Shinola store interior
Shinola's use of clienteling allows its employees to view the path a customer takes to making a purchase. — Shinola

As a growing luxury brand, Shinola faced a critical challenge when it came to providing customer service.

The Detroit-based maker of high-end watches and other goods has always sought not only to create well-crafted products, but also to maintain a high level of personalized care and connection with its customers.

“We knew how to do that on a micro level by treating every single customer with white gloves,” said Alex Drinker, vice president of marketing at Shinola, which operates 30 retail locations and also offers its products through other retailers and online.

The challenge for the company was how to maintain that “white glove” level of personalized service as Shinola expanded and as customers were increasingly interacting with the brand both online and offline.

That led the company to work with technology consulting firm Acumen Solutions and software provider Salesforce to implement a technology solution that facilitates personalized, one-on-one customer experiences at scale — a retail technique known as “clienteling.”

Now, we can actually attribute success to the particular associate who helped get that customer into the brand … and then, in turn, purchase from the brand online.

Alex Drinker, vice president of marketing at Shinola

The solution allows Shinola to track customers’ offline and online interactions, and thus helps sales associates enhance the level of service they provide. Using in-store iPads, store associates can record details about a customer’s store visit, for example, that can then be accessed on future visits or can be connected to their online interactions. The system can be used for both new customers and for customers who are part of Shinola’s membership club, The Foundry, which provides exclusive offers and other perks.

A ‘considered’ purchase

Clienteling allows Shinola to see the path that a customer takes to making a purchase, which often happens only after multiple visits to the store or website.

“When you're buying a $550 watch, that's a ‘considered’ purchase, and those considered purchases take time,” said Drinker. “It helps me understand how many interactions they really do need before they can convert.”

While the company previously suspected that a lot of customers were shopping in-store and then ultimately buying products online, it was unable to connect the dots between the two interactions, he said.

“Now, we can actually attribute success to the particular associate who helped get that customer into the brand … and then, in turn, purchase from the brand online,” said Drinker.

 Alex Drinker headshot
Alex Drinker, vice president of marketing for Shinola. — Shinola

In addition, the tool is helping Shinola compile data about the customer purchasing journey that can be shared with its retail partners, which include Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and independent jewelry and luxury goods stores.

Drinker anticipates combining the clienteling solution with other Salesforce tools to create curated marketing messages and further facilitate personalized service.

Having one unified customer record between online and ecommerce “makes us a true omnichannel business, versus a multichannel business,” said Drinker.

Gaining associate acceptance

Brendan Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at market research firm Forrester, said clienteling has advanced to the point where the technology has tremendous functionality, but the challenge lies in encouraging its actual use by store associates.

“That sounds like it should be easy, but it’s not,” he said.

Often, associates feel awkward carrying iPads around the store, Witcher explained; and, in many cases, retailers have trimmed their store-level staffing to the point where workers are being asked to serve too many customers at once, which hinders their ability to execute clienteling properly.

 Shinola watch
Shinola's staff knows that its luxury products are 'considered' purchases, which customers take time and care in making. — Shinola

Drinker said Shinola has had success with its clienteling tool in part because of the high level of acceptance by store sales personnel.

“I think the reason why the adoption was so strong in our organization is that we have an in-house training facility that is really top notch, and they helped explain the benefits of the program prior to us rolling it out,” said Drinker. “By the time it was released, [store associates] were excited about it because they already knew all the benefits it could deliver to them.”

The company is also currently exploring how clienteling might be integrated fully with Shinola’s new hotel, which opened in December in Detroit. The hotel is not currently on the Salesforce system.

Witcher said clienteling holds potential to enhance the service experience in today’s retail environment, where stores are increasingly being used to support internet-based sales — for example, as destinations to pick up items that have been ordered online. Retailers could use a clienteling tool to let a customer know when their online order will be ready, he said, or to suggest alternative items if an online order is out of stock.

“It creates a digital connection with customers if you service them in real time,” said Witcher. “It should be about, ‘How to we use clienteling to service the omnichannel customer, who is surfing from online to offline, and offline to online?’”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Apply for the CO—100!

The CO—100 is an exclusive list of the 100 best and brightest small and mid-sized businesses in America. Enter today to share your story and get recognized.