Clienteling Goes “Boom”: Successfully Merging Data, Brand Attachment, Employee Focus, Channel Usage, Emotional Experience, and Customer-Centricity


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It has become increasingly well-understood by brands and companies that building an emotionally-based relationship with customers, through the various points of contact they use, is essential to success. Customers want, and respond to, personalized, emotionally engaging, and memorable experiences. That said, delivering value that meets and exceeds expectations is an ongoing challenge. Today, that’s where ‘clienteling‘ comes into play, big-time and growing.

For those not familiar with clienteling as a term and concept – and it is still fairly embryonic – it, effectively, has brought together enterprise culture, customer data systems, employee behavior, mobile technology, service and transactional processes, experience emotion and memory, and value delivery to optimize relationships. Paraphrasing the way one analyst described some of clienteling’s basics, it “…takes the vendor/customer relationship to a whole new level by keeping a carefully maintained history of purchases, preferences, and likes and dislikes.” So, through clienteling, a vendor can develop accurate and detailed insights which yield value-based, personalized, differentiated (and often branded) experiences, providing assistance and support whenever, and however, desired by the customer. And, all of this is just the beginning.

How, and why, does clienteling work? Well, the lure of the “why” is that clienteling, done well, enables targeting customers who will spend, and remain loyal, if they are well-treated. These customers desire memorable, not commoditized, experiences. So, it is incumbent on any supplier to create a more personal, differentiated, and rewarding relationship. Clienteling helps any organization achieve Pareto-like results, driving high percentages of their sales from a small percentage of their customers. At the same time, clienteling offers guidance into how the remaining customers can be segmented and prioritized for more effective, emotionally-based relationship-building, plus create cross-selling and upselling opportunities among them. Clienteling also identifies which customers can be downgraded for less service and experience investment. In short, clienteling works for organizations because it monetizes at an extremely high level.

The “how” of clienteling is a bit more complex. It’s acknowledged that clienteling builds on a foundation of customer experience and customer relationship management techniques. As noted in the white paper of a clienteling tech solutions provider, stating that it is more than a database and a full view of the customer, “….but this is nearly impossible to achieve unless your CRM is tightly integrated with an all-channel commerce platform. Today’s consumer expects you to know all about their interactions with your brand, but simply knowing is not enough…this knowledge must be actionable in the form of order visibility, cross-sell opportunities, and customer history.” Clienteling, as a result, depends pretty much equally on a customer-centric approach to customers, experience optimization through employee proficiency, interaction process, technology, and communication, and detailed qualitative and quantitative data. I’ll address all four:

– Customer-centric approach to customers – a consistent level of care and perceived value must be provided to customers, transaction after transaction, communication after communication, and experience after experience, so that they will exhibit a range of positive loyalty behaviors

– Employee proficiency and focus – employee engagement and ambassadorship is integral to clienteling. Empowered employees, armed with current, actionable customer profile data can actively provide a richer, more personalized experience that blends insights with information about products and services. They can also actively contribute to relationship continuity and help build the customer’s lifetime value.

– Experience optimization through process and communication – the strategic relationship, and all interactions, need to be personalized and tailored, irrespective of how the customer interacts with the vendor (online, mobile, one-to-one direct, or on site). Experience optimization also recognizes that the customer, whether b2b or b2c, will often ‘showroom’ a vendor and the vendor’s products and services; so, the web site must be user-friendly and mobile-friendly. In addition, clienteling engagement and outreach must be targeted and relevant, in the form of providing specific and timely information which leads a customer to desired action, both before and after sales.

– Detailed qualitative and quantitative customer data – an integrated system is needed which will insure both a 360 degree set of perspectives and insights about the individual customer’s buying behaviors and preferences, such that the customer will become passionate about, and an advocate for, the brand. This, not incidentally, includes data streams from loyalty programs, often elusive for some companies ( Assumed within this enhanced profile data acquisition and sharing system, methods of generating data must be participatory, yet unobtrusive and secure for customers.

Although there is evidence of clienteling in a broad swath of b2b and b2c verticals, we’re probably seeing the growth of clienteling most frequently in retailing; and, within that segment, it is most evident through mobile engagement. With consulting organizations reporting that mobile phone/smartphone use for talking has declined from 60% to 20% over the past few years, replaced by data-driven activities like site browsing, the opportunities for clienteling have become significant. Some analysts have noted how mobile interaction and search have transformed consumer purchase dynamics, a product of better, even real-time, access to information. This has been accompanied by a multi-industry decline in employee engagement over the same time period; and companies have needed to accommodate these changes, both process-wise and culturally.

For those who see little to no difference between clienteling and more established thinking about, and definitions of, customer experience or relationship management, that perspective is not difficult to understand. I’d submit, however, that clienteling is more than meets the eye: more disciplined and rigorous, more cultural, more data-driven, more strategic, and more financially rewarding. Perhaps one fairly universal way to consider clienteling is that it’s experience and relationship management on steroids. In baseball terms, think Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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