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How To Show Your Customers Love Year Round

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For many customers, going into a store for the first time is like going on a blind date. They're not sure what they'll find, and depending on how that first encounter goes, they might never return. But for customers who find a connection and see something they like, they'll likely make a return trip and mark the beginning of a long-term relationship.

Similarly for some retailers, every encounter with a customer -- brand new or returning -- is a new opportunity to find out what they like, what they're looking for and what they previously purchased. Yet with every touch point, they need to start from square one.

Unfortunately, this approach just doesn't cut it for today's customer. Expectations are at an all-time high, in part because of the standard set by online retailers for seamless, convenient experiences. Retailers are no longer only competing with the store next door; they're competing with Amazon. And they're often coming up short.

According to Salesforce Research's 2015 Connected Shoppers Report, nearly a third (31 per cent) of consumers expect store associates to know what they have previously purchased in store, but only 10 per cent of customers have been offered a recommendation or deal based on their purchase history. In fact, half of consumers who shop in stores would be more likely to shop at a certain retailer based on the technology store associates use to assist them, but many retailers are still falling short in equipping them with this ability.

So how can you keep the love alive with your customers? Here are three tips to make every day like Valentine's Day.

1. Empower your front-line employees. Research shows that nearly half of in-store shoppers (48 per cent) believe they typically know more about a retailer's product than the store associate. And while some shoppers continue to ask store associates for their opinions on products (47 per cent), many have doubts around whether or not associates are even telling the truth (67 per cent). In fact, this disconnect between the associate and the consumer has become so big that more than a quarter of consumers (28 per cent) agree that robots could replace store associates.

Stores who empower associates to fix customer issues autonomously stand to benefit the most in this new age of consumer control, as nine out of 10 customers say they would pay more to ensure a superior customer service experience. A recent joint study by Deloitte and the Retail Council of Canada agrees, stating an investment needs to be made in technology that allows employees to easily look up information and selection, noting that employees should not have less information about the products than a customer walking through the door.

2. Think beyond the transaction. The path to purchase is no longer a straight line for many consumers. Customers now cross many channels (online and in store), and zig zag through a variety of points of influence along the way, including social media, online communities and word of mouth recommendations before finalizing a purchase. As a result, retailers need to stop thinking about relationships with customers as merely transactional. Every touch point and interaction between a retailer and a customer counts -- including every tweet or Like on the retailer's Facebook page. So, while purchase data is still important, it should be augmented with a customer's product history, social history and loyalty data. Taking this kind of 360 view of the customer, enables retailers to cultivate a relationship with the customer and increase loyalty.

3. Retain your talent. The in-store experience for employees, especially millennials, who are savvy users of technology, social and mobile tools, still needs to catch up with employees' expectations. The time has come to move away from old paradigms and embrace mobile, social and cloud technologies to quickly train up your millennial-aged workforce, make every employee an expert and supercharge customer service. With 70 per cent of buying experiences based on how customers feel they are treated, it's time to give retail employees the incentive to show those customers some love.

With the rise of social networks and mobile devices, consumers are in the driver's seat and expect to connect with retailers seamlessly across every channel. Whether it's meeting a new customer or welcoming back an existing one, there's never been a better time to commit to nurturing your relationship with each one, this Valentine's Day and beyond.

David Borrelli is the GM of Commercial Sales for Salesforce Canada, the Customer Success Platform and world's #1 CRM.