How to build customer relationships in retail

Learn how retail store associates can move beyond first impressions, strengthen customer relationships, and boost brand loyalty to improve sales through clienteling.

sales people talking to shoppers

Building customer relationships is challenging. There’s a naturally unbalanced relationship between associates and shoppers. Shoppers are expecting to get sold to, and store associates are pressured to sell. It can feel like building trust takes forever and  real engagements are impossible.

It’s no wonder that the relationships between store associates and customers can at times feel strained. In fact, 8 out of 10 shoppers think they know more than store associates, whose main job is the be helpful and knowledgeable. However, there’s a better option. With clienteling, store associates can use data at their fingertips to engage customers in and out of stores. And by directly communicating with customers, store associates can move beyond first impressions to build better relationships, brand loyalty, and store sales.

Build associate–customer relationships sounds nice in theory, but how is it possible in practice? Here are a few tips for building a clienteling program in any store:

Ask For Contact Information Throughout The Store

At minimum, getting an email at checkout allows you to track in-store and online purchases. Asking for a phone number lets store associates connect with customers outside of the store as well.

When should you ask for contact information? Ideally before ringing up any inventory. The more opportunities to capture contact data, the higher chance that a relationship with a customer can be built.

Asking for contact information at times outside of checkout lets you log interactions in a useful way. Curious about when to ask for contact information?

Here are a few sample instances that are easy wins:

  • An item is out of stock. Letting the customer know when the item is back in stock is a useful service associates can provide.
  • The customer doesn’t find what they’re looking for. If a customer doesn’t find what they’re looking for in the store, associates can ask for shoppers’ contact information to let them know when a new product is released.
  • The customer hesitates to make a purchase because of price. If a price tag makes a customer second guess a purchase, a store associate can let the customer know when a sale begins. This personalized message is so much stronger than a generic sale email because it feels like the store associate is on the customer’s team and truly wants to help.

Don’t Be Afraid to Build Personal Relationships with Customers

Store associates might be wondering how to authentically communicate, ask questions about customers’ lives, or understand their future needs. It can feel daunting for store associates to reach out to a shopper’s personal cell phone. However, there's no better or more personal way to reach someone than by cell phone. As long as it's done in a natural and honest way, there's nothing wrong with reaching out over a customer's cell phone.

By and large, creating a personal relationship is deeply appreciated by most customers. 

Almost 8 out of 10 shoppers say engaging with knowledgeable store associates is important to them. Additionally, 75 percent of customers are happy to have a store associate text them about their order status.

While messages should always be appropriate and brand-related, engaging authentically with a customer over text by providing useful information is appreciated. As long as customers’ lives could be improved by your products, they will feel special and noticed by text messages.

Track Interactions...As Much As You Can

More data makes it easier to send authentic and honest clienteling messages. Here are a few types of in-store interactions to track:

  • Contact information (email, phone number)
  • First, last name
  • Items viewed in the store
  • Reasons for not purchasing product
  • Communication Preferences – do they like upfront communication?
  • General notes (purchase occasion, needs, broadly what they’re looking for)

Of course, in the heat of Q4, it’s an impossible ask for store associates to ask each person in the store these questions. During busy periods, it’s okay to get any customer information that store associates have time to request – something is better than nothing. Instead of writing down every single email, work to build a culture around habitually collecting information.

An easy way to do build clienteling into a store culture is to make logging customer information a secondary goal for store associates after selling. It gives store associates permission to engage in productive, but not necessarily closing, activities. If you want a play-by-play of everything you need to know about clienteling, check out our free e-book. It breads down the how and why of clienteling for every brand.

All in all, clienteling can be a secret weapon for store associates, and maybe the edge your brand needs.