Three ways to improve local customer experiences during the post-holiday rush

By Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer, Mindshare Technologies

The holiday rush will soon be over and then things can finally get back to normal in your retail operation, right? Not quite. For many retailers, the post-holiday rush can be just as challenging as the holiday shopping season — and just as important for creating loyalty and maintaining an exceptional customer experience.

In the days and weeks after Christmas, shoppers flood into brick-and-mortar stores, eager to take advantage of post-holiday deals. But too often, customers leave disappointed and disgruntled due to depleted product inventories, less-than-satisfactory return experiences and other factors.

Although you may have had a profitable holiday retail season, long-term success still hinges on your brand's ability to delight customers every single time, even if they're just shopping with a gift card and the purchase is already technically made. Often times, those shopping with gifts cards or looking to do an exchange are first-time shoppers, making it that much more critical to find ways to convert them to "regulars." Retailers need a plan to convert these first-time or occasional shoppers into long-term loyal shoppers.

Managing the customer experience after the holidays

Savvy retailers understand the importance of customer experience management. By properly monitoring and managing the customer experience at the local level, especially during these critical times, retailers have the opportunity to grow their businesses.

Changing how you do business requires real intentionality at both the local store level and for brand decision-makers. Specifically, there are three areas that need to be addressed in order to target local customer experience improvements after the holidays.

Pay extra attention to unstructured feedback. Feedback insights are the foundation of successful customer experience improvements and of course both brands and individual store operators should pay close attention to whether scores are dipping or improving during this critical time. Often, during the holiday retail sales blitz, many compromises are made to the customer experience and these decrements in service standards show up in score decreases. However, special attention should also be paid to daily reading and analyzing of unstructured feedback. It will yield insights into new emergent issues that have not been asked about in your surveys. The old adage "you don't know what you don't know" applies.

Action plans for the front line. In some cases, retailers collect feedback data, but don't convert them into actionable strategies that can be implemented in local stores. Strategy must meet operations with tangible, clear intentions to do some things differently. By taking the extra step to convert insights into action plans, local stores get equipped to improve customer experiences during the busy, post-holiday period (not see them erode!).

Knowledge sharing. Retail is constantly changing and local managers frequently encounter customer experience challenges they haven't seen before. But in a multi-site retail operation, there is a good chance that a manager at another location has seen it — and can offer wisdom and insights about how to successfully overcome the challenge in other stores. Knowledge sharing technologies offer a convenient way to tap into the brand's aggregate experience and provide local managers with the resources to overcome nearly any customer experience management obstacle. Social media isn't just for the public. Crowd sourcing technologies "in house" that allow managers of one store to see what others are trying in their stores increases greatly the opportunity to overcome obstacles to providing great experiences.

Successful retailers understand that the push for customer experience improvement is never-ending. Hopefully you have invested substantial time and resources into the creation of exceptional holiday retail experiences, so that new and occasional shoppers can be won over into "regulars" and even advocates. The post-holiday season isn't a time to slack off — it's a time to continue to deliver responsive, high quality experiences that delight your customers and keep them coming back throughout the year.

(Photo by Matt McGee.)

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