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Retailers: Think Past the Holidays to 2014

Retailers would be wise to focus on the long-term, not just the seasonal ka-ching.
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For most retailers, the holidays usher in an intense focus on making the cash register ring.

While fourth quarter sales are important, if you all-out laser focus on the holiday season, you're missing a huge opportunity. Here are four tips for investing in your relationships with your customers down the line.

Go the extra mile.

Everyone at my company can tell you the story of "The Cop and Rose." It's a tale of how a determined customer service agent convinced a local police officer to help us get a flower delivery to a hard-to-reach customer.

It's the story of Mrs. Williams’ Bouquet in which one of our florists gave away his own mom’s flowers to make a lonely lady happy on Mother’s Day. Those 1-800-Flowers.com team members went the extra mile to make a customer happy. What stories can your company tell? What "extra mile" efforts are you recognizing? It’s that extra effort that will bring a customer back after the holiday season.

Be swift and sure when things go awry.

One cold night at the height of a busy sales season, I made a decision: When a customer makes a complaint, fix it right away.

This was a shift from our previous policy, which involved taking the customer information, investigating the complaint, and then coming up with a solution. I decided we’d go straight to the solution. There was some worry that we’d be "had" by fake complainers. And maybe sometimes that happens. But the benefit we get from empowering our agents to say: "Oh, no, that’s terrible! Let’s fix that right away!" builds a bond with consumers that is well worth it--and it pays off in repeat business.

Remember what the customer really wants.

Customers order a variety of goods from us. They buy flowers, candy, cookies, gift baskets, etc. But it’s important for us to realize that they’re not just ordering "stuff," they’re ordering, well, happiness. They want the recipient to smile and feel touched when that gift arrives.

So as we do our jobs, we strive to do it with that in mind. When we launch new products, when we come up with new social media ideas, and when we arrange events or create an ad, we try to remember that the stuff is not what the customer is after--he or she is after something much deeper. If you deliver an item and there’s no appreciation, he or she is not coming back. If you deliver a gift and both the sender and the recipient are pleased, you've just earned yourself two potential lifelong customers.

None of what I’ve just listed are traditional sales-generating tactics. They aren’t designed to get shopper to act immediately or on a whim. They are, however, the actions that will connect your brand--in the consumer’s mind--with a positive holiday experience.

Reap the rewards of providing great customer service.

A recent report by MarketLive found 38 percent of shoppers will be loyal thanks to a points/rewards program--but that 51 percent would be loyal because of great customer service. Research by Customers That Stick listed "friendly employee or customer service representatives" as a top reason shoppers stick with a brand. And when things go wrong? Customers That Stick found 52 percent would go back to the brand if offered a discount--but 63 percent would go back if they received an apology from a supervisor.

So when it comes to stickiness, shoppers are often inspired by how they feel about a brand. What are you doing to address their feelings?

This holiday season, while you’re scrambling for every ka-ching, put time and effort into thinking ahead. Think about improving your customer’s experience. Look for ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for your customer to do business with you. Consider what instructions and training you can give your staff that will transform them from cash register operators into ambassadors of your brand.

Don’t just sell your wares this holiday season. Open a conversation with your customer.

You’ll thank me in March.

 

 

 

Last updated: Nov 18, 2013

JIM MCCANN | Columnist | Founder

Jim McCann founded 1-800-FLOWERS.com and is a leading player in the gourmet food and gift baskets business. McCann steered the company into content and media by founding Celebrations.com, a social party-planning website. He is the author of Stop and Sell the Roses: Lessons From Business and Life and the audio book Talk Is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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