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Turning Customers Into Clients: The Power of Relationship Selling in Retail

September 26, 2012 By Raymond Martin
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At a time when commerce is conducted at digital speeds and retaining brand loyalty is more challenging than ever, many retailers are discovering that technology can help them strengthen their ties to customers through a concept called "clienteling."

Simply stated, clienteling leans on technology to reinforce a personal relationship between a customer and an in-store sales associate. The associate assumes responsibility for a list of his or her customers, whose needs and shopping habits they grow to understand over time. The clienteling concept has transformed many retail businesses that have adopted it, resulting in high levels of customer retention along with greater transaction amounts per client; increased success in upselling, based on a trusted relationship; and more successful ongoing communications post-sale.

Clienteling's power is further enhanced when it's an integral part of the customer's omnichannel shopping experience. Consider the following example: A consumer visits a website to select specific items she'd like to see in person at the brand's retail store. She assembles a wish list online and then uses a calendar feature to set an appointment with her sales associate at a time that's convenient to her, knowing that she will receive the associate's personalized attention. In-store, the associate receives notification of the appointment and confirms it.

Accessing the brand's clienteling system, the associate can view the items selected by the customer and pull those items for display to her before her appointment. When the customer arrives, the associate reviews her detailed information and then helps her to evaluate the products she selected while online. The in-store associate can also suggest accessories or upgrades for those selections.

Tourneau, an upscale retailer of quality timepieces, has realized its vision for cross-channel clienteling with solutions from MICROS-Retail. Tourneau clients can visit the brand's website to make in-store appointments as well as place the timepieces they want to see in an online "watch tray." The website has real-time integration with Tourneau's clienteling system that enables its store associates to access customer and appointment data and review customers’ wish lists. The associates also can make additions to a customer's wish list, enabling further collaboration. Tourneau reports that this creative application of clienteling techniques generates a conversion rate six times higher than average.


Clienteling builds on conventional CRM to personalize relationships before, during and after a customer's visit. In this model, associates are assigned a group of customers and assume primary responsibility for the customer experience. Each associate can have protected access to all the data for his or her clients. The technology protects customer data among the associates so that clients remain with the same associate throughout the lifecycle of their store experience.

Mobile technology significantly enhances clienteling. With a tablet computer, an associate can pull up detailed product information for the client and record notes about their preferences directly into a CRM system. This tactic helps associates build up a wealth of knowledge about their clients’ purchases, interests, style choices and more.

The technology behind clienteling is built on five elements:

1. Customer data: the information provided by the client as well as that gathered by the associate in conversations and sales engagements with the client.

2. Customer data security: the commissioned associate's "black book" that's shielded from other associates to protect his or her clientele.

3. Associate assignment: a feature that assigns clients to associates. A tool in the clienteling platform automates the assignment of clients down to the store level and even allows store managers to change specific assignments if a different associate might be a better fit.

4. Task management: this ranges from to-do lists to client appointments to customer service follow-ups. Management can assign tasks to an associate, or they can assign tasks to themselves.

5. Wish list/item visualizer: an interactive workspace where items are presented visually on a tablet or laptop screen. This functionality allows the client to share his or her wish list items with their sales associate, creating a "virtual closet."

These features transform CRM from a relationship between a retailer and its customers into a one-to-one relationship between a sales associate and his or her clients.

Moreover, clienteling isn't just for high-end stores where a high level of emotional product engagement is important and where clients expect high-touch, high-quality, high-service experiences. Midmarket retailers can establish this same level of personalized service and reap the benefits when they embrace clienteling's consultative selling strategy.

While mobile technology is driving the adoption of clienteling, another driver is the convergence of store and e-commerce systems. Consider how knowledge of a customer's shopping cart when online has created a vast number of marketing and service opportunities. While appointment selling may not be for everyone, many more retailers could reap the benefits of creating an appointment or engagement session immediately when a consumer enters its store.

When considering the adoption of clienteling, it's wise to keep in mind these seven factors to help ensure the program implementation is successful:

1. Understand your customer. Determine how much personal attention your customers want, then meet their expectations.

2. Get automated systems in place. While clienteling theoretically could be done on paper, in that format it becomes a barrier and extra work for sales associates. Technology makes the engagement process easier.

3. Think hard about how you want specific customers to experience this new capability and prepare your information systems to support that method of engagement.

4. Identify thought leaders in your company. Sales people who do the best job are likely to be those who are most receptive to new tools that help them sell better. Make them champions of your clienteling system to pilot the program and establish best practices for others.

5. Understand what your key performance indicators are. With data to support the concept's implementation, it becomes much simpler to expand a clienteling program to a critical mass that impacts the bottom line.

6. Recognize and reward those who embrace clienteling within your organization. Focus on success and share information on successful approaches.

7. Realize that clienteling often requires a culture shift. Don't underestimate the people-side of the equation — technology won't make the system successful on its own.

With personal attention supported by technology, you can reframe your customers as clients and lay the foundations for lifelong relationships.

Raymond Martin is product manager at MICROS-Retail. 

 

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