Focusing attention on your customer and offering encouraging words (as well as a soda or coffee) are just some of the ways salespeople can communicate empathy.

While reading John Chapman's book,The Five Love Languagessomething dawned on me: We should be romancing our customers. The book, which talks about "five love languages," gave me clues on how to do this in a retail environment. For example, the author observes that love grows cold when we give to our partner what we want, instead of what she or he wants. That may seem instinctive, but is often overlooked.

Chapman's finding illustrates why empathy underlies great relationships and that most certainly includes selling. You'll remember that empathy is the number-one characteristic of peak-performing salespeople. Why? The cement for all relationships is trust. Whom do we trust? Those who understand us and care for us. The human need to love and be loved is so deep that its absence stirs deep emotional pain while its presence sparks profound joy. When our customers feel loved, they realize, "I've met someone who cares about me." Elsewhere, I've written that customers say that the salesman's heart is a greater influence than his or her sales skills. In other words, your interest in them counts more than your technique. That's why empathy increases sales.

John Chapman identified five love languages. When we understand them, we can demonstrate that we care. This is how we "romance" our customers. Each language enables you to give customers a different gift. Remember, love is all about giving.

The first love-language is "quality time." In retailing this translates into focused attention. "The greatest gift you can give anyone is your attention." Studies show that the more quality time you devote to a customer - that is, the more earnest inquiry, sharing thoughts and feelings, and acknowledging her desires-the more likely she'll buy from you. Have you noticed that great salespeople spend more time listening than talking? And, because they sincerely listen, she never feels she's wasting their time.

The second love-language is "words of affirmation." Here, think of how you talk to people. "It's less what you say than how you say it." Dale Carnegie remains a classic teacher, because he emphasizes the power of the compliment. It connects people. The Anglo-Saxon word for love means "looking for the good." Fact: "the tongue has the power of life and death." It's not just compliments, however. Affirmation also includes kind words, encouraging words, appreciating words, and humble words. Always ask the customer's permission before you do it - before you put her on hold, ask questions, or leave her presence. Saying "thank you" expresses love. Affirmation telegraphs that you value her.

The third is "tangible gifts." Offering your customer a soda, coffee, or bottle of water, and sending a thank-you note shows your concern. It's not only the thought that counts. Your act of securing the gift and giving it shout: "He (or she) was thinking of me." What other gifts could you give your customers?

Next is "acts of service." This is a gift of effort, my wife's love language. She feels loved when I take out the garbage (without being asked). Most people realize you love them when you sacrifice your interest to help them. During a storm, taking an umbrella out to escort a customer to or from her car, caring out samples, or enjoying her child-theses are small acts that demonstrate that you care. Ask yourself: what can you do for the customer that she doesn't expect? Extraordinary service says you care.

The fifth and final love-language is "touch." Maintaining a physical distant from your customer indicates you're also emotionally distant. I know I've connected when my customer is so grateful, she gives me a hug. Touching makes us feel better. If babies aren't touched, they die. All societies use some form of touching in a social greeting. I have seen research that shows that a waitress who touches her patron as she gives him/her the check will usually get a much larger tip. You can show you care with a firm handshake, a slight touch on the arm, or even a hug.

No, your "love" cannot substitute for sales skills and product knowledge, but it secures the customer - she is comfortable asking you about her deepest worries. The security invites connection.

True romancing of customers arises from sincere empathy, but expresses itself in a series of little things. Never underestimate the consequences of little things; for you may find that actually there are no little things.

Today, when you approach a customer, remember this mantra: "No connection, no sale." It's about the chemistry. Without chemistry and love, you lose ... and she moves on.