Most companies think of the holiday season as a time to increase revenue and close more business. However, it's also during the holidays that customers are most likely to decide whether they like buying from you or would prefer to buy elsewhere in the future.
There are at least five ways to use the holiday season to build customer loyalty, according to Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet.
Here's are some practical tips based on Kaufman's ideas:
1. Make it easier to get support.
The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for most customers. They will be shopping, ordering, and asking more questions than usual: in person, over the phone, at their computers, on their mobile devices, at work, in their cars, and from home.
Making it easier for customers to get support makes you a haven from the hassle. This creates good will and positive feelings that will keep customers loyal long after New Year's has come and gone.
Ideally, you'll want to create an environment where shopping, buying, and receiving support are all part of a seamless environment. That may take some time, but there is at least one action that can immediately improve your customers' experience.
Many companies foolishly bury their customer support telephone number deep inside the website, hoping that customers won't find it and instead try less-costly support methods, like email or user forums. Instead, put all of your support options on one easily accessible page.
2. Personalize the experience.
Personalized service makes people feel special. Keep track of your regular customers' preferences and choices and customize their experiences so they all feel as if they are your favorite customer.
Customizing your offers and suggestions increases your value to the customer each time he or she visits and helps you become the vendor, store, or supplier each customer is glad to talk about and feels comfortable recommending to others.
If you fail at this, customers feel as if they're just a number. There's no bond, nothing to make them feel any loyalty to you. Give such customers any excuse at all and they will immediately go elsewhere.
3. Turn complaints into opportunities.
Many companies treat customer complaints as a waste of time, figuring that the complainer is a lost cause. However, customers only complain when they're still considering buying from you. Otherwise, they'd just go elsewhere!
When a customer complains, the absolutely worst thing you can possibly do is act as if the person is a nuisance. Above all, don't punish unhappy customers by attempting to shift the blame onto them!
When customers complain, they are telling you what they value and therefore what you must do to keep them loyal. If she says you aren't fast enough, she values speed. If he says he's tired of not being able to get anyone on the phone, he values human interaction.
Give your support team a set of tools with which to make amends, based on the nature of the complaint. For example, if a customer thinks you're too slow, offer a free shipping upgrade on the next order.
Matching the right fix to what the customer values turns a complaint into a reason to keep doing business with you, long after the holidays are over. That's what customer loyalty is all about.
4. Treat your employees better.
Just as your customers are under extra stress during the holidays, so are your employees. As a result, its easy for employees to feel too exhausted, frazzled, and overwhelmed to do anything more than the minimum for each customer.
Customers are immediately turned off by employees who lack energy to smile or treat the service they provide as a chore. Customers may still buy from you, but they won't leave feeling uplifted or wanting to return.
There are many ways to make employees feel more valued during the holidays. The classic is the year-end bonus, but there are 10 things that employees want more than money. Remember that a smaller gesture, like a personal thank-you, goes a long way.
Find ways to keep employees feeling aligned, supported, and joyfully connected to your brand, to their colleagues, and (of course) to your customers. Customers prefer working with, and buying from, people who are positive and energized.
5. Become a community leader.
The holidays, of course, are when people think of giving, which makes it the perfect time to exhibit your generosity in a way that your employees and customers will appreciate.
Local community service makes everyone feel good, from employees to customers to other community members. When your company plays a socially responsible role in the community, customers feel that buying from you makes the world a better place.
If your customer base is local, consider sponsoring a local sports team, offering (paid) school internships, or adopting a stretch of highway or a local park. If your customer base is global, consider sponsoring educational, health, or environmental initiatives.
Matching employee contributions to the charity of their choice also builds good will, not only with employees but with customers as well, especially if you provide a list of the charities that have gotten the donations.
What's most important here is to make the donations either specific to your local community or to causes that resonate with your global brand. Giving to generic charities isn't nearly as effective.