Intention is often used to describe what a person is thinking or feeling, but it more readily defines a person’s aim or plan. Customers visit your business with a plan – to visit, tour, check out the surroundings and, hopefully, purchase a product or service. You and your employees are responsible for determining a customer’s intention and helping to fulfill their expectations.

I recently visited a much-touted and highly recommended winery. The grounds were lovely and well-manicured and the veranda inviting, but the moment I walked through the door, things changed. The person behind the counter greeting visitors didn’t exactly glare, but didn’t really smile either. After a somewhat awkward hello, she asked only two questions: Where was I from and what type of wine did I like? After I answered, she slapped down a wine tasting list and turned her back to continue stocking bottles on a shelf. The remainder of the experience, except for offering some directions to another site, became a “pour and ignore” session. I came with the intention of trying some of the winery’s best offerings and leaving with some purchases, but the person behind the counter never even tried to discern what my plan was. I did make a small purchase, but certainly not what I was planning on.

Data collected as a part of the Northern Grapes Project and reported in a Penn State wine blog (Zelinskie and Kelley) reported that the “average number of bottles study participants purchased increased as customer satisfaction increased.” Also, “the average amount of money spent at the tasting room increased as the level of customer satisfaction increased.”

If customer satisfaction (with any type of direct marketing) relates to how eager a person may be to buy, why do even good businesses get poor reviews? Casting aside issues not related to the actual buying experience, it seems that many owners, managers and employees still operate under the “Field of Dreams” operational method – “If you build it, they will come.” They may indeed come, but they may not buy!

A friendly hello and a smile go a long way in establishing a relationship. In turn, striking up a conversation and asking a few simple questions opens the path to learning the customer’s intentions. What are their preferences? How might they use the product? If giving it as a gift, what would they choose? What is a new or different variety they have not tried before? What is on sale, or would they be interested in a special or reserve product? What would they like to leave with today?

Customers understand employees and assistants may be busy with tasks other than just tasting room duties or offering samples, but they also desire their personal experience at a winery, brew pub, farmers market or retail outlet to be pleasant and inviting. Employees with “people skills” represent an important link between your business and the customer, as does training, which emphasizes relationship building as well as sales acumen.

Researchers note there is much more to be learned about customer interaction and sales, especially when it comes to direct-marketing businesses and regional differences. Customers surveyed, however, still place excellent service high on the list of what attracts them to visit an operation and become a repeat buyer.

The take-away? Every customer comes to an establishment with an intention. Dialogue and interaction provide the clues to what that intention is. The relationship you establish sets the stage for a positive experience which benefits all parties.

However you sell your product or service, whether through direct marketing, online or a distribution chain, you will meet and greet people who will influence how successful your business can become. Potential customers who show up at your door do so already with an intention in mind. It may be to spend a pleasant afternoon sipping wine on your veranda, purchasing fresh local produce for a special dinner or enjoying an outing at your entertainment center. Unraveling what that intention is and determining how you can help them achieve it are important components to increasing sales and establishing repeat customers.

The above information is intended for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional business and legal counseling.