In today’s omni-channel marketplace, the human touch that sales associates provide is an increasingly important element for brick-and-mortar stores to get right. It’s often less expensive and more convenient for customers to shop online, so retailers need to think of new ways to enhance and personalize the in-store customer experience to compete with online businesses, and human interaction is a powerful place to start.

When you ask retail marketers how they communicate to consumers, most will respond with the same list:

  • Social media
  • Website
  • E-mail
  • SMS
  • Online, video, audio and print advertising
  • Events (fashion shows, trunk shows)
  • Press and blogs

There’s an important element missing in that list. Store associates can be the most influential, yet often overlooked, disseminators of brand messaging. The personal relationships they nurture cannot be replicated with an online interaction or even a carefully targeted e-mail. In fact, our experience has taught us that the open rates for e-mails coming from a named, known associate are dramatically higher than from marketing blasts that come from the corporate account.

How, then, can retailers unlock this hidden potential in their associates? Below, we share three ways that associates can have a measurable positive impact on KPIs including total sales, average transaction value, margin and customer frequency.

Small Data

There has been lots of buzz recently about big data. Analyzing and distilling massive amounts of information to find patterns and predict trends certainly has its value. However, it’s important to consider the significant benefits that retailers can gain from quantifying personal information about customers through the eyes of an associate who has had personal, face-to-face experiences with them.

Some examples of small data that can be recorded in a clienteling solution may include:

  • Favorite color, style
  • Hair and skin type, eye color
  • Lifestyle attributes
  • Sizes
  • Hobbies
  • Shopping habits (time of day, etc.)
  • Relationships with other shoppers (spouse, friends, etc.)

This information can be used by the associate or other associates to tailor the in-store experience as well as by marketing teams to craft increasingly relevant communications with customers.

Real Relationships

Hollywood has a long history of telling stories about how robots and machines will someday replace humans. While we’ve seen some cases where machines have made our lives easier, for example, with automated banking terminals (ATMs), sometimes we need a human to help us solve real problems. A store associate who has come to know their customers’ needs, desires, likes and dislikes can provide a fresh perspective that even the most advanced algorithm might overlook.

To build brand loyalty, your customers need to feel an affinity and attachment to your brand, and often, that begins with the people they encounter in their shopping journey. As consumers, we’ve all had memorable experiences with truly warm, helpful associates that made us want to return to that store, or, better yet, recommend it to all of our friends. Enabling associates to build long-lasting, learning relationships with customers starts with hiring and training the right people, but technology can also aid in empowering great associates to excel in customer service and relationship selling.

Human Outreach

With the massive amounts of marketing e-mails most consumers receive every day, it’s no surprise that open rates are dropping. A/B testing different subject lines, times of day or days of the week can move the needle slightly, but marketers need to start thinking outside the box to achieve significantly different results.

We’ve observed incredible improvements in open rates when brand messaging is delivered from an associate who knows the customer personally. It makes sense: when faced with a cluttered inbox, the first thing most people look for is personal e-mails from known senders. Some entrepreneurial associates have figured this out before the brands they work for, and have started communicating with customers using personal accounts. While that may result in repeat visits from those customers, it’s a risk for the brands, which lose visibility and control into the messaging that’s being shared. For that reason, clienteling solutions are a great way that brands can retain control with templates and task alerts that remind associates of best practices for outreach, while still allowing associates to personalize the tone and content.