Make Eye Contact With Customers -- Even When You're Not Face-to-Face

Last Updated Aug 30, 2010 5:46 PM EDT

eye contact helps communicationWhat makes eye contact so powerfully effective when communicating? Think of what you might infer when someone doesn't look you in the eye: Maybe he doesn't care much about what you're saying or he is afraid to face the truth. Is he hiding something?

A customer of mine last week not only reminded me how important eye contact is, but how you can make it even when you're not face-to-face with your customer. That' right -- "eye contact" is possible even when you and your customer are separated by a phone line or a computer.

Here's what Jerry, from Oklahoma City, wrote (edited for clarity/length):
I retired a couple of years back but before that, I was a haberdasher for many years. In my late teens, I found a job as assistant manager of an upscale shoe store. My manager George, was 65 years old and winding down a 45-year career with the old Brown Shoe Co.

I earned a doctorate in business from my mentor George. He had a system for running our store that carried me through my career. We were to treat customers that came into our store like they were paying our salary. They were! He taught me on very busy days how to wait on a half dozen customers at once and make them all feel good about being there. In some cases, simply acknowledging they were in the store, guiding them to a seat and saying, "I'll be right with you" kept them happy. In all cases, just making "eye contact" kept them in the store. This was when there was still service.

Your employee, Sarah, made "eye contact." She advised me that my blinds were on their way and checked to see if I was happy with them after they arrived. When I discovered they weren't quite right, you and she kept up that contact, everything from the remake to the shipping with a tracking number and your website to the personal notes... you kept "eye contact" with me. It's great to see a quality business still thriving in this crazy economy. It's because you do what you do and you have people like Sarah making "eye contact."
The concept of "eye contact with every customer" is one I'm going to think about and encourage my team to think about every time they talk to customers. I encourage you to do the same. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Response time -- When you keep you customers on hold for more than a minute, are you giving eye contact? Review your on-hold messaging and see. How long does it take you to respond to emails? If it's going to take awhile, then do you at least respond saying it might take longer than usual?

2. Follow-up -- If you make a promise to your customer or prospect that you're going to respond later that day, but don't, then you've lost eye contact. When you can't respond right away, do you at least contact her to let her know you haven't forgotten about her?

3. Your employees -- Do you call your employees by name, ask them how they're doing, and look them in the eye when doing so? If you really care about them, then make some eye contact.

What are some other ways to make better eye contact, both physically and metaphorically? What are some horror stories that will serve as advice on what to avoid?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com by Faithful Chant, CC 2.0
  • Jay Steinfeld On Twitter»

    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.

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