Quick take: Want to wow visitors each moment they step into a neighborhood hotel, restaurant, shop or taxi? Keep reading. This post will:
Offer scripts to use when greeting visitors.
Shed light on different welcoming techniques and tourist greeting examples.
Provide tips on using your CRM to improve your visitor greetings and interactions.
I distinctly recall a moment about a year ago. I was with some friends in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood, an area known for its upscale shopping, dining and hotels. One of my friends was getting married in a couple of months and stopped by the store where he and his groomsmen were getting their tuxedos.
He was greeted by name and with a cold beer. Handshakes and hugs all around.
When we left, I turned to my friend and asked, “Do you know them?” He said, “Yeah, they’re helping me with my tux.”
Their entire relationship was forged on a transaction, a customer-brand interaction. But it was authentic. I’m not in the market for a tux, but if I were, I’m sure that’d be my first stop.
How you greet your destination visitors — along with your succeeding interactions with them — make lasting impressions. It’s a low-cost investment you can make to improve the visitor experience and yield serious results.
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One study shows that more than half of shoppers will return to a destination because they’ve previously had “superior customer service.” Plus, in retail, that positive experience can help prevent shoplifting.
If you’re looking for techniques and examples on how to greet visitors to your destination, keep reading. We’ve put together some of the greetings and follow-up questions you and associates should try when interacting with visitors.
Sales greeting techniques: why they’re important
Lack of acknowledgment from front-line staff is one of visitors’ top three biggest complaints about shopping — and it could be a contributing factor to why one Salesforce report found that only 32% visit stores because they enjoy the experience.
The greeting is the first impression that customers get of your brand, at least as it relates to that specific in-person experience. “A good customer greeting or even the absence of [one] is the first piece of the customer shopping environment,” says Stephen Ekstrom, Chief Strategist at The Tourism Academy | tourismacademy.org. “They can get a sense of your message through greetings.” That greeting should set the stage for the experience your visitor is about to have.
How do you greet visitors to your community?
Vary greeting techniques and specific verbiage instead of speaking from a script every time. “It displays brand authenticity,” he says. “When destinations train front line workers to greet in a variety of ways, it allows not just the destination, but also the tourism ambassador to share the breadth and depth of your destination's values.”
That’s not the only reason you should change it up. Ekstrom points out that this demonstrates authenticity, an awareness of what’s happening in-destination, and authority and presence on the visitor front-line. That presence is crucial: Three-quarters of consumers place a lot of importance on being able to interact with sales staff when they need them, according to the Salesforce report cited before.
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Plus, it feels personal. Each customer wants to hear their own greeting, and if everyone who walks in after them is greeted the same, it becomes impersonal. “Greetings let your guest know that you’re there to provide a great visitor experience,” Ekstrom says.
“[Greetings are] also important in sales conversion and loss prevention,” Ekstrom says.
Customer greeting techniques to use in your destination
To help brainstorm ideas, Ekstrom buckets associate-visitor interactions into four categories:
Small talk is a great way to break the ice and establish a friendly, human connection with visitors. “Typically, small talk is for those visitors you don’t recognize,” Ekstrom says.
Small talk greetings and questions should invite two-way conversation. Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no — they can quickly lead to dead ends. Ekstrom points out that the relationship-building hinges upon that back-and-forth.
“It’s not necessarily the first question that is the most important question, or the first greeting the associate gives,” he says. “It’s the one that follows up the response that is more important, particularly when it comes to this bucket.” Those follow-up questions should be natural progressions of the conversation your associates are having.
Examples of small talk questions you can use when engaging with visitors:
Are you enjoying your afternoon?
How’d you hear about us?
Did you watch the game last night? I stayed up to watch the end!
How’s your day going?
What are your up to the rest of the day?
Who are we shopping for today?
Customer greeting example: Small talk in action
If you’ve ever been to a Chick-fil-A, you know how great their staff is at small talk. Friendly smiles, upbeat energy, and lots of easy small talk make every experience a positive one. They interact with you while you wait for your order through light conversation. One time, they gave me close to a dozen free salads because they were closing and needed to get rid of them. But it’s not just me who feels this way — they’ve consistently earned the top spot in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in their industry.
Remember that experience I had with my friend at the tuxedo shop? That was under the category of what Ekstrom calls familiarity. “Familiarity is when you’ve seen a visitor before,” she says. You’ve already established an initial relationship with a visitor.
Now, it’s about nurturing that relationship. Demonstrate to your returning visitors more than just that you remember them — show them that you’re getting to know them.
Use tech to your advantage. Many POS (point of sale) solutions like Vend come with built-in customer management features that allow you to add notes and track previous purchases. You can reference these things when you come across a returning visitor and use the data you have to tailor their guest experience.
Salesforce also found that 64% of consumers want personalized offers from retail brands, while more than half will switch to another brand if you don’t integrate personalization into your communications.
“Regulars want to feel like they’re in a community and that they belong,” Ekstrom says. “I like to train my students to be friendly and personable, but not necessarily speak and communicate as they would with a friend.” He says to keep it to one or two sentences, as anything that goes overboard can actually negatively affect the experience.
Examples to get started with your familiarity interactions:
What brings you in to see us again?
It’s great to see you again.
Welcome back! How’ve you been?
Did you have a good weekend?
Coming in for another ___ (insert their previous purchase)?
Customer greeting example: Familiarity in action
Take a cue from hair salons. Many stylists have loyal clientele; it’s one of their selling points when searching for a chair to rent in a salon. Consumers go to the same stylist for years. You share personal stories and information with your stylist, you develop a real relationship. They return to the salon because of the human interactions, and the quality of service, they receive from that particular stylist. My own mother would drive 45 minutes to get her hair done when her stylist moved. Treat your associates as your version of stylists who can create that authentic, human connection.
This is when your associates represent the people behind your brand and share a piece of themselves (and thus, your brand) with customers. “Commonality establishes a relationship through something that is happening in common,” Ekstrom says.
Establishing commonalities with customers through your community members gives your visitors something to connect with. A shared value, perception or even voice can make your destination relatable and instill trust.
Examples of questions and statements to say to visitors during that first greeting
I like your ___ (shoes, scarf, coat, hairstyle, lipstick, etc.)
Wow, how are you navigating town?
How are you enjoying the great weather we have here?
Have you gotten outside to enjoy the fall colors yet?
Have been around to the corner to store X? It’s one of my favorites. (Follow up with What do you like about that store?)
Ekstrom's tips on commonality:
1. Be specific: Rather than asking ‘how about this weather?’ try something like ‘did you get outside to enjoy the warm weather we’ve been having?’ “You can show true engagement,” says Ekstrom of specificity.
2. Be personal: You're encouraged to share a bit about yourself, through the lens of your destination. “Personal testimonials are important when you’re establishing commonality,” Ekstrom says. “And they definitely need to be true and helpful.”
3. Be authentic: Visitors can sniff out insincerity in an instant. Ambassador-visitor interactions should be authentic to both the brand and our people.
4. Be positive: Every interaction should be positive. Ekstrom gives an example, rather than saying ‘when will it stop raining; we can't do anything!’ opt for ‘you’re more than welcome to stay in here as long as you need to stay dry.’ “That’s a good way to take commonality, which sometimes tends towards discomfort or inconvenience, and put a positive spin on it,” she points out.
Customer greeting example: Commonality in action
I was shopping for a new snowboard at my local Christy Sports Ski and Snowboard shop. I hadn’t bought a new one in longer than I’d like to admit, so I didn’t know much about the new products available. The associate helping me out was a snowboarder himself, and he gave me an objective overview of the different kinds of boards available. Then, he gave me his opinion through his own snowboarding experiences. I immediately trusted him because we established something in common, and I knew he was speaking authentically through his own experiences. I bought a snowboard from him that same day, even though I had originally planned to shop around.
Orientation is essentially welcoming and familiarizing visitors to the space in your town. These types of interactions direct visitors to what they need and also help them feel comfortable while exploring.
Sometimes, visitors will tell you exactly what they’re looking for. In that case, orientation is more straightforward: Guide those individuals to get exactly where they want to go. You could also offer helpful information they might not have thought of.
For example, if someone’s looking for running shoes in your sports apparel shop, you could also point out that that the running socks are buy-one-get-one, and available on your way to the shoe section. Then mention your favorite running trails nearby.
Examples of orientation responses for the “I’m just looking” visitor:
Personally, I like to start in this area over here and work my way around.
Take your time to look around. Some people stay here for a lifetime just exploring.
After that initial engagement, check in with that customer, with things like:
Would you like a guided tour?
Can I free offer any recommendations?
How about I start a fitting room for you while you continue looking around?
Would you like me to hold your cup of coffee at the counter so you can explore the museum?
Are you finding what you thought you would?
Customer greeting example: Orientation in action
Every time I walk into REI, I am greeted by a sales associate. They often stand by the front doors to greet and say goodbye to customers. Whenever a customer walks in, they inquire about what the customer needs to do or which type of product they’re looking for. The associate then tells them exactly where they need to go, and even communicates with the rest of the floor to send a staff member that way if the customer needs help. It’s a great way to welcome customers to the store and help them find exactly what they need in a large space.
During notable shopping seasons (e.g., back to school, Mother’s Day, the winter holidays, etc), it’s helpful to have aave a seasonal greeting in your backpocket. Depending on the occasion, you can choose to weave in the following phrases or statements into your visitor greetings:
Visiting or shopping for someone special?
Are you here for the festival this weekend?.
Non-verbal best practices for greeting visitors
The best greetings aren’t just about what you say. Several non-verbal factors can influence how well your greeting will be received. Consider the following.
Look the part
This goes without saying, but you and your fellow ambassadors (and volunteers) must be as presentable as possible when facing visitors. The more likable your appearance is, the higher the chances that visitors would respond favorably to your greeting.
The right look depends on your setting. Someone working at a shop that sells beach attire clothes would dress differently than someone at a four or five star hotel. Regardless of your dress code though, see to it that you’re wearing clean and pressed clothing. If makeup is required, ensure that your face and hair are touched up periodically throughout the day so you can keep your best foot forward.
Time your greeting properly
The timing of your greeting will affect how your spiel would land. In most cases, it’s best to wait about 15 to 30 seconds after someone has walked in before you greet them. This gives them enough time to get their bearings and adjust to your environment. Greet them too soon could lead to visitor overwhelm, so ensure that you wait a bit before approaching them.
Be mindful of your body language
Your body language should feel open and welcoming. Keep your arms at your sides (rather than crossing them) and maintain a healthy amount of eye contact. Keep an appropriate distance between yourself and shoppers so as to not invade their personal space.
Continuing the interactions
In addition to the tips above, Ekstrom reiterates the importance of keeping the conversation going but being mindful of the visitor preferences. “I like to take the cue from the visitor,” she says. “Typically, locals are very attuned to what’s happening in the neighborhood and the vibe.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to your intuition and noting social cues. “If it feels like you’re asking too much, you’re asking too much. If you feel like it’s been a long time since you checked in, you’ve waited a long time to check in.”
How can you “read” your visitors? Consider:
Bear in mind that every person, and thus every visitor, is different. “More than [one interaction] for someone who’s very introverted might be too much,” Ekstrom notes. "If a visitor feels like they’ve been authentically and genuinely engaged, you can take their cue for back and forth conversation.”
Train your employees
At the end of the day, Ekstrom nods to the fact that the best tourism ambassadors are inherently good at interpersonal communications. There are some characteristics that you can’t teach. “A true community advocate associate likes to engage,” he says.
However, you can give colleagues knowledge of visitor greeting techniques to enhance their skills and provide a destination-authentic visitor experiences. “We need to trust that they can be empowered with the destination knowledge and the brand values to make that engagement genuine,” says Ekstrom.
Retail Dive reports that almost one-third of front-line employees don’t receive any formal training, and that includes sales greeting techniques. However, retail staff training is an area that would benefit from more attention, especially in relation to employing these in-destination tactics. For example, the Salesforce report found that 44% of consumers usually know more about products than associates.
“It’s quite a catch-22 in that the more that we train people to be genuine, it almost becomes more disingenuine,” Ekstrom points out. “When we’re pressuring people to be authentic, it comes across as inauthentic.”
But effective ambassador training is easier said than done. Retail Dive also reports that 35% of retail employees found their training to be “very effective,” and only 31% felt “extremely engaged” after their training.
Ekstrom has found one effective training technique: role-playing. “I think that destinations and their front-line partners like hotels, restaurants, attractions & local shops are really best served with experience-based training,” he says. “No one likes to role-play training activities, but that is exactly what makes them very effective and efficient, because it highlights confusion, misalignment and discomfort.” It puts your people on the spot and replicates the real-life experience.
Ekstrom suggests that you switch it up; role play with extroverted, introverted, suspicious and even rude visitors to help your people build the collective skill set and learn which responses are brand-appropriate.
Ekstrom points to a local Seattle ice cream shop Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream as a brand that has effectively trained associates — called Scoopers — to ask the right questions and make every customer experience positive. There’s almost always a line out the door. “I always feel genuinely greeted, even though the interactions are quick,” he describes. “[The Scoopers are] so friendly and have fantastic personable personalities. Even though the engagement is quick, I never feel like I’m being rushed.” Customers can taste as many ice cream flavors as they like, and there are visuals to keep you occupied during the wait. “By the time I get to an associate, I don’t feel frustrated and like I waited forever. I’m quite excited,” he says. “That quick but genuine engagement is a great way to cap my experience with the store.”
Employing effective sales greeting techniques
One straightforward way to effectively greet and interact with visitors is to put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be helped? Authentic, genuine interactions will almost always win over salesy practices.