Do You See What I See? 5 Ways to Improve Retail Customer Service During the Holiday Season (and Beyond)

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Though it might be starting to look a lot like Christmas, there's still room for retail customer experience improvements everywhere you go. The holiday season often exposes weaknesses in service strategies, as stores scramble to meet demand and generate profits. However, retailers should use this time to assess their current approach, learn valuable lessons, and make plans for the future.
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Though it might be starting to look a lot like Christmas, there's still room for retail customer experience improvements everywhere you go. The holiday season often exposes weaknesses in service strategies, as stores scramble to meet demand and generate profits. However, retailers should use this time to assess their current approach, learn valuable lessons, and make plans for the future.Based upon recent personal experiences, here are some helpful tips for retailers as they try to hone their current customer service strategies and prepare for the post-holiday crowds:

1. Hire an acceptable number of seasonal workers. When one finds something on sale for real cheap, it's best to buy first, think later. Thus, when my mother found an attractive sweater on sale at Macy's, she snatched it up no questions asked. However, it was nearly impossible to find an associate at any of the checkouts. After inspecting the entire first floor, we discovered there were only two salespeople around--one was dealing with an in-depth customer issue, while the other was still bustling about despite the fact that her shift had ended nearly one half hour prior. She kindly rang up my mother's purchase, and we expressed our sympathy and gratitude, noting that the lack of staff must cost the store vast amounts of business at this time of year. She then suggested we head up to the management office and tell them that very same thing, because not only does this lack of staff frustrate shoppers, but it also brings added stress to those employees forced to pick up the slack.

2. Be transparent when collecting customer information. Last month, I bought boots at The Walking Co. because, while its prices were no different than the average department store, there were absolutely no other customers in the store at the time. Thus, the sales associate was available and attentive. During the checkout process, the salesperson then asked for my email address, specifically stating that she needed it so she could send me an electronic copy of my receipt. However, less than three days later, I received an email thanking me for subscribing to the store's newsletter--something to which I never willingly agreed. Since then, my email continues to flood with The Walking Co. advertisements no matter how many times I hit unsubscribe. Not only did this brand evade an explicit email opt-in agreement, but marketers are also abusing this information by refusing to relent. Ultimately, such practices tarnish reputation and diminish trust, as even the slightest inkling of deception can destroy customer loyalty.

3. Provide goods that meet consumer expectations. Over the years, product quality continues to suffer, as retailers attempt to make more by spending less. While I cannot speak about men's apparel firsthand, women's clothing has been in steady decline for the better part of the 00s. Each season, the flaws become increasingly apparent. Tops grow thinner each year, requiring shoppers to purchase multiple pieces to equal the thickness of one. Sweaters have become more delicate, as they're made of material with limited longevity. Jeans fail to fit the proportions of an average woman, alienating customers of all ages and sizes. If businesses want to retain loyalty, they must show respect for their consumers by selling top quality goods that last. Subpar products are insulting, but providing value demonstrates how much the company truly values its customer base.

4. Ensure online searches correlate with product availability. In my recent online search for a new wallet, I came upon one that matched my desired color scheme on Macy's website. I added the item to my virtual shopping cart, but when I attempted to checkout, the cart informed me that said wallet was currently unavailable. Disappointed and disgruntled, I couldn't stop wondering how many other unavailable items were littering the rest of the website. Online retailers should, ideally, implement back end systems that remove items from the Web store when unavailable so as to provide shoppers with the most accurate representation of their stock. In the end, I abandoned my (empty) cart and turned to the competition. Offering similar product recommendations to ease the inconvenience and encourage continued search might have helped in the moment, as well, but alas, such assistance was also unavailable.

5. Honor return policies based upon purchase dates. Over the summer, my mother bought a wallet and purse from Coach for my sister in an effort to preempt the holiday rush. (Also, because goods come and go with the seasons, she knew she'd never be able to find said items come November.) But, after much thought, she decided to return her purchases because she'd found something better in the months since. When we arrived at the store, the sales associate said she wouldn't be able to complete the transaction because both items were purchased more than 60 days prior--an unacceptable length of time under the brand's new return policy. However, upon my refusal to leave with anything less than a complete refund, I asked the associate exactly how new the return policy was because, if implemented after the purchase in question, these items should fall under the jurisdiction of the previous policy (which put no limit on the number of days between transactions). Knowing she couldn't argue with sound logic, she processed the return and poured on the charm in an attempt to preserve our loyalty. Sadly, her saccharine demeanor was blatantly thinly veiled damage control that came too little, too late.

What other tips should retailers consider to improve customer service during the holidays and beyond? Let us know about your own experiences in the comments below!

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION