Customer service dos and don'ts for the busiest time of the year.

Jan 07 2019 | Julie Warshaw, PayPal Editorial Staff

Ready or not, the holiday shopping season has begun. And whether you’ve been planning for months, for weeks, or (uh-oh!) not at all, there’s one thing you should be doing now to help close those holiday sales – delivering a great customer experience.
If you think that’s easier said than done, you’re probably not alone. But with a little patience and a few helpful tips, you can avoid the most common customer service pitfalls of the holiday season.
Set realistic shipping expectations.
The adage “under-promise and over-deliver” is perhaps most true during the holidays – particularly when it comes to shipping. Make sure you’re setting realistic expectations when you create your shipping calendar. Most shipping providers
have a schedule that lists important dates on their website, so keep an eye out for any updates and give customers their tracking number so they can do the same. Remember that a winter storm could cause unexpected delays. If you’re brave enough to guarantee that an item will arrive “by Christmas,” be prepared to cover any additional costs to make sure that it does. Otherwise, you could end up being the reason little Will has one less gift to open from Santa this year.
Help shoppers save time with a selection of gift ideas.
Whether they’re shopping for a co-worker or a distant relative, most people have at least one person on their list who’s tough to buy for. Make it easy for them by compiling complementary products and selling them as a set. If you have an e-commerce site, consider adding a ‘holiday gifts’ a category. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, set up a section dedicated to holiday gifts. Sweeten the deal by offering a discount on your gift ideas. If you have a surplus of certain items, include them in your holiday selection. This way, shoppers can easily cross those difficult names off their list and you’ll be able to clear some of that overstock.
Don’t forget the details.
Most of us find ourselves on the other side of the checkout counter at one point or another during the holiday season, so we know firsthand how little things can make a big difference. What would you appreciate from a business around the holidays? If you have a physical store, consider making a space where shoppers can sit down for minute. Provide snacks like hot chocolate or cookies. If it’s feasible, offer a giftwrapping option. Many shoppers will happily spend a few extra dollars to save themselves the hassle of wrapping gifts. Giftwrapping is particularly helpful for online shoppers, since many people are traveling and have gifts sent directly to their holiday destination.
Be supportive and encourage your employees.
Whether you’re training seasonal help or giving your regular staff a pep-talk,
preparing your team for the holidays is crucial for delivering a positive experience. Set clear expectations for each role, as well as the entire group. Cross-train employees so that you’re not relying on a single person’s expertise in a certain area. And reward team members for a job well done! Of course, you’ll want to acknowledge someone for exceeding a sales goal, but don’t stop there. Consider recognizing the employee who always goes above-and-beyond for the customer, or the one who keeps their cool, no matter how hectic things get.
Don’t take things personally.
Even the kindest and most patient person may reach their breaking point at the ninth replay of Jingle Bell Rock in a packed mall. And while you may not be selling at the mall, your store or website could be that customer’s next stop. Be prepared for frustrated shoppers. Something small can become something big when fuses are short, so don’t take it personally. Instead, try sympathizing with their situation. You’d be surprised how effective a genuine apology can be. Try offering them a special discount, or free shipping. An angry shopper presents you with a golden opportunity to deliver amazing customer service. Fast forward a few months and that customer may not remember why they were upset, but they’ll almost certainly remember how they were treated.
Thank shoppers for their business.
Solidify the connection you made with a new customer by sending them a quick thank you note for giving you their business. A first-time buyer may not remember every store they visited when making their holiday purchases, so this is an easy way to help keep your business top-of-mind. Think about including an incentive like a discount on their next purchase to encourage a repeat visit to your store – after all, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
Standing out from the holiday competition may seem practically impossible – especially for a small business. Instead of competing for visibility, shift your focus to providing a truly positive customer experience. A personal connection can be the reason a new customer keeps coming back, long after the holidays are over.

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