Antonio Guillem/123RF
Source: Antonio Guillem/123RF

People buy things from salespeople they like. If you employ empathic statements in a conversation with your customers, you will develop a rapport that will allow you to set the pace and direction of the transaction, while still allowing the customers to keep control of the transaction.

Empathic statements keep the focus of the conversation on customers and make them feel good about themselves. We like others who are interested in what we say and how we feel. Empathic statements also close the discourse cycle. When we say something, we want feedback to know if our message was received and understood.

Empathic Statements

Empathic statements capture a person's verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling, and use parallel language to reflect the verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling back to the other person. Mirroring back what people say or feel also closes the communication cycle. We feel good about ourselves when we successfully communicate a message. Avoid repeating back word-for-word what a person says because parroting sound patronizing and condescending.

The basic formula for constructing empathic statements is "So, you... " This simple construction keeps the focus on the customer and lets them know that you are really listening to them. Simple empathic statements might include "So, you like the way things are going today," or "So, you're having a good day." The basic "So, you... " formula ensures that the focus of the conversation remains on the other person. Here are two additional empathic tools:

Empathic Presumptive

The empathic presumptive quickly establishes rapport and gleans additional information from customers to help salespeople direct the transaction. The empathic presumptive presents a fact, but leaves the interpretation of the fact to the customer. If the presumptive is true, the customer will usually add new information to the conversation. The salesperson could then construct another empathic statement based on the customer's response to prompt more information. If the presumptive is false, the customer will typically correct the presumptive. For example:

Salesperson: May I help you?
Customer: Yes, I have to buy a new washer and dryer.
Salesperson: So, your old washer and dryer are on their last legs. (Empathic presumptive.)
Customer:  No, I'm moving to a small apartment. (Correcting the initial presumptive.)
Salesperson: Oh, so you'll need a compact washer and dryer. (Empathic presumptive.) Let me show you a popular stacked unit that we sell. (Establishing direction.)
Customer: Okay.

The salesperson used the empathic presumptive to keep the focus on the customer and to encourage the customer to affirm or deny the presumptive, "So, your old washer and dryer are on their last legs." The customer corrected the salesperson by saying, "I'm moving to a small apartment." This added information identifies what type of unit the salesperson should direct the customer to. The words "have to buy," indicate that the customer is serious about buying a washing machine and dryer as opposed to just looking.

The words "have to buy" also indicate the customer has an immediate need and is under some pressure to purchase a washer and dryer. The salesperson obtained important information during the opening exchange. First, the customer is a serious buyer and second, the salesperson knows exactly what category of washer and dryer the customer is likely to purchase. This information saves the customer and the salesperson time. The customer goes home with the product he or she needs and the salesperson has more time to serve other customers.

Empathic Conditional

The empathic conditional keeps the focus of the conversation on the customer with whom you're fostering rapport and introduces a set of circumstances under which the customer would purchase a product or service. For example:

Salesperson: Can I help you?
Customer: No, I'm just looking.
Salesperson: So, you haven't decided which model you want to buy. (Empathic presumptive.)
Customer: I need a new car, but I'm not sure I can afford one.
Salesperson: So, you'd buy a car if it were priced right. (Empathic conditional.)
Customer: Sure.
Salesperson: Do you like red or blue cars? (Establishing direction.)
Customer: Blue
Salesperson: Let's take a look at some blue cars in your price range. (Establishing direction.)

In response to the initial empathic presumptive, the customer identified the reason preventing him from buying a car. The sales person then used an empathic conditional. The empathic conditional sets up the if/then paradigm "So, you would buy a car if it were priced right?" The underlying presumption is that the customer is going to buy a car if certain conditions are met. In this case, the condition is the price. The empathic conditional helped the salesperson to identify a buying obstacle. With this new information, the salesperson can direct the customer to a line of cars in the customer's price range.

Using empathic statements, the empathic presumptive, and empathic conditional creates a win-win. You get to make the sale and the customer gets to buy the right product on their terms. This creates goodwill and repeat customers.  

For more tips and techniques to increase sales refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.

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