In an effort to determine "how retail environments, as exemplified by the retail salespeople they contain, can satisfy customers more effectively," research from the highly respected Said School of Business, part of Oxford University, concludes that reading non-verbal cues ticks all the right boxes.
Two admittedly small academic studies found that customers value salespeople's abilities to read non-verbal cues more highly than managers. While customers appreciate not being pestered or upsold when they're not in the mood, managers may consider salespeople derelict in their duties.
While perfectly obvious to some, objections abound. How can employers measure applicants' skills at reading non-verbal cues? Once hired, how can sales staff be trained to improve those skills? The current study suggests further research is needed to determine the potential ROI on the costs of recruitment and training.
Participants in both studies were undergraduates in a "Principles of Marketing" course. In-class role playing enabled them to evaluate their own sales behavior and to observe others'. Observational tapes from J. Crew and hospitality outlets renowned for their culture of intensive service supplemented classwork.
Researchers found "observers of interactions in which a salesperson correctly interpreted and acted on the customer's non-verbal cues saw the salesperson as delivering poor service."
Harvard-trained lead author, Nancy Puccinelli, specializes in studying consumer behavior. Her four American colleagues' expertise includes non-verbal accuracy and behavior, emotion, judgment and decision-making, consumer behavior, motivation and privacy issues plus retail atmospherics.
Speaking to RetailWire, Dr. Puccinelli said customers try to signal what they need. "These findings have important implications for the evaluation of salespeople by managers. Given that salespeople that are good at reading both face and body cues are rated highest by customers they wait on yet rated much lower by observers, managers may be undervaluing some of their most effective employees. Retailers that consider the positive impact of a salesperson's ability to read customers' moods can select and train salespeople more effectively to deliver quality service, providing a distinctive opportunity to delight customers and achieve competitive advantage."
How important is an associate's ability to read customers' non-verbal cues to his/her sales performance?