Today’s customers have more choice than ever. Clienteling enables online and in-store retailers to stand out from the competition by providing customers with meaningful recommendations, a personalized service and a superior shopping experience.
In this article, we’ll look at what clienteling means, its benefits for your business and how you can start implementing it today.
What is clienteling?
Clienteling is a retail strategy focused on building long-term, personalized customer relationships. While the traditional clienteling definition refers to in-person shopping, you can also apply the principle to e-commerce stores.
Successful clienteling relies on collecting and managing accurate and up-to-date customer data based on details like purchase history and shared preferences. The information is then used to create detailed customer profiles your marketing and sales staff can use to tailor products and services to each need.
Unlike traditional customer service functions that react to customer issues, clienteling is proactive. By investing time and energy into understanding customer behavior, clienteling allows you to anticipate and address their needs before they arise.
Clienteling’s meaning is all about putting the personal touch back into the retail experience by tailoring the service to the individual’s unique preferences. While that may seem like a tall order, particularly for customers in a digital space, it’s entirely possible with accurate customer data collection.
You can also leverage clienteling to personalize the in-store experience. For example, referring to a customer by name and referencing a past interaction can make a real difference to the customer’s interaction with your brand.
A sales representative at a clothing store might notice that the last time a customer came in, they purchased a suit for a wedding. Asking how the wedding went helps the customer feel remembered and valued.
For the best results, integrate online and offline customer interactions into a seamless omnichannel experience. Whether the customer is visiting your store, browsing your website or reading your email, their customer journey should be consistently tailored to them.
How clienteling can benefit your business
A strong clienteling strategy requires additional resources to get the right systems in place, but the benefits of clienteling make the extra effort worthwhile.
Benefits for your sales team
Businesses that implement clienteling can generate more revenue through repeat purchases and larger transactions by prioritizing long-term customer relationships over an immediate sale.
Personalizing interactions and proactively meeting their needs create an enjoyable customer journey. When you delight customers at every turn, you build meaningful connections, accelerating trust, credibility and a competitive advantage.
Done correctly, clienteling creates a sense of exclusivity, where the customer feels like they’re part of a club. VIP treatment for your existing and new customers encourages them to come back again. Satisfied customers are also likely to refer friends and family.
Benefits for your other teams
Clienteling’s benefits go beyond the sales department. Customer insights collected as part of a clienteling strategy allow for more targeted marketing that speaks directly to your customer’s biggest needs and challenges.
The information can be used to create unique marketing campaigns for your most important customers, increasing the likelihood of upselling and cross-selling. The same data can also be used to inform other business strategies, like which products to develop or invest more resources in.
Suppose an online shoe retailer discovers that a large number of customers are concerned about finding the right fit. Marketing can highlight the company’s clear measurement system and executives can decide on a more generous returns policy to hedge purchase objections.
These insights can also improve marketing to specific customers with even more tailored messaging and tactics.
For example, target a newsletter campaign at customers who have abandoned their shopping carts, letting them know about the size guide and updated policy. This level of personalization can encourage hesitant customers to take their purchase over the line.
Key components of an effective clienteling strategy
Implementing a clienteling strategy involves combining several elements to create a top-notch experience that keeps customers coming back.
When working on your clienteling, here are the key components to include.
Accurate customer data
Ensure you have access to the necessary information to create a positive retail experience. You need to track specific customer data, including their purchase history, preferences and feedback.
For example, just knowing that you’re selling a lot of a certain product doesn’t mean that the customer you’re talking to wants to also purchase that item.
Tracking unique customer details and behavior is relatively straightforward online where you can link purchases, survey results and other data to customer accounts. For brick-and-mortar retail stores, use methods like customer loyalty programs, wish lists and coupons.
Regularly update your customer information to ensure it’s current and accurate. For some industries, you can use contact enrichment tools like Smart Contact Data to find additional details from LinkedIn and other websites, like a job role or company change.
Segment your customers
The aim of clienteling should be to deliver a tailored service. It helps to separate customers into groups of shared characteristics, behaviors and preferences so you can provide this type of service en masse.
Potential areas of segmentation include:
Demographics such as age, gender or income
Geographic location, such as by city, state or country
Purchase history, such as frequently bought items, purchase frequency and average order value
Preferences and interests typically identified through surveys
Customer lifecycle stage such as new, returning, active or lapsed customers
Loyalty program tier based on the number of reward points earned
For example, a significant percentage of your customers might be interested in a specific new product for a specific purpose. When that product comes out with an update or a promotion, reach out and let that segment know.
As part of your segmentation efforts, identify high-value customer behaviors. For example, which customers have been with you the longest or spent the most? Find ways to look after and reward these key accounts with unique offers or services.
Use your data and behavioral segmentation to create tailored messages and interactions for your best customers.
The most obvious way to personalize your interactions is by using someone’s name.
A shop assistant or sales rep who remembers your name makes a powerful impression, especially in a face-to-face environment.
For virtual clienteling, using first names in your communications is standard practice (and therefore less impressive), so you’ll need to personalize the experience in other ways.
For example, you could recommend relevant content, such as articles, guides or blog posts that align with the customer’s interests and needs. You can even take it a step further with product-focused content.
Perhaps a customer purchases a plant from an online plant nursery. The nursery could put the customer into an email list segment sending seasonal care and maintenance updates, such as when to prune the plant.
Look for opportunities to celebrate customer milestones, special occasions or any other achievements. If your customer completed a free course on your website, find an opportunity to check in with them and see how they’re using their new knowledge.
Email marketing is an effective method of personal communication and is one of the most reliable ways to get in touch with your customers. You can expand your reach with other channels like social media and messaging apps.
Remember to keep your customer’s preferences top of mind, though. Not everyone wants to be contacted by businesses via these channels. Respect your customers’ boundaries and only contact them with their permission (e.g., via an opt-in).
Tailored product and service recommendations
As you regularly communicate with customers, you’ll learn more about their interests and preferences. Use the information to make product recommendations that add value.
If a customer has just bought a washing machine from you, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be interested in buying one again anytime soon. Instead, make recommendations that complement their existing purchases, such as a new dryer or iron.
Past purchases aren’t the only basis for recommendations though. By digging a little deeper, you can uncover specific customer pain points. Customer surveys are a great way to learn about your customer’s biggest challenges. You can use this information to recommend the perfect solution.
Best practices for clienteling
While having the right components is essential to get started, getting the most out of clienteling requires a combination of effective tools and the right mindset. Unlock the full potential of your clienteling efforts by adopting these proven best practices.
Use the right tools
Choosing the right tools enables you to scale your efforts and provide a personalized customer experience.
Start with how you’re recording customer data and give store associates a clearly designated tool for recording customer details.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are an ideal single source of truth, enabling you to easily store, manage and share your customer data. You can use your CRM to segment your customers and identify any trends or patterns in their online shopping behavior. With the right features and integrations, your retail CRM is a powerful clienteling tool.
For example, you can use your CRM as the basis for your email marketing and integrate it with other channels for a truly omnichannel approach. You can also connect your CRM with your point of sale (POS) tools and sales systems to track real-time data and record customer purchases.
Retailers working in physical stores can use a mobile CRM that works on different mobile devices. Accessing your customer data and capturing new details while you’re on the shop floor or in different branches enables you to provide the best possible service at all times.
Build genuine connections
Clienteling is about long-term relationships, not quick wins. Your communication and recommendations will be much more effective when they come from a place of genuine care for the customers.
Whether you’re dealing with customers in-store or on your website, you need to train your customer-facing staff on appropriate soft skills such as communication, active listening and empathy. Rather than purely thinking about what they can sell, encourage sales associates to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and ask what they would find most helpful.
By demonstrating a genuine interest in the customer’s needs and offering useful information, retailers create a positive experience and leave a lasting impression on the customer. Even when it doesn’t directly result in a sale, this commitment to customer satisfaction fosters trust and loyalty.
If you’re using any type of web chat tool, it’s even more important to personalize interactions so people feel they’re being valued. Actively listen to the customer, use their name and refer to any past communication to go the extra mile.
If you’re using email or other text channels, include your name and photo in your profile picture to humanize the experience.
Encourage employees to take ownership of customer relationships and treat each interaction as unique and you’ll be able to build stronger relationships that last.
Measure success and adjust strategies
Like any sales or marketing strategy, it’s important to measure the success of your clienteling. Decide in advance which sales metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to evaluate your clienteling efforts.
For example, you might measure:
Customer retention rate
Customer lifetime value (CLV)
Average order value (AOV)
Net promoter score (NPS)
Customer satisfaction (CSAT)
Regularly monitor and analyze results to identify areas for improvement.
For example, if you see that CLV or purchase frequency is low, it could mean that your recommendations aren’t on target. On the other hand, a low NPS or CSAT score could mean that your personalized service isn’t coming across as intended.
Learn more specifically where you need to make improvements by collecting qualitative feedback, such as in surveys or interviews. This allows customers to express their feelings in their own words, removing the guesswork for your team.
For traditional brick-and-mortar stores, clienteling enables you to provide the level of service that’s often lacking in online stores. With the right tools and attitudes, digital retailers can also create a personalized experience that stands out.
By prioritizing customer relationships and finding new ways to meet their needs, you’ll build a loyal customer base and a brand people love and recommend.