How to Empower Associates to Deliver a Top-Notch Clienteling Experience

Contributed by Joe Schultz

Concierge service isn’t limited to five-star hotels or swanky resorts. Just about any brick-and-mortar store can promote a concierge atmosphere by mixing customer service technology with clienteling. The result is a harmonic retail experience that boosts satisfaction ratings, increases lifetime customer value, and extends the buyer-seller relationship beyond transactional limits.

Plenty of businesses already invest in platforms and protocols that promote exceptional customer service. However, adding clienteling to the picture takes personalization to the next level by making every shopping step feel more seamless, appropriate, and customized.

Take H&M, for example. The retailing giant doesn’t merely sell trendy apparel to discerning fashion mavens. Its staff members stay connected with one another through an app that allows them to quickly get answers for shoppers. In this way, they become partners with the shopper, rather than merely agents of the brand.

Generation Z, one of H&M’s target personas, seems particularly open to clienteling and harmonic retailing. An A.T. Kearney survey of 14- to 24 year-olds found they value retail therapy as a way to unplug and recharge. More than 70% of Gen Z respondents told Kearney they appreciated being able to physically shop for merchandise, and 81% said they would rather spend money in a store than online.


The Kearney survey suggests we may be on the cusp of a back-to-the-future era, which bodes well for retail establishments with literal footprints. Nevertheless, customers aren’t going to be satisfied with old-school service. They deserve the special clienteling touches that can begin when retailers take the following steps.


Position employees as guides.

People stop by retail stores with a purpose, and they want to satisfy that purpose efficiently. Workers need to unearth consumers’ needs quickly to remove objections and make way for purchases of their “wants.” This requires employees to interact with buyers in a one-on-one capacity. For instance, they may accompany customers to different displays, actively showing an interest in the customer’s journey. When handled correctly, this type of service increases the likelihood that customers will return — and refer friends to the retailer.

Apple leads the pack in this type of clienteling. When you walk into an Apple store, employees have all the tools they need to deliver assistance. Yet they don’t just parrot what their tablet tells them about solving your problem. They create a moment forged out of a can-do attitude and optimism. An Apple store becomes a travel destination rather than a place to get some menial task done.


Train team members to deal with any scenario.

You probably train personnel on about 80% of the interactions they could have with customers. But what about the 20% you can’t predict? During those pivotal moments, your staff members will have to use their problem-solving skills to make the right choices. You can spell it out for your workers: “You can be the store manager as soon as I trust the way you think.” Encourage associates not just to satisfy the customer, but also to care about their own growth and development by embracing ongoing training.

If you’re looking for a company that understands this concept, check out Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Its recipe for success is to hire sharp, high-energy, recent college graduates who can think on their feet. Next is to put these hires through its industry-leading training program. The Enterprise goal is for every new employee to seem like a veteran behind the desk. From learning how to politely listen for upsell opportunities to asking for confirmation of customer satisfaction, Enterprise employees come to understand how every action contributes to a larger goal.


Hire for skills outside the norm

Even if you already have a stellar team in place, you’re going to onboard someone new eventually. When you do, concentrate not only on the individual’s experience, qualifications, and achievements, but also his or her pragmatism and adaptability. Google’s famous for this, asking interviewees to solve conundrums on the fly. If they can’t handle the tough, unexpected challenge, they’re not Google-worthy. And if they take the ball and run with it? Well, they’re worth a second look.

During your recruitment efforts, seek out candidates who either already demonstrate, or could easily pick up, active listening skills. An active listener repeats back what a shopper has said to ensure perfect understanding. When paired with open body language, active listening makes the customer feel more at ease. It may not be a natural habit for everyone, but it’s a valuable talent for retail employees seeking to build their clienteling prowess.


The retail world has transformed since the birth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but it’s hardly on life support. Thanks to a renewed desire for tactile experiences among younger consumers, retailers have the opportunity to reinvent themselves. Those that leverage harmonic retailing fostered by clienteling will find themselves leading their verticals.


Contributed by Joe Schultz who serves as the vice president of sales at Harbor Retail, which helps retailers and brands activate Harmonic Retail™ along the path to purchase. In the first phase of his professional life, he spent 22 years learning and growing at Target Corp. During his tenure, he was able to surround himself with inspiring mentors who taught him how to adapt quickly to the retail industry. Through his many leadership roles in stores, store operations, merchandising, and marketing, he learned to think nimbly, seek out new knowledge when approaching challenges, and be a champion for continuous improvement. Joe has led stores with annual sales of over $500 million and has led innovative marketing and merchandising efforts across new formats. A few years ago, Joe made the leap into the industrial design and build world and was lucky enough to connect with the innovative, multitalented team at Harbor Retail.

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