The Retail Customer Connection


Share on LinkedIn

The new “buzz” is all about the emotional connection in customer service.  I say, yes! Companies should be focused on creating and building relationships.  By forming a human bond, your organization will not only have a volume of happy customers, but customers who need, want you, and will return.

Service delivery can easily be replicated. Technological advances are being made every day to facilitate. But, it’s impossible to duplicate the bond between two people. In my experience, loyalty in a retail setting is not to the physical store, but person-to-person.

  • My favorite associate at Nordstrom, Ruth, who got to know me well, met members of my family and learned my tastes, moved to another state. And Ruth was not only my go-to person, she also met my emotional requirements of feeling wanted and cared for.  She made me feel special. On my next visit to Nordstrom, no one made a connection. I finally found another “Ruth” at a different department store and now they get my dollars.
  • Every time I went into my favorite coffee and bakery, Cait & Abby’s, it was Javi who gave me that big smile. I knew that Javi was glad to see me from 40 feet away. When Javi asked about my weekend, he listened and was interested. When he decided to go back to school fulltime, I was so excited. But, my bond was with Javi, not with Cait & Abby’s. There were other coffee shops in the neighborhood and, after a few tries, I found my “Javi” a few blocks away.
  • Most people are extremely loyal to the person who cuts their hair. In a fancy place, they might be called a stylist or it could be just an old fashioned barber. Why is the loyalty so strong? In a way, the interaction is set up for success.  You’re in a chair and there is almost always a conversation. The person certainly knows who you are, learns about your likes and dislikes and of course hears your special plans for the weekend; the wedding, your son’s graduation or daughter’s confirmation. The next time you arrive, you are eager to share everything that’s happened in between. A bond has been created that is important.  Many times if the person who cuts your hair leaves a particular place, you will follow wherever they go.

In every example, the loyalty was between two people, two human beings. What does this mean for retail?  You need to hire people who are capable of building that human connection and understand how it’s done. I named them; Welcomers. They are associates who see the customer as a person first, customer second. Equally as important is that you value each frontline associate, your Welcomers, and treat them as loyalty building blocks. Give each fair compensation and respect. If they are capable of making those emotional bonds providing hope, developing trust, and ensuring that your customers feel wanted and special, your business will flourish. If they leave, your company is put in a more vulnerable position.

Creating that human connection requires a series of steps, each one a part of the customer journey.  Using technology to enhance the process is a wise business decision; thinking that technology can replace the emotional aspect of the relationship is a “fools errand.”

Individual retail establishment are setting themselves up for failure if they believe a robotic encounter with a frontline associate will ever create customer loyalty. Without the human connection, there is no basis for an ongoing relationship and no repeat business.  If it costs 5 to 7 times as much to acquire a new customer as keeping the ones you already have, does that make sense? I don’t think so.

What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Shapiro
Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty. For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies compiling the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business. His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business was released February, 2016.


  1. Alas, Richard! this connection is being severely severed by inanimate call centres, e-commerce. I have had dreadful problems with my TV DTH. With great difficulty I managed to get the Managing Directors email address and mailed him. An individual called and voila! a H2H connection…problem resolved. Similar problem with the water purifier service. It was serviced and stopped functioning for 3 days (no drinking water). Try getting the UnH2H working (Un-human to Human). Got promises but no service. By pulling strings I got the service managers cell number and problem solved in half an hour. Yes H2H works. Cutting costs to get to UnH2H actually increases cost to the company and the Customer, including time, hassles aggravation to both sides, multiple calls etc. I wonder if an analysis can be done
    Thanks Richard for a meaningful post on a vital issue

  2. Gautam, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry you had these issues, but happy you were able to connect H2H and them resolved. I totally agree that making it more difficult to reach a human just doesn’t make sense. Have a wonderful day. Richard

  3. I completely agree with you Richard. I spent 7 years driving Customer Experience with an online retailer in the UK – the greatest challenge the industry faces is having the ability to create and sustain an ’emotional’ relationship with the consumer in an increasingly automated world.

    I believe that the growth in online retail has gone a long way in driving the change in the way consumers behave. Whilst retailers have largely led technological transformation of the Customer Experience (as demanded by the consumer), they have lost sight of the fact that technology does NOT replace the need for an emotional connection between the customer and the supplier.

    As we all know, every organisation needs to deliver an experience that nails BOTH the FUNCTIONAL component – do you have what I want, when I want it at the price I am willing to pay; and the ACCESSIBLE component – have you made the experience as easy, simple and effort free as possible.

    The better you are at the FUNCTIONAL and ACCESSIBLE components, the better your ability to deliver an experience that nails the third component – the EMOTIONAL one – the way you make your customers feel; the things they remember about the experience.

    The skill is designing or re-designing experiences that enable you to use the right people and right technology in harmony to deliver the experience that leaves your customers FEELING the way you want them to feel!


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here