5 Ways to Conquer Clienteling

As digital technologies continue to touch every step of the customer shopping journey, the lines are more blurred than ever between online, mobile, stores and the real world. Traditional clienteling - occurring entirely within the confines? of the retail store - is static and typically a one-way communication from the retailer. Today’s reality is that most retail customers are constantly connected; they know what they want and expect that their experience will be the same no matter how they engage or shop with you. Digital and social tools are no longer just part of an online experience, but have moved into every aspect of the shopping journey.

In this digital age, we all know that we are recognized and exposed to clienteling when we go to a retailer’s e-commerce site. We actually expect to be pointed to products that resemble or complement other products we have already bought, searched for, or added to our wish lists. This same level of recognition is usually not transferred to a physical store, which means that the in-store shopping experience is often inferior to and less personalized than the online experience. Customers choosing to go to the physical store should have an additional “personal factor” with face-to-face interaction, but in most cases the stores actually end up providing a less personal experience.

In order to conquer clienteling and deliver a unified customer experience, a retailer needs to work in real-time across all channels, giving both shoppers and brands the freedom to choose how and when to communicate with each other. Customer engagement should not be bound by time or store walls; communication can happen anywhere, and it should occur before, during and after the store visit. In order to captivate and mesmerize shoppers, retailers need to take customers on a highly personalized and lifestyle-relevant shopping journey. Customers need to be entertained and provided with an experience that is relevant.

This is not about product; this is about social clienteling strategies to engage with customers on a new level. Social clienteling leverages real-time visibility into shoppers' social media activities and behavior across channels. Effective data collection, storage and analysis gives the retailer a context-dependent, 360-degree view of each shopper and enables retailers to offer a truly unique experience that will keep the conversation going with their customers.

The following are five ways to conquer clienteling in a unified commerce world:
1) DON’T THINK IN CHANNELS  - your customers don’t
Your customers don’t think in channels, so neither should you. Competing in this omnichannel world requires understanding complex shopping journeys and building a customer engagement strategy that provides a high-quality, seamless experience. It also requires a view through the lens of the customer. Retailers need to change their thinking and view their business from the outside in – looking at your brand and why customers engage at various times through various channels – from the customers’ point of view.
You must curate products in a story that is meaningful, aligned authentically with their bran values and based on the customer’s lifestyle. By connecting with shoppers through digital channels – text messages, apps, e-mail, in-store kiosks, beacons, virtual assistants and more – your sales associates can engage in more meaningful dialog and learn what customers want, need and like. Being able to predict consumer preferences from insights gained via customer input, behavioral data and in-person and virtual conversations can empower sales associates to deliver tailored experiences like no other.

2 ) DON’T PUSH PRODUCT - think unified customer and brand experiences
Consumers are not coming to your brick-and-mortar stores for the selection or prices – they can usually find better alternatives to both online. They are coming for the brand experience and personal interaction. Today, retailers need to sell distinctive lifestyles and use their physical settings to articulate what they are about – not to focus on product, but on brand and solutions for the shopper. You need to create an experience that is designed to keep customers entertained, to encourage them to spend additional time in stores and to effectively transform stores into cultural and social hubs.

3) DELIVER DYNAMIC CLIENTELING with device independence
You must engage with customers across multiple devices and channels in order to offer a unified customer experience. Today’s customer already expects retailers to provide consistency across touch points, providing access to the same information on product assortment, promotions, return policies, shipping and product availability whether on a laptop, tablet, phone or other mobile device. To deliver dynamic clienteling, retailers need to work in real time across all channels, giving both shoppers and themselves the freedom to choose how and when to communicate with each other. Engagement should happen anywhere, and it can unfold before, during and after the store visit. One-on-one dialog should be captured and analyzed automatically so it can be used for meaningful action through social channels or in direct communication with the customer.
4) SUPER CHARGE YOUR SALES ASSOCIATES - connect to connected consumers
Sales associates need to become the bridge between the customer and the brand and need the tools to do so. Mobile clienteling brings mobile-social interaction to the heart of the shopping experience by facilitating real-time dialog between associates and shoppers. Mobile clienteling is much more than equipping store associates with mobile technology to facilitate transactions, look up customer purchase history or push time sensitive promotions. Technologies like proximity marketing/beacons, interactive mirrors, virtual fit tools, and digital stylists can help build engagement and enhance the customer’s overall experience. By creating connected associates – along with connected customers – you can gain a competitive advantage over eCommerce pure players, ensure repeat visits and increased frequency, enhance sales associates’ job satisfaction and win loyal customers.

5) TURN BIG DATA INTO BIG ACTION – deliver to every channel
In a unified commerce universe, mobile-social interactions allow retailers to gather direct insights into customers’ wants, needs, lifestyle, buying history, behavior and more. Data can come from mobile POS systems, CRM tools, beacons, eCommerce sites and social sites. Retailers can use this information as  the foundation for customer-centric big data strategies to extract relevant customer information, track trends, identify patterns, and make these insghts available to all customer-facing employees. Associates can in turn use this to provide better customer service and be more relevant and responsive.. With the power of big data at their fingertips, you can understand how to deliver unique unified experiences, offer more than just relevant product and turn more shoppers into loyal fans.

Dianne Inniss is a Customer Experience and Innovation Strategist for ThoughtWorks Retail. She partners with leading retailers to design meaningful customer experiences and deliver digitally-enabled solutions that generate customer delight, increase loyalty and enhance retailer profitability. She speaks and writes frequently on the topics of customer experience design and innovation, focusing on the principles of creating shared value for retailers and their customers.
Babs Ryan is a Global Strategic Product Innovation Consultant. She has multiple U.S. patent filings in loyalty, retail, financial services and gaming, and has traveled in more than 80 countries. In her role as Retail Principal at ThoughtWorks Retail, she oversees creating and delivering differentiating value propositions, products and services for brands, using agile, continuous delivery, and lean enterprise best practices for in-market releases in weeks.