‘Tis the shopping season: Are you creating a gift that lasts?

Black Friday officially marks the start of the holiday shopping season – and nationwide, retailers are hosting extended hours, slashing prices, and offering free shipping to encourage consumers to spend. But in today’s digital world, where choice is just a click or swipe away, sales tactics alone won’t build the loyalty that increases market share over time. With shoppers expected to spend more than $630 billion, retailers will be engaging with a huge number of consumers this holiday season. What can be done to transform these single points of sale into a pattern of repeat purchases and sustained brand loyalty?

Congratulations – you’ve survived the crowds and frenzy served up by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two biggest shopping days of the year! But brace yourself ­– more helpings of holiday hustle and bustle lie ahead. Each year, retailers across the U.S. launch promotional campaigns to attract our attention and our spending – from clever advertisements and flash sales, to slashed prices, extended shopping hours, and free shipping. But while these tactics may entice us during the holiday season, they do little to ensure our ongoing patronage throughout the rest of the year.

In our always-connected lives, we’ve become accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it. We have little patience for inconvenience; struggling to find what we want, waiting for assistance, or having to repeat ourselves even a single time is reason enough to move on. The luxury of choice is a mere click, tap, or swipe away. And with multiple retailers vying for the same dollar, where we turn to first to make a purchase is often determined by the quality of a prior customer experience. Transforming a one-time holiday purchase into an ongoing loyal relationship, however, requires companies to deliver easy, efficient, and personalized service not just during a sale, but before and after it as well.

While the tactics used on Black Friday have been stretched to last weeks – and sometimes even months – they can’t be extended to cover the entire year. This holiday season, retailers need to focus on building customer relationships that will endure beyond the flurry of December gift-giving. Approximately 70 percent of all U.S. economic activity stems from retail purchases, and the companies that benefit most from all that spending will be focused on delivering customer experiences that encourage brand faithfulness.

The impact of the customer experience cannot be overstated. Two-thirds of consumers have canceled a service or ended a relationship with a company because of a single bad customer experience – but on the flip side, as many as 88 percent of consumers have taken a positive action (such as conducting more business with a company or recommending it to friends and family) following a good experience.

Given this, here are four simple tips for creating a customer relationship that is likely to inspire long-term loyalty:

  • Create a personalized experience. In today’s hyper-competitive business world, personalized service is a necessity. Customers expect companies to harness their buying preferences and demographics to provide them with only the most pertinent product and service suggestions. Companies can easily show they are paying attention to each individual customer with personal touches such as greeting callers by name and providing relevant status updates before prompting callers for their intent.
  • Think proactively. Customers are impressed by an experience that gives them what they need before they ask for it. Today’s consumers also expect the businesses they patronize to help them resolve issues proactively before they escalate. Customer service therefore needs to be both predictive and pre-emptive. To meet these demands, many companies now leverage real-time customer data to provide proactive notifications when a customer calls or to send an outbound message via text, push notification, email, or voice. By anticipating customer needs, businesses not only help solve problems faster, but they also deliver more relevant experiences.
  • Be consistent and reliable. Customers don’t judge a company and its services separately – they’re one and the same. Every channel is critiqued according to a consistent set of expectations. Therefore, experiences need to be seamless across channels so that customers equate your business with reliability. Reliability also means that channels need to be able to communicate with one another so that customers can move between web, voice, text, email, and more without needing to repeat themselves. Earning long-term loyalty requires that each interaction be consistent with the last.

Here’s an example of how a leading department store (and one of the largest retailers in the U.S.) has taken steps to ensure that the service experience it offers during the holiday season will foster ongoing customer relationships. When data analysis identified a pattern of urgent inbound calls triggered by the arrival of one item in a multi-item order, the retailer took action. Working with Nuance, it established a proactive policy of notifying customers when orders would arrive in multiple shipments – alleviating concerns before they arose and clearly communicating the store’s commitment to its customers. A beneficial by-product of this policy has been a decrease in call volume and a corresponding reduction in call center costs. Creating an anticipatory experience for customers established the retailer as reliable, caring, and easy to interact with – three key ingredients of a sustained business relationship.

Last year, upwards of 214 million consumers shopped on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With projections of more than $630 billion in sales this holiday season, it is the perfect jumping-off point for building profitable, long-term customer relationships. More than ever, today’s marketplace needs to focus on consistently providing the intuitive, personalized, and proactive customer experiences that consumers want. Don’t let this opportunity to transform your holiday sales into sustained market share melt away with the snow!

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Gorm Amand

About Gorm Amand

Gorm Amand is Director of Professional Services and Global Discipline Leader of Enterprise User Interface Design at Nuance, where he leads a world-class team committed to the creation of exceptional multichannel customer experiences. He has more than 25 years of linguistic experience with native and non-native dialog structures and conversational interactions. Gorm joined Nuance in 2000 and has since worked on dozens of applications in the domains of Travel, Internet Services, Retail, Financial Services, Telecom, Utilities, and Healthcare. Gorm holds a B.A. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and an M.A. in Linguistics from Harvard University, as well as an M.A. in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University.