It's always about you, you you ...

27 July, 2007

Subtle use of that

all-powerful "Y"

word can influence customer beh


I 'm a huge fan of words. Where would we be without them? Well, what I actually mean is that I'm a huge fan of language - the way we subtly marshall the rich resources of the English language to convey nuances of meaning. There are certain stock phrases that I hear myself using every day, little jokes and punchlines to conversations that I've heard thousands of times, and for all I know, so have our more regular customers.

For example, I've been on a mission to

get people to take fewer carrier bags from us. It's not always successful

- one of our customers comes in and buys a single bottle every day, and asks for it in a bag. I imagine him going home and having to shoulder-barge open the door into a room waist-deep in rustling white plastic. I mean, really. He should take a leaf out of the book of Mute Stella Bloke , who we also see every day. What he lacks in conversational niceties, he makes up for in green credentials, carrying an impressively worn cotton shopping bag with him at all times.

As unlikely as it sounds, you can tweak the way you speak to customers to get the desired result. Wherever appropriate, I like to append the phrase "for you" to a sentence: "Can I put those in a box for you? Can I get the door for you?" You get the idea. It's hardly neuro-linguistic programming, but I feel that adding those two words subtly underlines that you are providing a service, adding a layer of social nicety to an otherwise mechanical transaction. Go on, try it. It'll seem odd the first half dozen times, but it soon becomes second nature.

Back to carrier bags: the "for you?" trick is an easy one for people to say yes to (or even "thank you" on a good day). People like to say yes, to be cooperative. It's this desire to cooperate that can be turned round by phrasing a question differently. Instead of allowing people to aquiesce, you create a mild sort of confrontation. A single bottle of wine brings the question "Do you need a bag for that?" Of course they don't need a bag

- they live a few minutes away, or have parked their car round the corner. It's nicer for them to say no to this phrasing

- for if they said yes, it would feel like mildly disagreeing with you. They might want a bag, but that offer isn't on the counter.

I've wondered how far you can push this. I can pretty easily get people to leave with a couple of bottles of wine or beer clutched in one hand, but have yet to progress any further. I'm hoping soon to be able to carry out some kind of Derren Brown-esque combination of hypnotism, verbal suggestion and a bit of spooky hand waving

that will get people to carry three bottles in each hand as they leave, a technique previously only seen in the Advanced Bottling Up Manual (2nd edition).

Anyway, if this all seems like sinister Jedi-type mind manipulation, then you could be right. Perhaps it's better to devote one's time to finding a single punchline that you're happy with. Mine hinges on the fact that alcohol can make people talkative and excitable. So when someone buys a dozen bottles of beer, and a bottle of rosé "to keep the girlfriend quiet", I always suggest that it will probably have quite the opposite effect. Gets a laugh every time. Now, can I get that door for you?

Zak Avery runs Leeds off-licence Beer Ritz.

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