Yes, it's going to be a tough Christmas for many retailers. UK consumers will spend around 7 per cent less compared to last year, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte.
And of those of us who are going shopping, many will go online, providing an opportunity for retailers to keep existing customers, capture new customers, and try and build long term customer loyalty.
But none of us want to go through the effort of taking the time to research goods, search for the best price, order them, pay for them, only to receive an email in the days following telling us the item's temporarily out of stock, then having to start the whole process again – but of course with a different supplier!
And with new channels of communication, such as social media and instant messaging, consumers expect the same seamless conversation and straight-forward experience with companies as they engage across multiple channels, as they do with their friends and family. Companies that can create a strong customer service presence in social networking, wikis and user forums will have another avenue through which to resolve many issues for their customers quickly and easily.
A natural response to improving customer service is for businesses to spend lots of time, resource and money on enhancing service and trying to ‘delight’ the customer – free offers, vouchers, benefits in kind. But does the benefit of ‘delighting’ customers justify these costly recompenses?
Research in the Harvard Business Review shows that all firms need to do is make it easy for the customer to achieve their goals. The new Customer Effort Score simply asks the customer: 'how much effort did you have to put forward to resolve your enquiry?' Minimise the effort required and they are far more likely to be a happy customer that increases spending and repurchases.
The simple fact is that companies don’t have to spend more money to increase customer satisfaction – they just need to focus on solving customer issues in ways that make it easier for the customer, ensuring they expend the least effort possible.
With all of these channels of communication, customer service must be more simple. No more waiting on hold, repeating information, starting an interaction again when you move from one contact centre agent or one communication channel to another.
So as the festive period approaches, the real business winners will be those that make life easy for us customers. Those that try to jump through hoops but fail to provide straightforward customer interactions may well be left out in the winter cold.