This happened to me. While driving home from work, I realized I had nothing for my wife’s birthday the next day. I stopped at her favorite store hoping to walk out with an acceptable present. My hopes were not high. A pleasant sales associate greeted me and asked if I needed help. Within five minutes, she identified my wife, pulled up her wish list on an iPad and began showing me options. In 15 minutes, I had purchased three items in my wife’s size, which was also stored on the iPad. I headed home feeling like I had won the lottery. Who knew shopping could be so simple and so rewarding? I know where to go for our anniversary.
Great service has long been a recipe for success for high-end boutiques and the local shopkeepers alike. Neighborhood grocers, independent booksellers and local restaurants greet their best customers by name and remember their preferences. High-end retailers ply customers with food and drink. For many brands, the shopping experience is a core part of brand identity.
This personal attention increases lifetime customer value in two ways. First, the experience itself draws shoppers back to the store, increasing repeat purchases. Second, sales associates develop intimate knowledge of their best shoppers’ preferences, enabling them to make more relevant recommendations. Basket sizes grow in pace with relevance, increasing the value of each visit.
Previously, patrons of national retail chains typically did not expect or receive this level of service. The trade-offs were clear. Chains provided the superior price and selection at the expense of the personal experience offered by local stores. This worked for a while. However, the internet has upset the balance. Now we want it all. Accustomed to a personalized online experience, savvy shoppers increasingly expect that retailers will deliver the same level of personalization in-store. Retailers ignore this trend at their own risk.
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Clienteling is the set of business processes retailers use to increase customer lifetime value through delivery of a personalized shopping experience. Fortunately, the tools needed to create a personalized in-store experience now exist, and they are increasingly affordable. Technology is replacing note pads and address books as a means of storing key client information. Today’s clienteling software can deliver rich data to an associate’s fingertips, allowing him or her to provide a personalized experience that will improve customer satisfaction and increase revenue. Below, I have outlined five key steps to clienteling success.
Step 1: Define the Strategy
A sound loyalty strategy is the foundation for any successful clienteling program. Retailers must design a program that is consistent with the brand, meets growth objectives and can be implemented. A few key questions that must be addressed include:
- What is the personalized experience the brand wants to deliver?
- Who is eligible for the program?
- What is the incentive for shoppers to sign up?
- How will shoppers be recognized?
- How do we define success?
The strategy will guide all subsequent decisions and requirements, particularly decisions about data and technology.
Step 2: Assemble the Data
Clienteling is a data intensive practice. Retailers have to collect, assemble, transform and deliver customer data from all available touch points, including the web, mobile apps, catalogs and store visits. A basic program requires the following data.
- Personally identifiable information (or PII)
- Prior purchase history
- Preferences (contact, channel, product, etc.)
- Customer service contacts
- Product recommendations
Complexity and functionality expand from here.
Creating the required data asset can be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. Fortunately, most Retailers have invested heavily in CRM solutions in the past 10-15 years. Those systems typically include most of the data needed to launch a clienteling program.
Step 3: Implement Clienteling Software
The days of writing notes on lined paper in little notebooks are over. As a quick internet search will demonstrate, the market is crowded with software vendors offering clienteling solutions. A brief survey of names turns up Blue Martini, Capgemini, Epicor, GlobalBay, Microsoft and Retaligent, among others. The market is converging on mobile applications with a heavy emphasis on iPads. The primary function of these applications is to empower sales associates with customer information. In addition, the applications may offer integrations with social media, CRM solutions and mobile POS software. Retailers should carefully evaluate functionality, scalability and cost before selecting a solution.
Step 4: Train, Measure and Incentivize Sales Associates
Sales associates are the figurative face of the brand. They are communicating with your best customers, constantly making impressions, creating expectations and delivering on commitments. They will make or break the program. It’s important to ensure that the program is implemented as designed every time by every associate. The only way to maintain quality and consistency is through ongoing training. And, nothing makes training stick like ongoing measurement and incentives for compliance/performance. Sales associates have to own the program. Management must give them the training and incentives to make that a reality.
One thing to dive deep on is privacy. Tell Associates what to say if customers are taken aback by how much data is known about them. Some customers may love clienteling—and others may not realize what they signed up for.
Step 5: Test, Test, Test….
Successful programs evolve over time. In order to get the most out of clienteling solutions, retailers must establish ongoing test and learn programs. This starts with defining, collecting and publishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the program. The next step involves implementing a testing roadmap to understand the impact of changing major program levers. Important areas for testing include offers (product recommendations, discounts, specials, etc.); sales scripting and engagement protocols; and contract strategy (content, frequency and channel of communication about the program). Correctly designed tests with control groups and adequate samples sizes are a must.
Real-time dashboards should be implemented at the store level. These data empower managers to drive adoption, and tailor how Associates are using clienteling technology to delight customers.
Implementing an effective clienteling program isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort. A well-designed and implemented program will increase loyalty and revenue from the brand’s most important customers. It will also create brand advocates that provide the social media-driven word-of-mouth buzz that everyone seeks.