Clienteling has become a fashionable word in retailing, and about time too.
Since customer obsession has been linked to loyalty programmes, targeted marketing, and analysing customer data, people seem to have forgotten that the most powerful tool we have is the potential for customer engagement in-store.
Believe it or not, it is just another word for old-fashioned, face-to-face customer service. It means recognising the customer, knowing what they have bought, showing product expertise and demonstrating a can-do attitude in providing every help in servicing their needs and solving their problems. As all customer engagement should be, it is an opportunity to upsell, cross sell and recommend relevant promotions, while making the customer feel like it's all about them.
It sounds easy, but the centralising of retail decisions and the dumbing down of store staff over the last 30 years have made it impossible to provide the old-fashioned customer service which used to be the norm in retailing, even in our local corner shops.
With customers walking in their droves away from stores and towards online, retailers are looking for methods to bring people back through their doors.
They need to provide something different to the automated e-commerce world which, while being soulless, still seems more customer-friendly than some retail stores today.
So how can we do it? Well, technology may be coming to the rescue once again.
The success of click and collect has given retailers hope, as it is prompting consumers to pop back into the store. The question is whether we can re-engage with those customers whilst they are in store, to create such an enjoyable experience that they start valuing it again.
Toy retailer 'The Entertainer' introduced itim' s 7 inch tablets into their stores. They were such a success that during the pilot, sales in the stores where they were introduced went up by 3%.
The key to this achievement was the 7 inch tablets. Unlike the larger tablets used by retailers such as Burberry, ours could be held in one hand, giving the staff the freedom to roam the store and engage with customers, resulting in improved clienteling.
It was not because we were using smart algorithms to create customer coupons, nor was it because we were using data mining to suggest what to sell. It was just that we provided basic information to store staff whilst they were out from behind the counter, amongst the customers.
For once, the technology was not invasive, not cumbersome, not distracting from the eye-to-eye contact that is so essential to clienteling. It enabled the staff to talk intelligently whilst walking around the aisles.
Our tablets provide easy customer lookup, access to customer purchases, access to detailed product information, a list of promotions, real-time stock information, access to all orders and their status.
They give the shop assistants the ability to cancel, reorder, sell and to refund on the spot, without having to go to a counter, as well as the ability to take an order without the customer having to wait in a queue.
They allow the customer to easily find the package they have come to collect, or easily process the return they want to make.
Think of the Apple store, where staff come to you, rather than you having to go to them. The result is a transformational dialogue. Suddenly it is not that the staff appear helpful, but that they are actually empowered to take action whilst they are talking to you. They appear informed, smart, engaged.
When they offer to order something for you, and ensure its arrival the same day for collection, you believe them. When they advise you what to buy, you listen to them. When they see that what you want is available in another branch and reserve for you there, you feel satisfied.
If we can bring real service back into stores, we might see people wanting to come in again.
If multi-channel is to mean anything, the store experience must be radically different from the online experience: it cannot be a self-help experience, because in that circumstance you might as well stay at home.
We believe that clienteling has a future, and we are certainly now part of it, promoting it to our customers.
>> Read more about our digital clienteling solution