They may not seem it as you breeze into Wal-Mart, but greeters are a crucial customer relations tool. Just ask store manager Jack Shimonishi, who believes he has the "ultimate greeter" working at his Capitola, California, location of Orchard Supply Hardware, a California chain owned by Sears, Roebuck & Co.: "I bet if you did a poll in our city, as many people would know him as they would the mayor."
Shimonishi is raving about Richard Staiger, 80, who has worked in customer service his entire life. We caught up with Staiger during one of his shifts.
What's your style of greeting?
Staiger: When customers walk in in the morning, I say, "Good day" and "How are you today?" [I] chat a little: "I haven't seen you for a while," or "What can I help you find today?" And sometimes they'll explain their problem, and if there aren't any other customers, I'll walk with them and help them. If customers are at the counter, sometimes I hold their baby while they write a check.
It used to be businesses always had [greeters], but now, most stores don't have the kind of customer relations that we do. Everything is always so technical and fast-paced. But all these little things help promote goodwill and public relations. I haven't had one person who didn't like being said hello to or asked if they needed help.
If I were going to hire a greeter, what are three qualities he or she should have?
Staiger: You've got to be pleasant. Some people are actually astonished that they're greeted, that the seller chats with them and walks on with them. Be knowledgeable-people come in and ask you where something is, and you have to know. And you should look presentable. When I started this job, I put on a sport jacket and tie and a pocket square, and always a rose or something in the lapel. That makes a big difference. People say, "You look so debonair."
Do you see greeters at other stores and think, "Oh, man, they're doing it all wrong?"
Staiger: [Laughing] Yes, they had one at Kmart up here, and God Almighty, he was awful. And-I hate to say this, but-they've got an ad for Home Depot there, and they have this fellow, he's got to be 75 or 80 and all, but, well, [laughs,] he looks so old. You have to be alive to greet these people. You have to be awake. That's how I do it, anyway.
- Orchard Supply Hardware, (831) 475-7701
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.