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Connecting with Customers in a Christian Bookstore

You never know who is about to walk in that door. Today’s steps are based on a guide given to telephone counselors of a popular Christian TV show, who also never know who is on the other end of the line. We have the advantage of being able to see our customers, though sometimes first impressions can throw us off the trail. (That’s why the second step here is important.)

  1. A loving welcome. Let the customer know you’re glad to see them. Lately, I’ve been asking, “Have you been here before?” because the answer to that question will determine a number of things I might say yes. You can also go for the obvious, “Is there anything particular which brought you here today?” (Preferred over ‘How may I help you?’) If they clearly want to browse — or otherwise want to be left alone — just say, “I’m here if you have any questions.” Sometimes I will pause and add, “Questions about anything.”
  2. Listen. Note both what they say and how they are expressing themselves. Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment. Interact with them as they speak: “Uh huh;” “Yes;” “Sure;” “Good;” “I’m sorry to hear that;” etc. Then restate what they said to you, “What I hear you saying is __________;” as well as the expressed emotion, “You sound _________ because _________.” If there isn’t clarity, ask for background information. I frequently ask, “Did you grow up in church?” and if the answer is yes, “What type of church was that?” I’m not trying to pigeon-hole them or put them in a particular box, but it might affect what terminology I use as well as understanding their personal context.
  3. Learn. “As a person thinks in their heart, so they are.” (Prov. 23.7) Perhaps an event has led to certain thoughts which have triggered particular emotions which have led to specific behaviors. They may be asking on behalf of someone else, but they may also say that when in fact they are asking for themselves. Whatever the reason, if they aren’t regular shoppers, or just needing a special occasion gift, something specific has brought them into your store. Make sure you present yourself as someone they can feel comfortable sharing with. If they are unchurched, I always let them know that they are not alone, that they are welcome in the store, and that I understand their situation. I might add the question, “Was there a particular event which triggered that decision?”
  4. Encourage. If you can make a connection between the individual and specific products, by all means do so. That’s why your store exists. Sometimes we can jump-start that process to soon because we haven’t spent enough time in steps #2 and #3 above. Be prepared next to go beyond being just a retailer and minister to their situation, especially with pertinent scripture passages which come to mind and the goal of praying with them for a particular need or concern involving them or someone in their sphere of influence.
  5. Prayer. Even if they aren’t willing to pray with you right then and there, ask if you can remember them in prayer, “What’s your first name?” is a frequent question at this stage, but always balance that by giving your own name; “Hi, I’m Paul, I’m the owner of the store, I’m not here every day but the email address on your receipt goes to my home and I check it several times a day, seven days a week.” My wife and I often pray for specific people at dinnertime based on the days conversations. (I really need to keep a prayer journal at the store so other staff can be part of this.)
  6. Connections. In addition to connecting people and resources, we also want to connect customers with Christian counselors and local churches. Consider guiding that unchurched person in reconnecting with God and then discerning next steps.

Was this helpful? If so, share it with your staff.

 

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