Mixed Messages: Interpreting Body Language on the Sales Floor
1 month ago by

When it comes to quality customer service, a key objective is to have a complete understanding of the customer as well as their needs and wants. Beyond the superficial aspects, such as whether they can financially afford a product or a service, a business must also understand the customer’s fears and aspirations. A well-researched customer persona contains the key to customer loyalty. How so, you ask? That is because a customer persona outlines how businesses can relate to their target consumers on a more human level. One way to ensure customer satisfaction is by brushing up on nonverbal communication, in particular on body language interpretation. Non-verbal communication is equally important as verbal communication; even if a customer is telling you one thing, they may actually feel completely different about that particular topic. They might be too nervous, distracted, shy, busy or awkward to communicate effectively. Tapping into your knowledge of body language can put them at ease. The ability to accurately read, assess, and respond to a customer’s body language is critical to building lasting relationships.

Here are three scenarios where a service representative must read the nonverbal cues and then proceed to effectively engage with a prospective customer.

Scenario #1: On the Shop Floor          

Scan your shop during a busy walk-in period and you will find more than one customer signalling how they feel- just by their body language.

❏     If a customer seems to be avoiding eye contact, folding their arms across their chest, shuffling their feet and is generally fidgeting around- these are all signs of an extremely nervous or self-conscious individual.

❏     On the other hand, a confident individual can be easily identified by their overall relaxed mannerism. They will not shy away from eye contact, will be the first to initiate a conversation or at least utter a greeting, and will keep their hands at their sides.

The best way to interact with a nervous shopper is by first greeting them, and then inquiring about what is on their shopping list. If they decline any support at that time, the next step is letting them know you are readily accessible- whenever the need arises. From time to time, try to guide them towards the products they are looking for.

Scenario #2: Follow the (Eye)-line

Take notice, albeit discreetly, of your customer’s gaze. What seems to be occupying their attention? The human eyes are extremely expressive and can reveal an individual’s true priorities. They may be asking the representative about one thing but their eyes may be searching for something else.  If you sense the customer’s eyes wandering towards the “25% Off” rack, its best to let them explore with minimal interruption.

Raised eyebrows can also indicate a range of emotions. Depending on the situation, they can represent surprise, fear, worry, or even speculation. If you notice the customer’s eyebrows raising, even for a moment, it is the right time to inquire how comfortable they are with your company’s services or products.

Scenario #3: Facial Expressions & Mirroring

In addition to eye-contact, facial expressions and mirroring also provide incredible insight into how to best satisfy a customer in face-to-face interactions. Whether you are in a retail or office setting, observing your customer’s facial expression can help you determine what the customer is actually feeling. Imagine if mid-conversation, as you are explaining something to the customer, suddenly their facial expressions start changing from interested to distracted or tense. You may notice the following happening on the customer’s face: clenched jaw muscles, furrowed eyebrows, rapid blinking, and pursed lips. There can be many reasons for the change in facial expressions, from a misunderstanding to an unrelated emergency. It is important that you acknowledge this in a professional manner. You can pause the ongoing conversation, and then inquire whether everything is okay or if the customer would rather talk about something else instead.

If you notice the customer gesturing or leaning inwards, just like you are, that is a positive sign. This type of unintentional replication, also known as mirroring, indicates that the customer is connecting with you and is pleased with the overall conversation. A company representative that is well-versed in reading nonverbal cues is more likely to build a positive rapport with their customer base.

Emotional Intelligence

As an emotionally intelligent professional, you are expected to be able to interpret emotions; more specifically, both your own emotions as well as those of your customer’s. With a well-honed EQ (emotional intelligence), you can take your awareness of the other person’s feelings and accordingly provide support that is both empathetic as well as effective. It makes good business sense to invest in customer service training sessions, especially those that focus on building emotional intelligence in customer-facing roles.

A simple formula is all one needs to gainfully maneuver nonverbal communication:  body language equals attitude. Non-verbal communication has a significant role in customer service, maybe even more than verbal communication. Training customer service employees to accurately identify body language cues is essential for sustainable customer service success.


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