The economic outlook in Connecticut hasn’t been stellar as of late, but we’re approaching that time of year when businesses can take advantage of holiday demand to bump up revenue. The National Retail Federation forecasts that this year will see even higher consumer demand in retail, but with every one of your competitors vying for the same customers, you’ll have to go the extra mile if you want to stand out this holiday season. It won’t be enough to simply offer the best prices; you need to offer the best shopping experience for your customers. Providing quality holiday service makes your customers feel valued, and this can boost more than just your reputation. In fact, consumers say they’d pay more for superior service, which can be a huge boon to your bottom line.
There’s a lot you can do to prepare your business to meet holiday demand. We’ve covered some holiday customer service tips on how to plan seasonality into your budget and how to hire part-time holiday help, so now let’s dive into how you can beat the competition this year by providing the best customer experience possible.
1. Plan ahead by anticipating customer questions and prepping employees
The first thing you’ll want to do is ensure your business is prepared to meet increased demand. Put together a plan that covers everything you’ll need to do in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Establish goals and objectives that you’d like to meet not only in terms of revenue, but also customer engagement. Look through the sales records and data that you’ve collected over the past year to get an idea of the trends that will emerge this holiday season. What will be in high demand from different segments of your customer base? Will they prefer in-store pickup or shipping? If they prefer shipping, will they need to ship to several different locations? Will you be able to offer expedited shipping for last-minute shoppers? Take time to outline in advance all the questions your customers could ask this holiday season and prepare responses. You can compile all this information into an FAQ document and share it with your employees to ensure they’re prepared to meet any customer need.
Speaking of employees, don’t forget to include your staff in the process as you’re making your plan. If you’re bringing in temporary help to meet the upcoming holiday rush, make sure you carefully consider how you’ll deploy your core team. These are your seasoned employees who know your offerings and your business the best, so position them to handle the most demanding customers who ask the toughest questions. Your staff will be essential to providing a top-notch customer experience, be sure to ensure they remain motivated throughout the long holiday season – provide extra incentive for going above and beyond to keep customers happy.
2. Create a convenient mobile shopping experience
During holiday season prep, it can be easy to focus on your brick-and-mortar locations, but it’s important not to neglect your digital assets. One of the pillars that will support a truly outstanding customer experience is convenience. As consumers spend more time on the go, they expect their shopping options to keep pace with their lifestyle. Most successful businesses already offer e-commerce options, but the next step is to address m-commerce – in other words, shopping on mobile devices such as smartphones. Research reveals that U.S. adults spent 59% of their time on mobile devices and 41% on desktops. Shopping on mobile devices is expected to grow more popular in the years ahead, so now is a good time to make sure your website is optimized for viewing on smartphones and tablets. The keys to a satisfactory mobile shopping experience include intuitive navigation and clear visuals. Your customers have less screen space to browse on their mobile phones, so your website will need a clean look that allows them to find what they’re looking for without unnecessary scrolling or zooming. Part of your strategy could also include taking the FAQs you prepared for your initial plan and posting them on your website. An FAQ page can list everything your customer might need to know, such as shipping options, business hours and contact information.
3. Communicate with your customers through every channel you can
You should be prepared to offer a shopping experience that’ll knock the socks off your customers, but it won’t do you any good if they aren’t aware of it. Reach out to customers through as many touchpoints as you can. When you’re talking with customers in person, make sure they know that your website is able to take online orders, even if they’re on their smartphones. When it comes to digital outreach, expand your communications beyond email. With all the junk mail people get nowadays, it’s more likely than not that some of your emails will end up lost in a spam folder. If your CRM system includes cell phone numbers, consider sending text messages to your customers. Text message marketing is steadily becoming more engaging with consumers compared to other channels. Reading and responding to a text is easy, and it avoids the frustration associated with other forms of marketing such as pop-up ads.
4. Put a personal touch on customer interactions
When it comes down to it, the little touches you add to customer interactions can be the ingredient that really distinguishes your shopping experience from competitors. There are several ways you can go the extra mile, such as helping customers carry packages to their vehicle or taking the time to guide them towards an item they’re looking for rather than simply pointing at a shelf from across the store. Offering to wrap gifts after a purchase can make a huge difference for customers with little time on their hands to take care of that task at home. For small businesses looking to stand out from big-box competitors, a simple, hand-written thank-you note sent after a purchase is an especially personal touch that most big brands don’t include in their shopping experience. A thank-you note could even be coupled with a special service. For example, some local auto repair shops offer a free car wash to every customer that comes in for an oil change or tune-up during the holiday season. Think about the unique ways that you can surprise and delight your customers, then make them happen!
In the short term, focusing on providing the best customer experience possible may require a little extra holiday budget, but your customers will be willing to pay for it. Get creative and find ways to impress your customers so they become advocates for your business. You’ll benefit from the good word-of-mouth long after the holidays have wrapped up, and there’s no better way to set yourself up for a successful new year.
Written by Heidi Capodanno
Director of Customer Experience, Union Savings Bank