Jonathan Winchester, MD of mystery shopping and customer service specialist Shopper Anonymous asks what’s the difference between a ’chat’ and a ’rapport’ with customers?

Have you ever listened to your staff chatting to customers? The next time you overhear such a conversation, ask yourself whether the staff member is just having a chit-chat with the customer or are they really building a rapport?

Chit-chat covers issues such as the weather, how people are and what they are doing, but it is often not sincere, with little attention paid to the response received. It’s lip-service and doesn’t deliver an individual experience for that customer. Chat is appropriate for a social situation, but if you want to develop a (soft) selling situation, your staff need to know how to build rapport.

Building rapport is about developing warmth between yourself and your customer and providing them with relevant and sincere information about the products and services that might be of interest to them. It’s about getting staff to focus less on the chat and to talk about the business instead new products, events happening within the business or even new staff in store. Make the customer feel they have all the relevant information about the business and therefore some ownership. This will also give the customer some good information to take away and tell their friends; ’Did you know’ can be incredibly powerful.

To do this, make sure all staff are briefed on the news they should be sharing; every week give your staff two interesting topics about the positive things going on within your business to share with every customer they talk to.

After the familiar opening questions, such as "how are you today?" (with the response acknowledged accordingly) the conversation can become more targeted, especially if time is pushed, promoting one key proposition.

If, however, there is more time and the customer has time for a chat, then educating them about the business is a great way to get good stories into the community. There are three key areas that could excite customers: product development ("Have you tasted our new loaf?"); business development ("Have you heard about our new store opening in April?"); or staff developments ("Have you met Tom yet?"). These types of rapport-building tactics ensure more loyalty is created with the customer. This builds the trust that crucially allows you to sell more products.

l For more information about building customer rapport, including a training exercise to try with your staff, listen to Jonathan’s podcast on