Last week at RetailNext’s 7th annual Executive Forum, there was a lot of talk of clienteling. Clienteling, as we know it by now, is when concierge-like service is offered by sales associates to customers with the intention of making shopping experiences extraordinary and relationships long-lasting.
While clienteling has traditionally been a thing of small businesses, the bigger guys have been getting in on the action too by using new technologies, adjusting hiring and training practices, and more effectively sharing knowledge among associates. Executive Forum attendees were introduced to many of these tools and concepts through a solution showcase and a full day of retailer-led keynotes and panels.
In one instance, a growing bike company’s founder and CEO shared how his company had recently evolved from only hiring biking enthusiasts to now hiring experienced retail associates in order to meet the needs of their customers in a more personalized and service-oriented way.
Another company shared the somewhat comical, yet true story of babysitting outside of a fitting room – bouncing baby on hip and all – long enough for the mother of three to try on multiple outfits without interruption. That company happily considers itself a concierge.
Yet another retailer still sends handwritten notes to all shoppers who make a purchase in their stores. A harder thing to do for larger retailers, sure, but a very nice touch and not impossible if these retailers lose the pen and paper for digital automation instead.
Here are some clienteling highlights that came out of Executive Forum 2017:
Consider the pain points of your shoppers’ experience, or of even that of your own. The most obvious nuisances are probably inventory, checkout, and fitting rooms.
Foyer Live’s Digital Retail Suite enables self-checkout and self-service on devices to check what’s in the store and across stores, as well as allowing shoppers to get what they need when they need it without waiting in line – even if that means continuing their experience online. This in turn, drives greater customer engagement and deeper brand advocacy while reducing cart abandonment.
Oak Labs’ Oak Mirror is also empowering shoppers and reducing friction. The smart mirror recognizes products when they enter the fitting room through RFID technology, then intelligently suggests product recommendations based on what you have in store. If the shopper is in need of assistance, the sales associate can be called on digitally as well.
These technologies, and others, are supporting more extensive clienteling by listening to shoppers and alleviating their pain in a way that goes far beyond what sales associates have been able to do alone. Executive Forum made clear that the smart store is not confined to silos, and there is no omnichannel. There is simply: shopping.
Hiring & Training
A theme we heard over and over again was the idea of hiring the right people and training them well. I, too, have written about this before. (Also, see here and here.) The progression of this conversation, however, was based in on-demand learning, flexible communication, and accessibility.
Take Shift Messenger, for example. The company has a mobile platform for employees and managers to schedule, train, and communicate in real-time. In a survey of active manager and employee users, the technology was shown to reduce employee absences by significant margins and increase the desirability of retailers to potential associates.
Being able to take charge of your schedules, replace no-shows quickly and easily, and ramp up new hires without micro-managing is a selling point for the sales associate and manager of the future. As this relates to clienteling, your associates will have the capacity to develop stronger, more consistent relationships with shoppers via reduced turnover and greater transparency.
Retail has for a long time been hierarchical, and as such, it has maintained, inadvertently or otherwise, an air of secrecy. Associates don’t know what managers know and managers don’t know what general managers know and so on and so forth.
Particularly in the conversation around Retail Labs at Executive Forum, communicating information with associates so they can play a more collaborative and engaged role in your testing and experimentation was critical.
Even on a smaller scale, though, it became clear that the more your sales associates know about your stores, company, and customers, the more efficient they will be at clienteling.
For example, how awesome would it be for your sales associates to be able to pull up profiles of your customers with all of their interests and purchase history, not to mention personalized recommendations and inventory? Pretty awesome, right? And, pretty possible too. The tech is popping up everywhere! (See here, here, and here.)
As a digital marketer, I know that using technology to develop relationships is second nature on the internet. For one, a website visitor would never offer up their information, by way of submitting a form or making a purchase, and not get an email of thanks or confirmation in return. And, if done correctly, the relationship would continue to live on in automated nurture.
But this sort of experience doesn’t have to only live online. Why shouldn’t the clienteling expectation be the same or greater for the physical world?
As our RetailNext co-founder and CEO Alexei Agratchev said in his keynote at the Forum, “It can’t just be about product and price.” How are you nurturing your customer relationships in store? Leave me a comment below or on social with your best clienteling experiences and/or technologies.
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