The Retail Customer Connection The new “buzz” is all about the emotional connection in customer service. I say, yes! Companies should be focused on creating and building relationships. By forming a human bond, your organization will not only have a volume of happy customers, but customers who need, want you, and will return.

Service delivery can easily be replicated. Technological advances are being made every day to facilitate. But, it’s impossible to duplicate the bond between two people. In my experience, loyalty in a retail setting is not to the physical store, but person-to-person.

  • My favorite associate at Nordstrom, Ruth, who got to know me well, met members of my family and learned my tastes, moved to another state. And Ruth was not only my go-to person, she also met my emotional requirements of feeling wanted and cared for. She made me feel special. On my next visit to Nordstrom, no one made a connection. I finally found another “Ruth” at a different department store and now they get my dollars.
  • Every time I went into my favorite coffee and bakery, Cait & Abby’s, it was Javi who gave me that big smile. I knew that Javi was glad to see me from 40 feet away. When Javi asked about my weekend, he listened and was interested. When he decided to go back to school fulltime, I was so excited. But, my bond was with Javi, not with Cait & Abby’s. There were other coffee shops in the neighborhood and, after a few tries, I found my “Javi” a few blocks away.
  • Most people are extremely loyal to the person who cuts their hair. In a fancy place, they might be called a stylist or it could be just an old fashioned barber. Why is the loyalty so strong? In a way, the interaction is set up for success. You’re in a chair and there is almost always a conversation. The person certainly knows who you are, learns about your likes and dislikes and of course hears your special plans for the weekend; the wedding, your son’s graduation or daughter’s confirmation. The next time you arrive, you are eager to share everything that’s happened in between. A bond has been created that is important. Many times if the person who cuts your hair leaves a particular place, you will follow wherever they go.

In every example, the loyalty was between two people, two human beings. What does this mean for retail? You need to hire people who are capable of building that human connection and understand how it’s done. I named them; Welcomers. They are associates who see the customer as a person first, customer second. Equally as important is that you value each frontline associate, your Welcomers, and treat them as loyalty building blocks. Give each fair compensation and respect. If they are capable of making those emotional bonds providing hope, developing trust, and ensuring that your customers feel wanted and special, your business will flourish. If they leave, your company is put in a more vulnerable position.

Creating that human connection requires a series of steps, each one a part of the customer journey. Using technology to enhance the process is a wise business decision; thinking that technology can replace the emotional aspect of the relationship is a “fools errand.”

Individual retail establishment are setting themselves up for failure if they believe a robotic encounter with a frontline associate will ever create customer loyalty. Without the human connection, there is no basis for an ongoing relationship and no repeat business. If it costs 5 to 7 times as much to acquire a new customer as keeping the ones you already have, does that make sense? I don’t think so.

What do you think?