Clienteling: What It Is, and How Your Business Can Do It

Clienteling CRM Customer Management

How many times have you opened online websites that seem to have endless suggestions for products that absolutely nail your taste and interests? This is one example of clienteling, and every business can do it.

A Quick Definition of Clienteling

I learned the term clienteling in a recent episode of The Profit. It refers to the value added when retail sales associates know customers so well that they can make targeted and enticing shopping suggestions. While the term typically applies to retail environments, I believe that it can apply to any type of business.

In essence, the term applies to the act of making customers feel valued based on how well you remember them — and their needs and preferences.

The Goal: Make Customers Happy … and Make Sales

I remember a time when stores were largely family-run. If I visited a familiar local establishment, they’d greet me by name. They also knew enough about my shopping habits to guide me to products that I’d naturally want to buy. There was no such thing as clienteling per se; the sales people just had good memories and a desire to make customers happy. To this day, I still enjoy walking into my local vitamin store because the clerk instantly has my intended purchase on the counter.

Perhaps this is why clienteling is now recognized as a formal sales technique. Today’s stores are typically larger and often part of chains. Every sales transaction is done electronically, which is a double-edged sword. Computers can make the buyer’s experience very impersonal; but they also give stores access to information about each customer’s shopping habits.

Of course, you don’t want to seem like a computer-lookup tool. The key to making sales through clienteling is to find a process that capitalizes on the computer data and increases the personalized flair that makes customers feel recognized, special, and fulfilled.

You Need the Right Tools to Help Build a Clienteling System

You can’t rely on good memory when you have a large customer base. Having too many customers to remember is a good problem to have, but without clienteling tools, it’s still a problem. The good news is that there are many tools available to help you recall and use the detailed customer information that you need.

If you sell online, then your website design can make or break the clienteling experience. Amazon offers a prime example of how to do it right. It remembers past purchases and offers wish lists. Customers see product suggestions on every page, based largely on their past shopping activity, combined with algorithms that make other suggestions related to that activity. A website designer who knows how to integrate these features into your website using your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software will certainly cost more, but it may be a worthwhile investment.

In-store sales generally require an app that runs on smart phones or tablets, and a search for “clienteling apps” will reveal plenty to choose from. These apps do more than just providing information to help with the current shopping trip. They also help you know when a new product is perfect for a specific customer, making it easy to send targeted emails that encourage return visits. This software often links to a large CRM system to help with special customer dates, so they identify multiple opportunities to keep in touch.

CRM is generally how service businesses can best establish meaningful relationships with customers. Every client-facing employee should habitually record everything they learn, including expressed customer preferences, personal interests and hobbies, and birthdays and anniversaries. Even if you only provide services once a year, you can target sales to specific client needs — and keep in touch throughout the year with birthday greetings, and even personal articles of interest. A search for “CRM tools” will provide a variety of options so you can choose the one that makes sense for your business.

People Skills are Still Required

One survey showed that over 50 percent of respondents felt that a personal relationship with a sales associate was important in stores and even online. This means that web pages need to be friendly while anticipating a user’s needs. Perhaps more important, person-to-person contact should be easy and conversational. In other words, your customer-facing employees should not be robots; they need soft skills.

Clearly, devices in the hands of store clerks cannot do their job until they have identified the customer. How would you feel if you were bombarded with sales reps who ask you to identify yourself or show your store loyalty card? Personally, I would see them as pushy sales stalkers. I’d ask them to leave me alone, or I’d run quickly out of the store.

My response would be very different if a clerk approached, saying, for example “I have those shoes myself, and they’re so comfortable.” This conversational approach would make me more responsive — and willing to provide the information needed so they can help me find other shoes that I’ll like.

If you handle customer sales by phone, of course, this process becomes easier because customers can’t see you using computerized tools during the call. They’ll know that you’re using them, however, unless you have the gift of gab. The customer needs to feel valued and recognized. To make them feel important, data needs to be seamlessly interwoven into the conversation. This requires people skills.

Clienteling Builds Two-Way Loyalty

If you believe that clienteling sounds like a sneaky way to trick customers into buying more, then think again. Any customer welcomes the opportunity to spend less time finding the perfect items or even collaborating with you on a consulting project. They just also like feeling important, cared-for, and remembered.

Clienteling is a great way to demonstrate loyalty to your customers. And they will reward YOU by demonstrating loyalty to your business.

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