In retail there is a 10-4 rule of customer service.
When you find yourself within 10 feet of a customer, make friendly eye contact. If you can include a smile, even better! But the key is eye contact that acknowledges the customer and shows that you are open to questions – even if you’re not available that instant. For example, if you are helping one customer when another approaches, you can give the second customer a quick nod and a smile, without being rude to the first.
The second part of the 10-4 rule: if you’re within four feet of a customer, say something friendly. It doesn’t have to be “May I help you?” You can say “Howdy” or “Have you been in our showroom before?” The key is that you say something that invites communication (as opposed to something uninviting like, “We close in 10 minutes.”)
This kind of behaviour is very unusual in Canadian retail and workplace culture. We tend to be very transactional and shy in our approach to customers, waiting instead to be approached and more concerned about following procedure than making great impressions on our customers. When a chain like Starbucks trains us to be more friendly and attentive to our customers, we think there is magic about the place. Well, it’s not magic. It’s just that Starbucks and others have tapped into the basic human desire for connectedness – a desire that, when met, creates a lasting positive impression.
I have applied the 10-4 rule in my leadership life with great impact. In my workplace and in my travels around town, I smile and make eye contact with people in the 10-foot range. When things get even closer, I make friendly small talk. For a natural introvert like me this was hard at first, but I have persevered. It is now a habit. I keep doing it because of the positive reactions I get from an overwhelming majority of the people with whom I interact. Most people seem surprised at first when a stranger smiles and says hello, but it quickly turns to a return smile. In the workplace, when I, as one of the leaders of the company, smile and share a few words with someone with whom I rarely interact, I notice a big difference in their demeanor immediately. It feels like I am making our workplace a warmer, more positive place with every 10-4 interaction. What started as an experiment for me has now become part of my nature. If you are serious about leadership and about making the world a warmer place, I encourage you to adopt this rule as well.