The return of Clienteling!

Ali Athar | Founder and CEO of the Itim Group ltd

Clienteling is a new fashionable word hitting retailing. And about time too. Where previously customer obsession has been linked to loyalty programmes, targeted marketing, and analysing customer data, in all of this what people forget that the most powerful tool we have is the potential for customer engagement in-store which most retailers still do badly.

What is clienteling?
Well believe it or not, it is another word for old fashioned face to face customer service. It is simply 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 or solving their problems. Of course as all customer engagement should be, it is an opportunity to upsell, cross sell and recommend relevant promotions.
It should be easy, but in the modern world, with the centralising of retail decisions and the dumbing down of store staff, which we have all been guilty off in retail for the last 30 years, we have made it impossible to provide that old fashion customer service which used to be the norm in retailing in our local corner store 30 years ago.

“It may be if we can bring real service back into stores, we might see people wanting to come in again.”

Now that customers have been walking away from stores in their droves online, retailers are looking for excuses to bring people back into stores. They need to provide a difference from the automated e-commerce world, which even though it is 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. But not just technology.
The success of click and collect has given retailers hope, as it is giving consumers and excuse to pop into the store. The question is can we re-engage with those customers whilst in store in such a way that they like the experience and start valuing it again.

Just recently a toy retail ‘the entertainer’ introduced itim’s 7 inch tablets into the stores. The key was 7 inch tablets. Why because they could be held in one hand, unlike the tablets in Burberry’s. They have been such a success that in the pilot stores where they were introduced, sales went up 3% compared to other stores!

The reason, believe it or not was just ‘improved clienteling’.

This 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 simple but basic information to store staff away from the counter, whilst they were talking to customers. It was done in such a way that they could talk intelligently whilst walking around the aisles.

For once the technology was not invasive, not cumbersome, nor distracting to the eye-to-eye contact so necessary for clienteling.

Easy customer lookup, access to customer purchases, access to detailed product information, see what is on promotions, realtime stock information, access to all orders and their status. The ability to cancel, re-order, sell, refund, on the spot, without having to go to a counter. The ability to take an order without having the customer wait in a queue. Easily find the package they have come to collect, or easily process the return they want to make.

Where have you experienced it recently, of course 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, they are actually empowered to take actions whilst they are talking. They appear informed, smart, really engaged.

When they ask can I order something for you, and make sure it is at here the same day for collection, you believe them, and are likely to trust them. When they advise you what to buy, you believe them, when they see what you want is in another store, and they can reserve it there and there you feel satisfied. It may be if we can bring real service back into stores, we might see people wanting to come in again.

If multi-channel is to mean something, it must mean that the store experience is radically different from an online experience. It cannot be a self-help experience, because in that circumstance you might as well stay at home. We do believe that clienteling has a future, and we are certainly now part of it, promoting it to our customers.