Digital Natives and Clienteling

Three Things to Address in Tearing Down the Digital Divide

If you’re in the customer loyalty industry, retail, hospitality, restaurant, or anything that requires a high-touch, high-interaction customer experience, chances are you’ve heard of “clienteling.” The concept, while by no means new, is evolving. Its purpose hasn’t changed, either: to create highly personalized and valuable relationships with your brand and elevate the experience. The current pace of change is twofold—on the one hand, technology continues to allow us to achieve things that only five years ago were nearly impossible; on the other, digital natives like Gen Z and millennials are forcing brands to rethink and retool their traditional tactics and channels. Millennials, who alone constitute the largest generation in history and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, make up over a quarter of the nation’s population, are approaching peak market share. They are implicitly shaping customer expectations en masse, and their impact is being felt in shopping malls and stores across the United States. So as brands seek to successfully leverage clienteling to understand their individual customers and build deeper 1:1 relationships through collecting and analyzing customer preferences, buying behaviors and transaction history to predict behavior and provide personalized service and recommendations, crucial to this is understanding the nuances of how digital natives view and perceive personal interactions. Below are three things to consider when bridging the digital divide.

1. Providing intimacy doesn’t always have to be face to face.

There are many more communication channels now than ever before. Rather than the face-to-face interactions of traditional clienteling, we see more customer interaction happening via email, live chat, and social media. With so many options to choose from, millennials and Gen Z often choose the convenience of the digital experience over face-to-face interaction with a customer service representative or sales associate. Caveat venditor, however, as the majority of these younger consumers, when not doing their shopping online, prefer to be left alone by sales associates. Overly aggressive sales techniques are a turnoff and will likely have a negative impact on their loyalty to that brand, or at least leave a bad taste in their mouth. This puts sales associates in a tough spot because, while they are still an essential resource to the brand they represent, they need to do so in a meaningful way for those of the younger generation of consumers. The trick is knowing when and how to engage with a customer. Brands that win focus on hiring emotionally intelligent and solution-oriented customer-facing employees while arming them with tools to better understand customers at the individual level.

2. Honesty is the best policy.

With limited data coming from in-store interactions, brands can get powerful insights by combining data from first-, second- and third-party sources to implement an omnichannel clienteling program. Think about the logistics of how we shop. In the retail industry, brick and mortar interactions are limited to an average of just 6–8 times per year, while the use of social media, mobile and other digital platforms increase customer interaction and data collection to potentially multiple hours every day. Thinking about the amount of time we spend scrolling through Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook may be shameful, but clienteling thrives on the information we share. That stored information gives brands an extremely vast amount of data to benefit the customer. So how can a sales associate, who knows a truthfully weird amount of information about the customer, strike the balance of being authentic and helpful rather than irritating and overbearing? A simple, yet often overlooked solution is transparency. As part of a clienteling program, brands need to be upfront with customers about what data is being collected and how it is being used to gain trust and build that longed-for relationship. Consumers born in the digital age, including millennials and Gen Z, are inherently aware that their data is being collected and used for various purposes, much more so than the general population. These digital natives don’t mind as long as they know it’s secure and makes their lives easier. In fact, according to Deloitte, close to 60% of millennials are willing to share data for a personalized customer experience.

3. The benefits abound. But so do the challenges.

Clienteling undeniably enhances the customer experience, but there are challenges for brands when implementing an effective strategy. According to Goldman Sachs, over 90% of buyers age 25–34 have purchased something online in the past year. That is almost 20% higher than just 10 years ago. Advances in big data and analytics give brands enormous opportunity to provide personalized service, relevant offers and insight-based recommendations. As mentioned earlier, customer interaction is alive and well. The challenge is seamlessly integrating the digital and brick and mortar experience, while at the same time providing solution-oriented customer service. As we’ve seen from Amazon, even “brick and mortar” businesses are becoming more and more digital. Eventually, there will be little to no difference between commerce and e-commerce at all, making omnichannel clienteling an absolute must for brands. The question is, will your brand be ready?