‘Tis the season for engaging customers. But how do you create an experience that cultivates relationships when time is of the essence?

Whether it's holiday specials or a need to increase visitors, fans or customers before the end of the year, the user experience is as important as ever. Here are few last minute tweaks

Put Your Ear to the Ground

While it may be too late to integrate new customer relation management systems, it's never too late to start listening to customers and engaging them in conversations. Empowered customers abound and they expect to be paid attention.

Valuable intelligence can be gleaned if you know where to look and what to listen for. But it's not just social media you should be monitoring. A lot of direct communication occurs between customers and business, but it may not shared appropriately or effectively to remedy complaints or online inconsistencies.

Ideally, customer relations should feed back into the rest of the company. Don't operate on a need to know basis. The more information you share about how customers interact, what they're saying and where products can be improved, the better prepared.

Fix the Wobbling Wheel

Not reaping the revenue that you expected from your online store? It might be because the online shopping experience is broken. We’re not talking about wobbling wheels on shopping carts that seem to steer independently of its owner; we’re talking about abandonment, confusion and its causes.

According to a 2009 PayPal & ComScore study, 45 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. abandon carts, leaving baskets worth an average of $109 each time. As well, a May 2010 Forrester report suggests that 88% of web buyers have abandoned an online shopping cart without completing a transaction.

So what exactly can you do to prevent it? Like most user experiences, there is not just one magic solution. Look at your site’s shopping experience from the perspective of the customer, as well as from the brand’s point of view. Does it mirror what your company stands for? If you boast that your products are easy to use, shouldn’t buying them be just as easy? From one-click checkout for returning customers to personalized content, your site should inspire return visits from both a product and usability perspective. Make it easy to pay, ship and track shipments can also encourage visitors to return and recommend.

Design for Illogical Patterns

Your site should be designed so that users can enter through multiple outlets. Not everyone will travel the most convenient path to browse, select and purchase items. Users’ behaviors never cease to amaze, so prepare your site for back button navigation, last minute updates and discount tabulations to ensure that no matter what a customer does (or doesn’t do) the process doesn’t break down. No matter where a user enters a site, they should feel right at home.

For many online customers it’s about the journey, when you want it to be about the destination. By providing breadcrumbs and road signs, you can help guide them through the process so that they know where they’ve been and can see where they’re headed. As well, don’t hide contact information for those who may break down or get lost along the way. Evaluate this year's design so you can plan accordingly for next year.

The holiday season is no time for accidents. By frequently testing and improving the process you can make the customer experience a positive one.