I feel that you do need to bond with a customer to a certain extent to understand their needs. For example, at the car dealership I work at, it is helpful to know if a person has kids, because then you can help them select a vehicle large enough to accomdate car seats. It is certainly not out of line to ask a parent how many kids they have and how old each of them are. Then, as you find out more about them, and drop a few comments about how school is starting soon, they start to trust you and feel like your interests are aligned with theirs.
I find that customers love to hear my personal stories of cars I liked and didn`t like. They also like to hear about my personal experience of paying off my car loan or waiting in line at the DMV. They want to know that I understand what they are going through and that yes, I`m a real human too. If I only stuck to the paperwork and just gave them their monthly payment and due date, they`d think I`m a loan shark, or that I was cold, evil and somehow judging them based on their credit. I think it is funny when a customer says, "I`m signing my life away" and then they laugh when I say, "No, it is only a few years." They know that I realize it is hard to make a car payment, and it is a lot of money. It is a real commitment to own a vehicle, and it is nice to know that the dealer sees the customer as more than a dollar sign.
As far as my business, I feel it is a real gain to know where my customers are coming from. If I know about a customer`s personal life, I know how to suggest gifts for their friends and family, clothes that fit them but they can still appropriately wear to parties... and what day they need it by. If they are really comfortable with me, then they might even suggest ways to improve my work and they`ll tell me what they`d like to see in the future. My favorite customer is the one that says, "You need to make more stuff for men, because I want to buy some shirts for my boyfriend." and "I`ll call you in the winter, because I want to see what you can make me in velvet." She doesn`t feel awkward to tell me that she doesn`t see what she needs. She feels comfortable enough to just ask for it. I would much rather a person tell me what they like or expect out of me rather than quietly moving on to the next merchant.
You don`t need to take a customer out to dinner or golfing to bond with them. You just need to make some converation, and ask questions so that you can adequately help them. It also helps if they are comfortable around you, so that they can return the favor with honest feedback.