Katherine O'Brien
American Printer

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How Can I Help You: The Phrase That Pays Far Beyond Checkout Counter


As a regular Trader Joe’s shopper, I always take keen interest in my interaction with the checkout person. I admire their almost inevitable cheerfulness—if a clerk is having a bad day, he or she never shows it. I like their hustle—lines are seldom long and, rather than invite a stampede to the next open register, a cashier personally escorts you to the next open lane. Very civilized!



As the Trader Joe’s clerk rings up my purchases, he or she always says the same thing: “Did you find everything that you needed?” I admit I wrestle with the sarcastic angel on one shoulder and the pleasant one on the other. The sarcastic angel whispers: “Well, actually no. Because you were out of the candy-coated sunflower seeds I wanted and then you cleverly disguised that fact by using the neighboring chocolate nonpareils to fill in the gap. So at first I couldn’t find what I was looking for and then I wasted more time looking at things I didn’t want where the thing I wanted used to be.”


But more often than not, the pleasant angel wins out and I simply say, “Yes, thank you. I did find everything.”


Trader Joe%27sThe conversations immediately following the “Did you find everything?” opening gambit always involve my purchases. The clerks selects a random grocery item, such as lentil soup, and remarks how much he, too, likes that particular soup or how well it goes with some other item, such as crackers. This is like catnip to my sarcastic angel, which is now jumping up and down and begging me to say: “Thank you. I pride myself on my excellent taste in canned soup, particularly those involving legumes.” Or: “Well, it’s not actually for me. It’s a gift for a friend.”


Once again, my pleasant angel wins out. I inevitably say something especially witty such as “Yes, that soup is really good, isn’t it?”


On the surface these encounters can be banal and frankly inane. But I always come away from my grocery shopping in a good mood. I’m not stewing about a pokey cashier or an impersonal employee who is so busy gossiping with a fellow worker that I feel invisible.


I thought of this as I read author and social media guru Dave Kerpen’s article on “The Most Important Phrase You’ll Ever Say in a Meeting.” Kerpen says that while “please” and “thank you” have their place, these words are secondary to “How can I help you?”


How can I help youEven if the person declines your help, he or she will come away feeling like you cared—and perhaps they will even help you. “If it seems simple, it is,” says Kerpen. “It doesn't matter whether it’s a customer, a prospect, or a colleague you’re meeting with—we all like to be cared about, and we all can use some help. Just make sure you’re genuine, never contrived.”



So thank you, Trader Joe’s, for caring. Let’s make a deal: You keep asking me how you can help me and I’ll keep my sarcasm to myself!



It has always seemed odd to me that the checkout person asks if you found everything. The supermarket where I shop more than once a week and spend 80% of my food budget is very good at doing this. I've had the same thing happen at sporting goods, electronics stores, etc, but I shop for food much more often so it stands out.  
It seems the point here is to perform the standard sales routine of getting the customer to say yes to plant positive feelings in their head. The distant second objective to this question is actually wanting an honest answer. After all I've walked the store, sometimes more than once, stood in the checkout line for several minutes, and now after I have cash in hand, you ask me this? Even if I did not find everything I was looking for, I'm not backing the train up now. I'm just going to pleasantly say yes and leave the store without that item I would have bought if I found it, but did not need. If I needed it, I would not be in the checkout lane. 
If the store wants to actually make this more than pleasantry, have someone walk down the line of folks waiting to check out and ask the question then. I'm 50x more likely to say I did not and increase the revenue on that sale then than I am after I've got to the money position. 
So the question you have to ask yourself as you lay out how your business runs, is are you asking this question merely to be pleasant, or do you really want to increase the transactional amount of your sale to a customer.
Posted @ Friday, September 05, 2014 6:12 PM by Dave
Good point, Dave, about asking while a shopper is still actively looking. I think some of the rationale is to create a "personal" dialogue between the shopper and the cashier--"Hey, we both like kale!" 
I do think many printers' salespeople could win more business just by getting to know the customer a little better. When working on project, simply by asking "Could you tell me more about this?" can open doors. If you understand why the customer needs one particular job (and what their end goal is) you are better situated to do more for them.
Posted @ Friday, September 05, 2014 7:45 PM by Katherine O'Brien
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