“How may I help you?” is probably the stupidest question that salespeople ask. There are hundreds of things that salespeople mean by it. It can mean “Do you even know what you want?”, or “Are you here to buy something?”, or “Buy something, dammit, or get out”, or “Dude, you are wasting my idle time” or “My manager is making me say this, but all I want is see you leave”.
“How may I help you” implies that you need help. It suggests, that you canâ€™t make a decision on your own. A shopper that answers “yes” is obliged to come up with an explanation about how the salesperson can assist, and itâ€™s not an easy thing to do. Many people donâ€™t even know what they want yet. On the other hand, people that actually know what they want and have questions will seek out a salesperson and ask those questions. Thatâ€™s of course when the salesperson will be nowhere to be found.
But guess what, turns out, there is an alternative! I’ve been reading this book about buying used boats. The author mentioned that real professional boat salesmen don’t use the phrase “How may I help you”. What the say is “What can I show you?” You see, this question is very hard to answer negatively. To make a sale, the salesperson needs to know what the customer is interested in, show off the product and make a pitch. “What can I show you?” is a question that is easy to answer and hard to walk away from. Itâ€™s a polite way to ask a permission to launch a sales pitch.
Strangely enough, I donâ€™t think that I ever heard “What can I show you?” asked in a store.