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“Customers try non-phone channels more frequently during the holiday season, hoping to avoid long waits on the phone,” – Jim Freeze

The annual holidays are time for frenzied customer shopping, for celebrations, for family and friends, year-end vacations, and travel, among other things. Businesses offer exciting discounts and deploy several other tactics to earn extra dollars and clear out their product inventory. The sudden growth in store footfalls and the heightened levels of customer interaction make it necessary for retail managers and store personnel to create a holiday checklist to ensure that customer service standards are preserved, nothing remains undone, and customers leave with a great impression of the company. In fact, a modicum of advance planning can enable stores and showrooms to manage business operations with fewer staff members. Further, we have to acknowledge that the holiday season can prove a stressful time for shoppers, retail establishments, service providers, business managers, and customer support executives. That said, we must note that customer service remains critical at all times because flawless service can help to fortify corporate reputations, enhance the customer’s experience, respond adequately to customer requirements, facilitate sales, and trouble shoot technical problems.

Business enterprises need to work in advance to firm up staffing schedules during the holidays. This remains a critical aspect of dealing with the holiday rush and must figure on top of the holiday checklist. The planning involves a survey of the vacation time entitled to staff members and striking a balance between approved employee vacations and essential staffing requirements. Training requirements and longer work shifts may need to be considered keeping the holiday season in mind. We must note that store staff personnel should be sensitised to deal with the rush of customers effectively. Staff members should also familiarise themselves with the merchandise on display, store policies, and the product inventory available for sale during the holiday season. This awareness should be drilled in systematically so that the customer service remains flawless during the rush season. Staff members should also be requested to adhere to the norms of professional behaviour when facing pressure from serpentine queues of customers.

The second point on the holiday checklist should be encouraging customers to self-serve during their time at the store. Customers at the store may be encouraged to do price comparisons on their smartphones and connected tablet devices. This can excise the scenario wherein customers need to query pressured sales staff about the various price points of a certain product or a service. Customers can also be encouraged to use self-checkout options at certain kiosks that have been installed within the store premises. We note that effective self-service helps to remove pressure from staff members, while ensuring that the customer has a smooth buying experience. Self-service also means that the customers can be reminded to use the online website or the mobile app of the retail establishment to shop for products and services. A holiday FAQ document can be created and displayed prominently inside business premises and on the company’s websites. This is one of the simplest methods to deal with customer queries and questions sans the involvement of store personnel. The enlightened customer may choose to register his or her orders on the website or app and pick up the goods at the brick and mortar retail destination the next day. Therefore, self-service can be an effective business ally to deal with the hordes of holiday shoppers.

Large business and retail establishments can choose to keep a sizeable batch of employees ready in reserve to deal with any unforeseen business contingencies. This point is an essential part of the holiday checklist because additional hands are useful to ease a stressful workday during the holiday season. We must note that such contingency planning should be mapped and, be achieved at least two months in advance of the holidays. The reserve staff members should be trained appropriately to help them create excellent customer service experiences. A reserve-staffing scenario can hinge on leasing services wherein, a professional employee leasing services organization can be utilised to supply additional staff members. This approach can grant a certain level of peace of mind to business managers and can help to create an impression of professional competence for shoppers, clients, and customers.

Employees should be suitably instructed and empowered to deal with any customer situations that happen to arise in the course of holiday business transactions. This initiative should figure prominently in the holiday checklist. Every business situation is unique and the business should acknowledge this premise. An empowered employee can use all the means and discretion at his or her disposal to deal with a customer centric situation. This implies that the business should trust its employees to assess and remedy any situation to the best of his or her ability. For instance, customers that visit a store or business premise to return (or exchange) merchandise can be directed to a special kiosk manned by seasoned employees that are trained to cut the scope for customer complaints. We must note that dealing professionally with customer returns must figure in the holiday checklist of every major enterprise because such operations have to be handled delicately and employees must stay within the ambit of lawful actions.

Communicating with customers should be a priority in the holiday checklist of every serious business enterprise. Businesses need to realise that an informed customer is more likely to transact effectively on business premises than random shoppers who visit a mall or retail establishment on a whim. Customers need to be informed through shop signage and display panels, such that they can navigate easily within the business establishment and arrive at the products they seek. Modern technologies (such as LED lights) can be used to attract customers’ attention. In addition, big discounts must be featured prominently to attract the customer’s attention, but care should be taken to space these venues apart so that movement within the shopping establishment is never impeded. Tiny Bluetooth-powered beacons can be installed inside the store premises to share more information about products, price points, and special discounts. This information can be broadcast to customers’ smartphones and help them to arrive at specific shopping areas. Further, in-app notifications and special online messages on the website can help to inform customers about special offers, store timings, etc.

In the preceding paragraphs, we have surveyed the various means available to retail establishments and business enterprises to serve the customer better during the holiday season. The virtues of empathy and patience should be exercised during the holidays and such practices should be encouraged across the firm. The customer service executives should be reminded to deal politely and effectively with all customer requests, complaints, queries, and suggestions. Business executives and store managers must be reminded that they may need to work extra hours to deal with the year-end rush of customers. Suppliers and vendors must be required to provide their wares ahead of normal schedules. Fast selling products must be replenished with speed so that customers do not have to leave disappointed. The numbers of customers inside stores can prove overwhelming during the said season, but the holiday checklist should be rigorously adhered to ensure snag free customer service during the annual holidays.

 

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