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Mar 28, 2019

Clienteling vs. Customer Service and the Big Shift in Retail

Customer service has always been an incredibly important part of customer experiences. However in recent years, large and small retailers alike have focused more of their time and money on clienteling.

By Leigh Sevin, Co-Founder @ Endear

In recent years, “clienteling” has shifted from being a retail buzzword to a business strategy in its own right.

Customer service has always been an incredibly important part of customer experiences. It’s one of the most important differentiators for stores, a mark of quality, and challenging skill to learn. However in recent years, large and small retailers alike have focused more of their time and money on clienteling.

What’s the big deal with clienteling? Should you focus on clienteling over customer service? Are they even any different?

In general, Customer service is a blanket term for all customer–associate experiences. Clienteling is a smaller subsection of customer service entirely about building relationships.

What are the Differences in Traditional Customer Service vs. Clienteling?

Both clienteling and customer service have the same goal of creating a positive customer experience, but they achieve that goal in different ways:


If you’ve ever been to a small neighborhood shop, you know the feeling of walking in and feeling understood. The owner likely knows you by name and can recommend exactly what you need without batting an eyelash.

A traditional customer service culture might not know any information except for past orders on file. A clienteling culture will have data on your product interests and needs. This is clienteling in its simplest form – a personal retail experience. But for large retailers and e-commerce companies, personalization can be difficult to achieve.

Internet-first brands have begun implementing mobile technology to equip associates with a wide array of customer data. Armed with a 360-degree profile of each customer, they are empowered to offer a personalized experience that is scalable for retailers of all sizes.


Innovative clienteling technology or data collection is only useful if it's put to good use.

In a clienteling culture, brands collect and utilize the right data to provide the most personalized experience possible. Everything from purchase histories to abandoned shopping carts give useful insights and sales opportunities.

Still, clienteling data isn't always utilized to its fullest potential.  A traditional customer service department might use data to troubleshoot problems but not proactively to foster customer relationships. For example, associates often use data to be more understanding and empathetic while processing complicated returns. However, they might have no intention of building a relationship.

In a clienteling culture, all customer data is put to long-term use to create future personalized experiences.

Brand Loyalty

One of the primary goals of customer service is to create brand evangelists.

A great customer service experience is sometimes enough to make a customer fall in love with a brand, but clienteling builds more brand loyalty in a couple critical ways:

For one, clienteling takes in-store customer service to the next level by personalizing the shopping experience. Associates know what items you’ve looked at and purchased in the past and why. New technologies make it possible for even the largest retailers to recreate the experience of the small shop owner who always knows just what you need.

Additionally, clienteling is more directly focused on creating long-term relationships. Whereas good customer service may impress a customer for the time they are in the store, clienteling seeks to expand that relationship beyond the walls of the retail space by maintaining relationships with clients long after they leave. Some brands have their associates reach out at a later time over text or email to personally recommend new products, or to offer help selecting products for an upcoming special occasion. These interactions can happen weeks or months in the future. The associate then becomes a trusted friend who understands the customers' tastes, needs, and how to solve their problems.

In Conclusion

Customer service will always be a crucial component of retail success, but even standout customer service can lack a personal touch. Clienteling addresses that missed opportunity and drives brand loyalty as a result. In today’s world, consumers expect the personalization of Amazon in every store. With an efficient clienteling system, you can turn your customer service program into a personalized relationship machine.

Take the Clienteling Quiz

Where do your clienteling skills rank? Take our quiz to see how knowledgeable you are about clienteling and receive a formal certification from Endear when you pass.