When did, "Can I help you" become a rhetorical question?

I stopped answering the question for a while; and, now I answer the question more from the sense of hope rather than thinking that I’m actually going to receive help.  But it never fails, when I am in a store and I ask if they have my size, color, etc.  before I can get it out of my mouth the sales associate usually replies that everything we have is out on the floor. Really?  Please enlighten me and just take a look (or at least pretend that you are looking).   I realize that there are some cases where this is true and everything is indeed out on the floor. But, it can't possibly be true in every single case. 

I had a recent experience where I decided to put that premise to the test. I stopped into a national chain store looking for the exact pair of jeans I had bought the previous month (and fallen in love with) from the same retailer but in a different town.  I looked and couldn’t find my size.  I asked a sales associate for my size and surprise I was told everything is out on the floor.  I really wanted the jeans; so, I pursued my mission and asked two other sales associates at two different times. Both gave me the same answer. I didn't notice but a fourth sales associate must have seen what was happening; and, quietly went in the back and found the jeans in my size. She handed them to me.  As I was walking out of the store with my purchase, I passed her and she looked at me and "mouthed" "sorry about that".

I can only assume she saw how my customer journey was playing out and decided to intervene and do what should could to help sell me the merchandise that I desperately wanted and that was just taking up space in the store and quite frankly on the financial statement.

Retailers continuously invest in training and educating its associates.  But in so many cases it's not all about training but about hiring the "right" person to represent your brand. That sales associate should have personal characteristics and traits that reflect a service attitude. The fact is you can do all the training in the world and if the sales associates doesn't have a service "heart" and a genuine willingness to help the customer it will leave a tremendous crack in your brand. 

We all know that brand image is important; but, I would advocate that hiring a person that has a service attitude and reflects a willingness to help is just as important as investing in training. Both will reap the rewards of ultimately representing the best of your brand. 



Sonya Ruff Jarvis, is the Managing Member of Jarvis Consultants and Founder of the eRetailer Summit. Sonya has extensive experience in creating original innovative solutions to overcome major business challenges.  Sonya has spent most of her career visiting headquarters across global industries and has built strong business relationships across diverse brands. 

Sonya has a M.B.A. in Marketing. She is married and has a daughter and they live in  Fairfield County Connecticut.