deflated smiley face balloon on the street
PHOTO: Nathan Dumlao

The customer experience (CX) efforts of many organizations, particularly those involved in any element of the retail supply chain, are put to the test during the holiday season.

Consumers want online orders delivered fast, and on time. Shipping departments and stores often add inexperienced part-time staff to help meet various customer needs. And the customers themselves are concerned not only about buying the right holiday gifts, but are also cramming holiday travel and holiday entertaining/hosting plans into their schedules, making for short tempers and lower patience for bad experiences.

Stop Focusing Only on the Transactions

“Brands recognize that the holiday season is a major opportunity to drive sales. However, they need to shift their perspective if they haven’t already to focus on the customer experience, beyond the sales transaction,” said Paula Hansen, SAP Customer Experience chief revenue officer. “Lifelong customers could be won or lost during this critical timeframe and there is no room for error. Just imagine how parents feel if the favorite toy is not delivered on time for Christmas. If there is one bad experience, a consumer may consider no longer doing business with that brand again.”

Companies need to be attuned to the emotions and feelings of their customers. In any customer engagement, businesses need to deliver but also listen, hearing what customers may be telling them in that moment, Hansen added. The key lies in harnessing this data to drive business decisions. This could lead to changing the pricing model, or taking note when certain products are not performing well.

Related Article: B2B Customer Experience Fundamentals: Listening

Start With a Strong CX Strategy 

The holiday season presents boundless opportunities for brands to increase revenue, but can also be an extremely risky time if not executed perfectly, according to Shane Phair, CMO at Decibel. Brands bet big on their ecommerce platforms, but online shoppers have little patience for any hiccup in the experience. To be successful, marketers, web developers and user experience designers must have a cohesive strategy that enables positive experiences and drives conversions efficiently. 

Yet many brands still lack a CX strategy, Phair said. “When teams in charge of experience don’t understand precisely how visitors feel when interacting with their digital properties, ensuring customer happiness is nearly impossible. To be successful during the holidays, brands need deep insights into user behavior. Cart abandonment rates, for example, are irrelevant if the brand doesn’t know why the user left before purchasing.”

Phair recommended that brands use analytics to help determine when customers get frustrated or leave without converting, whether a pop-up interrupts a session too often, or broken button or link prevents them from checking out. It’s up to the brand to jump in and fix the problem before losing the sale and the customer.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create a Digital Customer Experience Strategy Today

Get Ahead of Returns

One of the most frustrating things for customers — and most costly for brands — is returns. According to Jeff Hunt, founder of Snap36, Americans returned a whopping $400 billion worth of inventory in 2018, about $90 billion of that right after the holidays. More than one-fifth (22%) of those returns happened because the customer got something that looked different than what he or she saw on the website.

To sharply reduce returns, offer 360-degree views of products, Hunt recommended. “There is no better way to visually communicate the accuracy and authenticity of a product.”

He further recommended:

  • Ensuring that product copy and details are as accurate as possible.
  • Constantly monitoring customer reviews to understand why things are returned, and then working to fix those issues.

Related Article: Why Your Business Needs Seamless Returns Processes

Prime Your Customer Support Systems

Customers expect fast responses, particularly during holiday rushes, said Guy Novik, CEO of Orlando Villa Holidays. “Increase your customer support systems to make sure your customers have all the information they need right at their fingertips. Even if you don’t have a customer service department, consider hiring seasonal staff on fixed-term contracts to handle the phone and social media accounts during the busy period. This ensures that there is always someone on hand to deal with enquiries in a timely manner.”

Social media offers a quick way to respond to customers, Novik added. The faster a company can respond to customer messages or comments, the quicker their issues will be resolved and the more satisfied they will be with their shopping experience.

Novik also recommended expanding the amount of information a company has on its website so that customers will have plenty to refer to without needing the additional help of live customer support.

“A good way to start is to set up an FAQ page on your site and not to stuff it right down at the bottom of the page; if people are browsing on their phones, they will want easy access to information,” Novik said. “On your FAQ page, answer everything you could think a customer might want to ask, from your refund policy to your delivery and gift-wrapping options.”