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The importance of eye contact
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  • 17 Jul 2013

The eyes have it!

Maintaining eye contact is so important – it helps create that all-important connection by making your customer feel as if they’re the centre of your world (if only for a few seconds or minutes). However, making eye contact naturally can be easier said than done – you don’t want to come across as that ‘crazy staring person’.

Here are a few tips to help you use eye contact to great effect:

A glance is all it takes

If a customer walks through your door, or crosses your path, don’t duck your head or pretend to be busy and look the other way. Just glance in their direction and make eye contact. That’s all you need to do – you’ve acknowledged their existence and sometimes this is enough.

A look can tell you all.

If you are looking at someone while they are talking to you, you can pick up on a number of other signals that can let you know what is really going on in their mind. Children are particularly open and honest in their eye-signals; by teenage years the eye-roll has been perfected and you are in no doubt that what you are suggesting is not going down well.

I am not talking about analysing every eye movement, but if they are hanging on your every word and their pupils are dilating then there is a good chance you have their attention. Conversely, if someone is constantly looking at their watch or towards the door while you’re talking to them, they either have a dog tied up outside or they are trying to escape your sales pitch. Take that as a signal to give them space.

Look, don’t stare

To avoid focusing too hard, glance away every five seconds or so while you’re talking to someone. Try to look to the side of the person’s head or at their mouth, rather than looking down, which may signal that you have finished what you’re saying. This is just as important while you’re listening as talking.

Smile with your eyes

Invariably your eyes reflect what your mouth is doing; if you smile with both your eyes and your mouth then the effect is going to be instantly magnified. You look engaged and send out really positive signals that you’re happy to see someone. Practice in a mirror and you’ll see what I mean – it’s very hard to smile with your eyes if you’re frowning.

Take culture into account

Caution: In being a good customer service ambassador, it’s important to recognise the different ways direct eye contact can be interpreted by various cultures. While in the US and most European countries, direct eye contact is a sign of honesty and integrity, the reverse is true in most Latin-American, Asian and African cultures, where it can be considered impertinent, confrontational and aggressive. Similarly in Muslim countries, eye contact between people of the same gender is a sign of sincerity, while direct eye contact between men and women is not advocated and kept to a minimum.

So, instead of automatically jumping to the conclusion that someone isn’t interested if they are lowering their eyes or not holding direct eye contact, do consider if there could possibly be some other cultural issues at play. In that instance there are a number of other ways to engage which we will cover in our continuing series on becoming the world’s best at customer service.