DALLAS — The Neiman Marcus Group is shifting its clienteling process to where it truly belongs — the front end.

Through a new point-of-sale system and a new application for clienteling,which involves the keeping of detailed records of customers’ preferences and personal information, Neiman’s is piloting a joint solution for breathing new life into customer services.

“It certainly makes it easier for sales associates than it was in the past, when they had to go to a remote PC in the back room to do clienteling,” said Phillip Maxwell, senior vice president and chief information officer of Neiman Marcus.

The pilot test of the new solution, from Cornell-Mayo Associates, Parsippany, N.J., kicked off earlier this year, incorporating three of the retailer’s 35 Neiman Marcus stores. Maxwell expects the company to push ahead with a chainwide rollout, including the Bergdorf Goodman women’s and men’s stores, later this year. The Bergdorf’s and Neiman Marcus stores are divisions of the Neiman Marcus Group.

Neiman’s earned its reputation for quality customer service in large part by developing a rapport with shoppers through personalized interactions. While many high-end retailers have long practiced clienteling with paper-based systems, Neiman Marcus had been using its own homegrown, back-office clienteling application for almost a decade before finally deciding to replace it.

The new solution takes this tradition to the next level, allowing employees to quickly input and access customer information at POS terminals on the sales floor. Meanwhile, the retailer gets the efficiencies and added functionality he or she was looking for at the point of sale.

“We felt that this was a very good answer to both questions,” said Maxwell. “This was an opportunity to go to one vendor and get an integrated solution.”

Maxwell expects the clienteling software to provide Neiman Marcus — whose employees place follow-up thank-you calls to customers after purchases — with an array of proactive selling opportunities. For example, said Maxwell, if a new Prada handbag comes in, associates will be able to identify and contact customers who purchased Prada merchandise over the last 12 months. “It’s easier to go in and query that information,” he said. “I can decide if I want to do some calling or send some cards or whatever, to let the customer know that new items are coming in.”The solution also provides associates with POS-based access to customers’ specific alteration and shipping instructions.

In a future phase, sales associates may further leverage the company’s clienteling application by cross-selling or up-selling merchandise, based on shoppers’ preferences, during face-to-face customer encounters.

While results from the pilot are too early to report, Maxwell did confirm that Neiman Marcus is seeing returns from a new customer relationship management/data warehousing initiative that is personalizing customer interactions on the marketing front. Until recently, the retailer was collecting its own proprietary customer information and combining that with additional data gathered by third-party service providers. But late last fall, Neiman Marcus implemented a consolidated customer data warehouse, which the company is now looking to integrate with all of its sales channels.

As a result, “all of our [marketing] activities are now fed from this consolidated customer data warehouse,” said Maxwell. “We’re pulling all information out of a single point of reference.”

To enable this change in strategy, Neiman Marcus not only built its own data mart, but also implemented an additional data warehousing solution — specifically for customer campaign management — from Teradata, Dayton, Ohio. For more in-depth CRM analysis, the retailer also introduced a business intelligence solution from Business Objects, Levallois-Perret, France, last year.

Maxwell said the volume of customer information flowing through the data warehouse is already “twice what we estimated it would be.”

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from the March 2003 edition of WWD’s sister publication Executive Technology.

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