The National Retail Federation (NRF) defines the holiday season as sales generated during the months of November and December. For many retailers, these two months can account for more revenue than all other major holidays combined. And 2015 is expected to be especially strong in the United States. eMarketer forecasts that U.S. sales in the final two months of 2015 will increase 5.7% over last year, reaching $885.70 billion in 2015 for all retail purchases.
Last year’s holiday season customer service winners, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, were Amazon and Nordstrom, two brands with strong reputations for providing exceptional customer service. Both brands benefit from a high degree of customer engagement and loyalty, and have groomed the American consumer to expect the highest standards of service, value, and transparency.
In order to prepare for the holiday rush, retailers should follow Amazon’s and Nordstrom’s lead by providing a seamless customer experience that’s fast, reliable, and customer-centric. By adjusting how they approach and target today’s savvy consumer, retailers can leverage the holiday shopping season for boosting sales and improving customer loyalty.
Today’s customers have come to expect personalized experiences, which companies like Amazon and Nordstrom recognize as key to engagement. A recent MyBuys study found that 39% of customers are frustrated with retailers who don’t provide a personalized experience which offers, for example, product recommendations in real time based on shopping and browser information. Likewise, 45% state that that they want retailers to take every channel (in-store, online, mobile, etc.) into account to provide the best possible experience.
As customer expectations continue to rise, retailers must use data intelligently, providing individualized, non-intrusive, and relevant offers to increase customer satisfaction. Whether its greeting customers with special offers as they enter the store, sending personalized emails, or tailoring offers based on feedback surveys, personalization increases customer loyalty and engagement, making it a top priority. Of course, your customers know they aren’t your only customers but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel like they are.
One of Amazon’s greatest strengths is that it encourages customers to freely review products and services, increasing transparency and value for customers. Best Buy, another leading U.S. retailer, has taken customer feedback a step further by rewarding customers for completing product reviews. It’s a win-win for everyone. Customers are rewarded, and their feedback is shared internally before being passed on to venders to help make improvements where necessary.
Feedback is critical for developing a brand’s products and services but keep in mind that customers are busy during the holidays. Respect your customers who may feel a bit reluctant to provide feedback at this time of year. To avoid frustration or fatigue, consider designing a quick feedback survey, one with a clear, focused goal. Know what your objectives are so as to create the simplest and most efficient survey possible. And consider adopting the Best Buy approach to rewarding customers for their time. ‘Tis the season for giving, after all, so consider offering a coupon, discount, or low-cost gift to incentivize and thank survey-takers.
Go Above and Beyond
From a financial standpoint, it’s just good business sense to treat customers well, especially true during a time of year that can be stressful for shoppers. And while there may be no way to provide a 100% seamless customer experience during the holiday season, adopting a customer-first philosophy, and using a combination of the right tools and empowered frontline staff, is the best course of action. Empowered customer-facing employees will not only help put customers at ease during the busy holiday season but also produce positive word-of-mouth which can help a business’s bottom line throughout the year.
Nordstrom provides a perfect example of how to help customers overcome the stress of holiday shopping. After receiving special attention during a Christmas Eve rush, one customer shared his experience online, commending Nordstrom for its willingness to provide catered and friendly service even when things get rough. As the customer describes it, “It’s Christmas Eve, the store is full of people, it’s cold outside the parking lot is full…and [the sales person] is asking if he can help take our bags to the car!”
While not exactly a dramatic story of superior customer service, it does provide a good example of how a company already known for it’s high level of service remains consistent even when circumstances are less than ideal. And what better time of year to show customers how much they mean?