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We live an hour away from a mall that’s “bigger than our entire city,” according to our daughter. Spending the day among it’s chic shops and sweet-smelling restaurants is the highlight of her back-to-school shopping spree. She chose not one, but two pairs of itty-bitty super-skinny jeans then eagerly accompanied me to the grown-up home furnishing stores.

The first store was flanked by two salespeople standing behind a sofa at the front door. “Hello,” they said in unison, then continued their personal conversation. We asked for their teen catalog and looped through the store.

The second store was so cavernous and bare we thought they were closed for remodeling. The pale, wispy salesperson startled us as she whispered, “Hello,” from behind a catalog rack. We marveled at $1,600 lamps that took up half a room and quickly left, our voices echoing off the gray walls.

The third store was a mass of color and creative ideas. We took off our flip-flops to bury our feet in thick shag rugs as our daughter choose this and this and that to go in the someday home of her own. Two salespeople left a pile of fluffed pillows and straightened shelves in their wake. They may have said, “Hello,” over their shoulder as they whisked past.

Little did they know this 80-pound teenager was packing a couple hundred bucks she had saved to redecorate her bedroom. We were prime for their products, but we never made it past, “Hello.” The limited vocabulary of the short-sighted salespeople missed a probable sale and ruined a potential lifetime client—not to mention her mother’s business.

There’s nothing wrong with “Hello.” It’s a great first line. What’s your second favorite line? And your third? How long can you talk to Ms. Jones before you blurt out something about product, price or promotion? How do you start a conversation with Ms. Jones that’s all about her and nothing about you? Do you talk about the weather, the local hockey team, her hat, her kids, her running shoes/golf shoes/cute shoes, etc.?

Before you know it, she’ll tell you how you can help her before you even have a chance to ask.

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