Five Golden Rules: The Retailer’s Guide to Holiday Customer Service Success

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For many retailers, the holiday season presents an outstanding challenge, as brands are unprepared to handle such high volumes of inquiries and service requests. But, for those who focus on building customer relationships and strengthening loyalty year-round, great holiday customer service remains the gift that keeps on giving, as consumers return for every occasion.

Retailers must think of brand engagement as part of their continuous customer strategy, for service and satisfaction know no season. The following tips, though geared toward the holidays, offer retailers insight into ideal strategies and popular trends that will remain long after the last gifts are unwrapped: 

1. Break down internal silos to establish the basis for long-term success. 

Before brands can even begin to focus on their holiday service strategies, retailers must develop the proper infrastructure to ensure success throughout the season and beyond. Those retailers that have yet to address such issues are already at a disadvantage, for they lack the internal ability to properly align customer service initiatives across the enterprise. Thus, retailers must audit their inner workings before they can convey the desired outward experience, as such issues live far beneath the surface.

Once retailers have addressed and eliminated the silos that exist within the organization, brands can then begin to implement the omnichannel strategy consumers crave. To effectively embrace omnichannel, retailers must be able to develop an internal customer service approach that reaches across departments, allowing their entire brands to maintain unity and consistency across all touchpoints throughout the customer experience. Doing so, however, doesn't stop once their gifts are unwrapped, as establishing an omnichannel customer service experience encourages consumers to return over and over.

2. Equip associates with the knowledge necessary to achieve customer satisfaction.

Customers now enter the brick-and-mortar store with research in tow, expecting the flexibility that comes along with online shopping. Thus, retailers must staff sufficiently and intelligently, as these employees require the knowledge necessary to properly serve customers no matter the channel of choice. Despite the temporary nature of said part-time, seasonal help, these forward-facing service employees can make or break the consumers' first impressions of the given brand. Therefore, associates must be equipped with the right skills if they are to uphold and maintain the desired level of customer satisfaction.

3. Alleviate struggles by providing an effortless experience.

Despite the overwhelming desire to "wow" consumers with exceptional service, the need to dazzle and delight remains minimal, for consumers often prefer simplicity and reliability. Effort is as much about what customers actually have to do as it is about how much they feel they have to do. Thus, retailers that provide proactive assistance that satisfies queries and prevents problems position themselves as leaders within the space. Co-browsing technology, for instance, maximizes potential and reduces the risk of abandonment by allowing associates to detect issues and answer questions in a way that replicates the in-store customer experience.

Retailers must also ensure that all inventory information accurately reflects item availability no matter the channel. While brick-and-mortar employees require insight into what's accessible in-store and in the warehouse, online shops must provide real-time visibility and reliable delivery estimates. Such elements are increasingly essential as ship-to-store, site-to-store, and direct-from-store options gain momentum. Retailers must also pay special attention to their carriers' performance so they may effectively meet customers' needs, as this final leg of the buying journey also serves as the brand's ultimate impression.

4. Embrace social media monitoring and mobile capabilities.

Social customer service continues to gain momentum because, while consumers typically receive the answers they've been searching for, brands gain access to granular insights that guide strategic development. To truly take advantage of social's vast scope, retailers must deploy social media monitoring technologies to pinpoint and address customer frustrations, predict potential behaviors, and influence customized campaigns. Retailers must also remain aware of the risks of social service, as the tendency to respond quickly and minimize impact may inadvertently teach consumers that they can cut to the front of the line by publicly complaining.

5. Prevent exploitation by remaining aware of scams in the space.

Because many of today's retail transactions take place online, brands are increasingly vulnerable when it comes to fraud. Retailers must remain aware, as it only takes a few fooled customers to ignite an unexpected service nightmare. Retailers should start monitoring all online forums, domains, and Web stores for fraudulent activities. By getting ahead of the scammers and mitigating threats as they're identified, retailers can improve their chances of getting through the heavy seasons unscathed as they work to protect their reputation and look out for the consumers' best interests simultaneously.

Ultimately, to serve the customer means to serve the customer experience, for support trickles into every aspect of the basic brand interaction. Companies must look beyond the holiday to develop an effective, service-oriented culture to span all seasons.

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