Boomerang Customers - What You Might NOT Think Brings Them Back!

By Anne M. Obarski

With all of the calendars and PDA's and lists I make I recently did a really dumb thing. I forgot my best friend's birthday and her anniversary. Both special days are back to back and I forgot both of them. After being friends for twenty years I feel old and stupid!

It could have been that I was packing my last child to go off to college and the constant comments like," You're going to be empty nesters", like I was a big, fat robin, were starting to wear very thin. Even having my youngest leave home was not enough of an excuse to miss two important days in my best friend's life.

So what did I do the minute I realized my mistake? I went shopping!

I drove to my local card shop in the strip center by my home because I knew that not only could I use my special coupon that I had, but that I probably could find something unique there. Just as I thought, as soon as I walked in I saw a display of "retro" Barbie items.

Not a big deal to you, but a big deal to me and I know, my best friend. You see, we grew up in that era and for a short time, I was time warped back to the sixties! I bought an armful of things! A special Christmas ornament, a photo album, a special gift bag, a card and a picture frame! I would have bought more but I was starting to feel a little less guilty at this point! I could just imagine her face when she opens the package. She and I both love "girly" things and this was the epitome of "girly"! I was so excited about these things that I decided right there in the store I needed to mail the package overnight so I could hear how much she loved each item!

As I carried all of my special "finds" throughout the store, I picked up an anniversary card and made my way to the counter. I was the only customer in the store at the time and I noticed that there was only one employee behind the counter doing what looked to be "busy work".

As she looked up she said, "Oh, don't you love this Barbie stuff?" Well, it was rather obvious. That was the end of the discussion. The conversation converted to what I call "parrot" talk. Do you have a "---------mark card?" Will that be cash or charge? Do you want the receipt with you or in the bag? Have a nice evening.

It was a simple $50 sale that had so much more potential. The average sale in a card store is between $8 and $14 so maybe that sale wasn't so average. Maybe she thought I had purchased everything I wanted. So what would make me return to that store? Why would I tell my best friend about the selection? Where else could I buy the same merchandise? When will companies learn the simple technique to bring customers back?

And how can they improve those simple communication skills.

I call this the Win-Win "W" words!

Simple words that create open-ended questions that the customer can't say "no" to but that also help to build a conversation! Employees should try to build a conversation with a customer in which each of the sentences they use begin with a "w" word; who, what, where, when, why and a non-"w" word, how.

The questions can be developed into either a service approach or a merchandise approach. Here are examples:

The Service approach:

  • What brings you in today?
  • Who is celebrating an anniversary?
  • When is the big occasion?
  • Where will the wedding be?
  • How are you planning to wrap this?

The Merchandise approach:

  • What type of frame will match their decorating style?
  • Who likes these fabulous scented candles?
  • When will you need these invitations for?
  • Where will you be sending this Precious Moments keepsake figurine?
  • How about buying a second charm to give as a stocking stuffer?

It is all about building a conversation by asking open-ended questions that will help you to learn more about your customer's wants and needs. Little children are great at this technique. They will ask you "w" questions until they are blue in the face because they want to know the answers to their questions. So should you!

I was just reading an article entitled, "Clone Your Top Performers", by Louise Anderson in a new publication called Incentive magazine. She states in the article that they worked with a bank that needed to increase sales at each branch. They taught the tellers to ask each customer an open-ended question about graduations, home renovation projects or other seasonal events. The teller would then relate a story from his or her own experience to build rapport. Based on this conversation, the teller might be able to refer the customer to the appropriate personal banker with a specific need.

Interestingly enough, when they "rewarded their people for adopting this pattern the bank averaged 26 closed sales per team member, versus 15 previously- a 58% improvement!"

Amazing that the increases came simply from developing a relationship with the customer by asking simple questions that you would ask a friend or family member!

How could the sales associate at my card shop improve her sales per transaction with me? Did I mention there was a huge display board as I came in the store that stated, "If you buy $30 worth of Barbie merchandise you can get a special piece for 50% off the regular price?" Could she have reminded me of that??? I told her that I still had my original Barbie. Could she have said, "Why don't you pick something special for yourself, like the beautiful silver bracelet?" What special occasion do you have coming up that you could treat yourself to? My, how fast these ornaments have sold; you might want to get one for your Christmas tree this year! And she should have noticed that I bought a gift bag but no tissue. How easy would it have been for her to say, "I see you didn't get tissue for the bag? Did you see that great Barbie tissue with the shoes on it?" How about I grab you a pack to just add that last special touch to this gift for your best friend?"

I would have started feeling better about being "forgetful" right away!

This type of selling is built on the fast food sales strategy. "Would you like fries with that?" Sometimes I don't want fries. I don't want anything extra. But this time, I was in a "buying mood" and even a simple compliment like "What a lucky best friend you have", could have warmed up the conversation. Better yet, I would have thought, "What would I like to take home for me?"

You see boomerang customers come back to us because they know we know the right questions to ask!

Now where did I leave my day timer?

Anne M. Obarski is "The Customer Service Spy!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne will work with your company to provide you with the clues to keep your customers coming back. Anne presents keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training, nationwide, in the area of customer service. You'll want her two new books, "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work".

For a limited time get her free, "10 Big Secrets to Giving Mystery Shopper Feedback and Get the Changes You Want", by faxing 724-941-4304 on your letterhead and write the words, BIG SECRETS. For more info go to: or email Anne at For high resolution photo of Anne, please visit

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