The Business World's Biggest Wasted Opportunity

[Read more by guest blogger Steve Yastrow at]

There are hundreds of thousands of retail stores in the world. Today, millions of customers will walk into those stores and interact with owners or employees. Within hours, most of those interactions will have been forgotten by those millions of customers. Why? Because most of the retail interactions that occur today will be flat, uninspired, perfunctory, and transactional. Most interactions won't create sales, and an even greater number will not build a relationship between the store and the customer.

This represents millions of missed opportunities. Imagine if thousands of these retail interactions could be improved, so they are not flat, but instead, interesting, enthusiastic, engaging, and memorable. Would more sales be created for today? Would more relationships be created for tomorrow?

I happened to meet an interesting retail salesperson a few days ago. His name is Jacob Lahr, and he is a manager at the CUSP store for women at Water Tower Place in Chicago. "Even when the store is filled with tourists, who we may never see again, it's possible to clientele," Jacob explained.

"To what?" I asked. "Did you say 'to clientele'?" "Sure," Jacob continued. "It's always possible to clientele. It depends on how you relate to your customers."

Well, that's certainly my favorite new verb of the week. I asked Jacob if he coined the phrase "to clientele," and he couldn't remember if he did or if he had heard it when learning to work in retail. I googled "to clientele" and only found it listed as a noun, so I'm willing to give neologism credit to Jacob. Here's how I'll define it: "To clientele is to create a relationship-building encounter with your customer, so that the customer's relationship with the store is better when she leaves than it was when she came in." Notice that the definition doesn't say anything about making a purchase.

Jacob doesn't want to waste retail interactions. He knows how valuable they are. Not to clientele is to let a precious opportunity slip through your fingers.

So, when you enter stores this week, see if the person who interacts with you is doing a good job "clienteling," or is he/she just going through the basics of serving you. If you work in retail, how often are you able to clientele?

Just imagine how much loyalty stores could create if they were better at clienteling? Too bad most aren't very good at it. Yes, the retail encounter may be the business world's biggest untapped, wasted opportunity.

Steve Yastrow posted this on October 13, 2009, in Strategies.
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