• Tara Baumgarten

Holiday Shopping and the CX Strategy Imperative

Ho, Ho, Holy crap the holiday season is upon us…again.


Only this year, instead of being in a pandemic lockdown, we are somewhere in between in what I like to call the “mid-pandemic purgatory” or, as a former client called it “Blursday”; not quite total lockdown but not exactly back to “normal.”


Through all this, supply change shortages continue to make headlines, though, as we’re learning, it’s less of a supply chain issue and more of a container pile-up, shipping issue. Regardless of the logjam, in our Customer-in-Control World, where consumer expectations of personalization and immediacy reign supreme, supply change disruptions can wreak havoc on brand affinity.


So, what does this mean for holiday shopping and what’s a retailer to do?

If businesses want to capitalize on the peak retail season, they must prioritize the customer experience and make doing business with them as easy, human and frictionless as possible.


To make sure that businesses are prepared for the retail tsunami that is the holiday shopping season, here are three things they should keep in mind to make their customers’ experience merry and bright.


Communicate early and often

Much has been written about the current supply chain disruptions, and the struggle is real.

Salesforce.com forecasts a 20% increase in prices this holiday season due to bottlenecks at ports, factory closures overseas and higher costs for shipping containers.


Couple that with issues accessing raw materials, a global staffing shortage and higher shipping costs (yes, as a special holiday gift to their customers, both UPS and FedEx raised prices starting Nov 1 to cover “extra costs” over the holidays). and it’s shaping up to be a rough year for retailers and consumers alike.


Here’s what we know: there will be delays and higher costs. Nobody wants to hear this but it’s true. But how a business handles these issues and communicates with their customer base will make or break their CX Strategy.


With every change and delay, the customer journey changes and evolves. Adapting to these changes quickly, flexing to meet the customers new and ever-changing needs, and communicating with them early and often, will build customer trust.


Essentially, open, transparent, varied and frequent communication with customers is key to nailing the holiday shopping experience. Retailers can follow these basic communication tips to ease customer frustration and make and their cash registers jingle all the way:


// Only promote items that are in stock and will be available to ship before the holiday. This will

boost your in-stock inventory while ensuring your customers get the items they need on time.


// Heavily promote your flexible shopping options—buy online, pick up in-store or curbside

capabilities; these are all differentiators that demonstrate you’re flexible and easy to do business

with.


// Be proactive in letting customers know ahead of time about supply delays, staffing shortages and

approximate ship times.


// Communicate clearly about refund and return policies ahead of a purchase.


Be omni-present

Being omni-present is like speaking fluent customer. It’s getting inside your customers’ heads and thinking like them across all different channels (social, text, chat, email, phone, voice, etc.) to connect with them, on their terms.


During the holiday season, when customers are anxious, stressed, rushed and short on time, they need questions and issues resolved quickly and in the way that’s most convenient for them.


Regardless of whether the customer is engaging with your business via app, mobile phone, desktop or brick-and-mortar, the goal is to always keep customers at ease and to provide a seamless customer experience. Mastering omnichannel communication- unifying your communications and data strategies-is a recipe for CX success.


This means understanding your customers’ journey and delivering an enhanced and consistent experience at every step and interaction. To execute a customer-centric, omni-channel strategy this holiday, a business must:


// Map the holiday customer journey, which may be different than their typical shopping patterns,

by stepping into your customers’ shoes and experiencing your business from their perspective.


// Create a communication strategy aligned with holiday revenue targets and business goals with the

intention of moving your target audience from point A to B on their customer journey.

·

// Identify the communication channels, both offline and online, most preferred by your target

audience and align the strategy with these preferences in mind.


Leverage technology to automate for efficiency

During the busy holiday season, many brands have leaned into technology to accommodate evolving shopping habits and alleviate staffing shortages. However, having the right combination of people and technology will ensure a great customer experience.


It’s this balance of automation and a personal touch, of efficiency and empathy, of problem and solution that will free up staff time to deliver exceptional personal experiences that address customer needs.


There are many ways technology bolsters a business’s CX and data strategies, but when it comes to holiday shopping, it’s important that CX leaders focus on the specific ways technology can alleviate customer pain points in the near term while planning for the long term. Specifically...


// Deploy an AI-enabled chatbot: available 24/7, chatbots can address customer questions and

concerns in real-time, provide product recommendations and reduce cart abandonment.


// Optimize for mobile: more than half of online shopping traffic is driven by mobile. Businesses can

optimize the experience by creating mobile native capabilities like QR codes for special deals,

mobile-only discounts, the use of video to feature certain products and boost sales, and offer a

variety of payment options.


// Think beyond the point of purchase: reduce your customers’ headaches when it comes to returns

by using technology to offer flexible options like buy-online, return in store; provide easy,

printable labels for convenient print-from-home return options; and create additional

interactions to gather data about customer product satisfaction and offer alternative product

suggestions.


If last year’s record holiday sales are any indicator, businesses are primed for a profitable season. As the holiday shopping frenzy heats up, businesses need to rethink their execution—the “how to” to meet shifting customer behavior and demands.


Brands that can acknowledge these shifts, embrace technology with a growth mindset, strategically plan to delight their customers at every step of the journey and communicate effectively along the way, will be the winners and top of this year’s “nice” list.

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