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When “Can I help you?” Really doesn’t

I have spent a great deal of time over the years going through airports. Not all of that supposedly  “glamorous” business travel has provided lounge access and as a result I end up with time to kill, much of which is inevitably done in the numerous airport shops. Sadly as a sales, communication, personal brand, personal development and customer experience professional I am disappointed to be almost universally greeted with the most closed question possible “Can I help you?” 

Unless the person asking can make my flight go earlier and land in less time than scheduled, secure me an upgrade or ensure that I am not sat next to anyone annoying, smelly, noisy etc. the standard answer to this question is, you guessed it, “no”. 

It then simply becomes a question of how interested I actually am as to how quickly I move my time killing elsewhere. 

This is a scenario PYP use as a coaching moment for others as this shows a clear application of the three areas of our model and a lack of understanding of people and the sales “game” in this environment. It can demonstrate poor training, perhaps a high turnover of staff or perhaps people who are young, inexperienced and lacking in confidence. It is however pretty easy to fix. 

To start with there is the personal development piece and an understanding of the environment and that the vast majority of people in airport (and many other) shops are simply browsing as they have eaten, also do not have lounge access to or are fed up and they simply have time to kill as the traffic and security were better than expected. 

Yes, I know there are people who will travel frequently or have planned ahead but you don’t need to sell to them, they will be prepared and have come to buy! This group will most likely walk up to the sales assistant and ask them for what they want they will not need to be asked if the assistant can help them. 

So back to the majority and the next area, communication! The chances are that the people browsing will have money and we know they have time so why not actually engage them with a simple set of open questions. Going anywhere nice/warm/cold etc.? Business or pleasure? Are you heading off or back home? 

You know, the things that normal people say in a conversation in an airport or lots of other places where travel is involved! 

Perhaps even be really bold and be honest with a “you probably have some time to kill would you like to look at our new range of……” Even if this engagement is not going to deliver a sale, there could be something learned that makes the next sale a little easier. Personal Development!

How about trying “do you already use/have any of our products? with some active listening, this should be obvious in some sectors. Remember people will migrate to stores with greater familiarity. Without trying to sell, you could ask what do you like about them? If struggling to get an answer you could be proactive with a “most people say the …….. is great” (“Most people” will generally solicit an agreement, as there is no risk in agreeing with “most people”) 

Whatever opening words people choose to use the chances are they are always going to be more helpful than “can I help you?” Engaging with people and building rapport is a skill and as a result it can be learned. The key, as with any skill, is to try, practice and ultimately find what works for you. This will shape and develop your personal brand and what they think of you and whether they are going to go, stay or buy. Remember,  people buy people.

I live in hope of one day to being greeted by an airport shop assistant that says something along the lines of: 

“Hi how are you? On Business? Just heading out? What time is your flight or how long do you have? If you have the time, you could look at the new range of shirts, similar the one you are wearing I would be happy to show them to you? If, however, you just want to be left alone to browse because you have been on the road for ten days, then that is fine. Before you leave just let me remind you not to forget the presents for the loved ones!”

That has got to be better than just folding things!