the key to authenticity in your interactions.
- Speak clearly. Wearing a mask can prevent our voice from being carried, leading to some communication issues. When wearing a mask, we should make a conscious effort to speak louder or enunciate our words clearer. Most importantly, don’t mumble!
- Use body language to connect. Eye contact is the key to connecting during this mask-enforced period. You don’t need to stare, but make eye contact while speaking, and nodding your head to indicate that you’re listening. Don’t cross your arms (this indicates ‘closing off’), but instead relax your shoulders. We may be social distancing, but our body language can still be social.