During the holidays, retailers have to do much more than drive down prices to keep customers happy. Although flashy discounts can help drive sales, consumers now expect a top-notch, positive experience paired with their hot deals. And if brand-to-consumer experiences have such a direct impact on spend, being a Grinch in retail can mean losing out to competitors indefinitely. In 2013, 66 percent of consumers switched to a different business due to poor customer service, and 86 percent said they'd actually pay more (up to 25 percent more) for a better experience. There's no room for "bah-humbug" here. Retailers who want to keep their customers coming back for more, must focus on memorable customer experiences that engage and delight.
Here are six ways to secure forever customers this holiday season:
1. Educate your team
As the conductor of the holiday chaos, retail managers and business owners won't have time to address every customer request, question or complaint. As you bring on seasonal staff, it's important to invest in thorough training so employees can handle customer interactions on their own. According to the Global Customer Service Barometer, 75 percent of consumers say they've spent more money with a company based on a history of positive customer services experiences. This doesn't mean just one isolated interaction, but rather a consistent and pleasant stream of feel-good communication. In order to continue that momentum of cheerful tidings, everyone on your team must be aligned. Suggestions include:
- Create a document with the most frequently asked questions and anything that could potentially stop a customer from buying.
- Set protocols in place so that employees know when to escalate the issue.
- Train employees on the company brand, because communication tone and brand principles will be critical in serving up a brand experience that delights, but also builds loyalty with customers.
2. Focus on experience, not time.
It's great to be quick, and in the midst of the mad dash to close sales, speed may seem like your team's top priority. However, according to the Customer Experience Report by RightNow, most customers abandon a brand altogether due to poor quality and rude customer service, citing this 18 percent more often than slow or untimely service. Therefore, your team should be more focused on quality over quantity. Pleasant customer experiences now will generate evangelists who may not only spend more, but who could be your best word-of-mouth advocates moving forward.
3. Craft a mobile-friendly website.
Today, it's hard to predict how and where customers will be shopping for your products. Mobile commerce is increasing as more information is gathered online and purchases are made using mobile devices -- all while waiting in line in store and updating social media statuses. No matter where customers come from, you must create a consistent brand experience across all sales channels by ensuring your website is user-friendly and mobile-optimized. Remember: a faulty "pinch-and-zoom" experience on your website may be just enough to push them to a competitor.
4. Make use of historical customer data
From purchased products to support team interactions, the more you know about customers, the better you'll be able to serve them in the future. Implement systems that will allow you to track important customer data so you can continue to make every future interaction unique. This data can also be used to segment lists of email addresses and send targeted campaigns based on purchases. Get out ahead of the season and launch these systems early so you can maximize customer knowledge now and through 2015.
5. Make gift giving simple
Customers are focused on experience more than ever. Especially during the holiday season, this is a great time to create focused content around product offerings. Assuming the majority of purchases made are gifts, you can publish content around themed gift ideas and help customers select the perfect items for friends and family. This takes the shopping experience to the next level. Your customers will remember you as their helpful personal shopper, which will build trust for your company as their go-to resource and create long-lasting brand advocates.
6. Provide loyalty discounts after the holiday season
The season of giving doesn't have to stop after the holidays are over. According to a study by Stitch Labs, January 2014 sales were 152 percent higher than the previous October. Thank customers who shop before the end of the year with a discount coupon that's valid after the holiday season. Consider validating coupons starting in February or later to keep customers coming back. Don't forget to capture email addresses and send reminders which serve as yet another positive touch point with customers and helps you to continue building a long-lasting relationship.
This is also a great way to clear out dead stock and maximize sales during a potentially slower sales period.
No matter what your sales goals are for the season, just remember the holidays are a chance to make an optimal first impression with new buyers. By creating an experience that is focused on quality over quantity, streamlining communication among your team, implementing tracking systems that provide better customer data, pumping out great content and offering special discounts after the season, you'll be busting right through the New Year with enough holiday cheer to last you through 2015.