By: Catherine Conlan
The holiday season is make-or-break time for many retailers, hospitality employers and service companies. Perhaps your company is feeling the stress of relying on seasonal employees to generate the holiday sales you’ll need to finish the year in the black.
The best way to remedy this situation is to focus on better customer service-- especially during the all-important holiday season. Chances are your competitors are already working on improving theirs.
“There have been a lot of lessons learned about customer service failure,” says Steve Goldberg, president of The Grayson Co., a retail and investment consulting company in New York City. “They’re being much more careful.”
Here’s how to boost your holiday sales with great customer service.
Train Employees in a Scalable Way
Retailers are focusing on training their holiday hires more effectively, Goldberg says. “Some of the training is virtual, and some of it is in person, but there are absolutely stronger efforts to make sure employees reflect the environment they’re working in and understand it,” he says. Including brand and service expectations in these training sessions is vital to offering strong customer service, he says.
Look for scalable options when it comes to training, says Ani Collum, a partner and consultant at Retail Concepts, a Boston-based retail consulting firm. Training processes that can be easily replicated help ensure that holiday hires are on the same page as your usual employees.
Remember too that customer service relies on employees who can solve problems without running for the manager, so in addition to clarifying providing clear instructions and protocols, be sure that your training also empowers employees to make decisions on behalf of the organization.
“Empower frontline employees -- seasonal or otherwise -- to make decisions that do right by the customer to eliminate potential friction between customers and the retailer,” Collum says. Walk through common customer service scenarios as part of your employee training.
Streamline Your Checkout Process
“Efficient execution is the No. 1 way for top retailers to ensure top customer service during the holiday season,” says Jeffrey Peretin of Connors Group, a retail, distribution and manufacturing consultancy headquartered in New York City.
“One of the main areas of focus that we are seeing retailers put effort behind is the checkout experience. Consumers do not have the time or patience to wait in long lines, and have been shown by companies like Apple that there are ways to improve the experience.”
Adding two more cashiers throughout the holiday hiring scenario isn’t necessarily the way to do it, especially if you only have a small number of registers in the first place.
“Creating register teams of two people per station with divided duties and distinct roles will do it,” Peretin says. These service levels and processes may differ from those that work for your company the rest of the year, and so you may need to experiment as you approach your peak season.
Automate When Possible
Self-service can help take a load off your retail employees and give them the time to directly serve customers who are undecided about a product.
“As wages continue to rise and hiring gets harder, it will become even more compelling to automate the service aspect of businesses,” says Jan Rogers Kniffen, a retail consultant headquartered in New York City. You may need to invest in self-serve or self-checkout tech tools to make it happen, but doing so can help you redeploy your holiday hires more effectively.
If you’re not able to automate this year, keep it in mind for later. “The robots are coming,” Kniffen says. “Maybe not this holiday season, but soon.”
Looking to learn more about holiday hiring? Check out the Holiday Hiring Guide.
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