“You guys, come over here and celebrate with us. Melissa just got a new puppy!”
We looked to both sides, and then even turned around to see if there was someone behind us. Surely, the jolly woman behind the counter couldn’t have been talking to us. Nope, there was no one else. She actually was talking to us. We walked up to the bar, intrigued.
The woman who greeted us went to the window and told the cook to “fire table three.” The woman she was talking about, Melissa, proceeded to pull out her phone and show us pictures of the puppy. A yellow Labrador Retriever. Eight moths old. They’d named him Scout.
Needless to say, I was surprised. I’d expect this kind of greeting and familiarity if we were at our favorite café in the city, where we’re sometimes even more regular than the employees are. That’s not where we were at all. We were on vacation in South Lake Tahoe, and this was our first time walking into this particular restaurant.
As we sat there, several of the servers walked in and out of the bar area on their way to their various tables. Each one introduced themselves to us by name, and explained a little bit about the unique menu. We were given a few recommendations, and then the conversation turned to us. What had brought us in? What kind of experience were we looking for? How long were we on vacation? What did we think of the unseasonably warm weather? How were the slopes? What did we think of Labrador Retrievers and puppies in general?
What stands out in my mind even today as I reflect on this experience from almost a week ago is how comfortable we felt at this restaurant within seconds of walking in the door. To some, the greeting we were given may seem aggressive or “too familiar” for a couple of strangers, but it felt completely genuine in the moment. We felt like a couple of old friends being invited to bask in the cozy culture they’d built in that humble café, which was nestled in a small, unpretentious mall, set slightly back from the main strip.
Feeling comfortable at a business is a big deal. At a restaurant, maybe it’s expected, since you generally visit restaurants with the intention of relaxing. But can you imagine the power if we’d had this same experience at a real estate office? A used car dealership? A financial institution?
As a society, I think we’ve all become sensitive to being “sold” to. We tend to turn our ears and brains off once we realize a conversation has turned into a sales pitch. The difference between a sales pitch and what the servers at Freshie’s in Tahoe were doing was all about engagement.
Engage Your Audience
Have you ever been talking to someone and then realized at some point that they were talking at you and not with you? It’s frustrating. It’s one thing to be listening to someone tell a story, but then according to the rules of conversation, you should eventually be able to respond and add your own input. Some conversations don’t allow for this. They’re completely one-sided.
The same thing can be true in business. When a business is entirely focused on selling and turning everyone into a paying customer, it can lose sight of the interaction—the exchange. I was a manager for a large retail corporation for many years, and one of the most valuable pieces of advice they gave to associates during training was to “treat every customer like a guest in your home.” With this approach, sales interactions begin to look more like conversations, and customers begin to feel comfortable and engaged.
When customers are engaged, they are more likely to buy. Before leaving Freshie’s last Saturday, I not only tipped handsomely for the fantastic service, but I bought a hoodie. I’ve never bought merchandise from a restaurant before. Their atmosphere made me feel so at home; I went the extra step to not only support their business by giving them more money, but to buy something to publicly display my support of their business.
Reading Is Engagement
One of the reasons we love it when business owners make the decision to create a book is because the book becomes a tool for engagement. When you read a book, any book, you are engaged with that story and with that author for however long it takes you to read it.
And if you make it personal, all the more so. A colleague with a computer consulting business placed a book he created on his website as a free download in exchange for an email address. It’s full of personal stories that demonstrate what he’s learned along the way and it invites the reader to experience his corporate culture. A former patron he’d lost touch with found it—somehow—months later and without any more convincing than a fresh read of the book, signed up for tens of thousands of dollars in contracted work the next day.
Like the genuinely inviting staff at Freshie’s, having a book is an opportunity to show your human side and allow clients and customers to become involved in the story. After spending several hours with you by reading your book, people will likely let down their guard and become more interested in your products and services because they now have a relationship with you. You’ve engaged them, and they’re ready to engage back.