ISN’T it amazing how you can get to know little details about someone just by chatting with them? When you pluck up the courage to break the ice and start a conversation, the relationship wheel starts turning.

It works in customer service too. Every chat reveals a little something about the customer. Seizing opportunities to act on the information creates customer satisfaction.

When customers are comfortable with you, they will usually reveal more about things that are closer to their hearts. This is more than what you would get from a formal questionnaire on customer preferences.

Establishing rapport opens the door to building deeper relationships with customers and winning their loyalty.

Here are some tips on simple et effective conversation starters:

Smile

Chatting with a customer is not difficult. The best way to begin is to greet him with a smile. It took me a few years of being in the field to discover the impact of this simple tactic. You will be surprised at the responses you receive. Seemingly unfriendly people will smile back and respond.

Get the ball rolling

A simple, “Hi, How are you?” accompanied by a genuine smile, will make customers let their guard down and you get the chance to start a conversation and sow the seeds for a future relationship.

Stating the obvious

This may not win you prizes for intelligence, but as a sales tactic, it works pretty well. You say: “It’s hot, isn’t it?” when someone visits your store, red-faced from the sweltering heat outside. The important thing to remember is that you are empathising with the potential customer and he will appreciate it.

Have you eaten?

This is a popular greeting among Asian cultures. A customer from the western hemisphere may not understand this deep-seated interest in someone else’s dietary habits until they realise it is a polite greeting on par with “How are you?”

Chatting about food and where to get the best dish of this or that is practically a national pastime for Singaporeans.

This ice-breaker will get the formalities out of the way and you can get down to the real business of assessing the customer’s needs.

Pay a compliment

If you notice something positive about the other person, make the observation known. Say, “I like your hair style” or “That’s a really nice tie.”

Why do people like compliments? It’s an affirmation of their good qualities and they feel good. You send out positive energy when you praise someone and they will be drawn to you.

Chat about hobbies

Another good conversation opener is to ask the customer: “What do you do when you’re not working?” This usually gets the other person to share what they do in their free time and you can take the cues from there. People are passionate and excited about their hobbies and are more willing to share.

Taboo topics

There are several areas you should avoid in your conversations with customers, especially those you don’t know well yet.

Steer away from politics, religion and sexual orientation, as these subjects can lead to unnecessary arguments and tension that can destroy the relationship.

As with anything else, practice makes perfect. Try out these conversation starters with people you meet — in the lift or at train stations as you wait — but always be alert to the other person’s body language.

If he doesn’t look interested in carrying on the conversation, stop there. You want to sound friendly, not overbearing or creepy.

Start chatting with more confidence and build better relationships with your customers today.