Sustainability is the name of the game. The one hit wonder that is the festive season will not do the trick. Customer experience excellence is a journey and customers must feel from start to finish
Internal and external customers will for the next two months that demarcate the festive season, experience a variety of delightful activities set out to create a thrill to last all year long. A host of activities are carried out at this time – staff parties, team building sessions, goody bags and gifts for customers, festive season cards and messages, special discounts and offers, entertainment… the works! Everybody looks forward to it, and with the commercialization currently witnessed, vendors nationwide commence the festivities one and a half months in advance creating a celebratory atmosphere quite early.
Let’s stop for a moment and ponder – why do organizations both large and small feel compelled to join in the festive mayhem all at the same time, all with the same initiatives and all hoping to create the same impact? It is usually in a bid to have their customers know and understand that they appreciate them, and that they value their support and business partnership all year long. Appreciating customers is an important tenet of delivering service excellence, and ensures customers continue to have a warm regard for the brand. This principle lies at the heart of exceptional customer service and cannot be taken for granted or replaced by any emerging modern solution. What may change may be the creativity and innovation applied in expression, or the activities undertaken to communicate, but the role appreciation plays in winning over and keeping customers is age old, and isn’t poised to be superseded any time soon.
The challenge that arises though, as a result of the simultaneous appreciation onslaught is that customers get ‘festivity–overload’. When one’s bank, insurance, hair dresser, hospital, school, tax consultant, local grocery supplier, cabbie, florist and every other provider all decide to send happy festive season messages and flood the customer’s inbox and in tray at the same time, it all loses meaning. Many a customer has at the receipt of numerous similar goodies, failed to open the packages and blessed their colleagues or next of kin with the very same gifts, rendering the original sender’s intention null and void. The biggest items that fall victim to this rendering are calendars and diaries. Organizations traditionally print and dispatch these items to customers end year. Ideally a customer can only accommodate one calendar in their office and possibly only use one diary all year. They therefore choose the one that has the most creative appeal to them, or the one from the supplier that they have the closest affiliation to. All the rest find other avenues for issuance or dispatch. From a marketing angle, branded items even if they find a home that isn’t the originally intended one, serve as a marketing or brand visibility tool. However, from a customer appreciation angle, which constitutes the primary reason for the gift, the desired emotional engagement to be elicited, falls on barren ground.
Another heartwarming initiative that many brands take up during the festive season is to reach out to children’s homes and other community centers that cater for the needy. Indeed providing service to humanity is a sincere expression of customer service, and is quite noble. However, during the festive season homes receive an endless stream of gifts and goodies from organizations and well-wishers; donations of clothes, shoes and other essential items; as well as food stuff for consumption both perishable and dry, including ceremonial cakes. This tradition has gotten to a point where lately, organizations make a list of homes not frequently visited by others, to avoid an overload of items in one place.
What then can organizations do to appreciate customers during the festive season whilst at the same time not get caught up in the routine ordinariness of doing it, how it has always been done and will most probably always continue to be done?
For starters, it is important to focus on the intended impact, which is for customers to know how much they are appreciated by the business. This can be achieved away from the main end year festive period. Gifts and tokens of appreciation have a higher impact when they are not competing with a truckload of others; often with the customer viewing the gift with judgmental lens on the basis of the size and estimated price in comparison to others. Corporates could choose another less ‘competitive’ festive season at a different time and then tone it down by sending a courtesy message end year. On the other hand, if the organization feels strongly attached to the festivities, it is important to be deliberate about personalizing gifts. The customer must know that special attention was paid to the selection and packaging. This works all the time, every time. There is no customer that would be averse to receiving a personalized gift and message, and letting customers know they are thought of in a special way never fails.
Sustainability is the name of the game. The one hit wonder that is the festive season will not do the trick. Customer experience excellence is a journey and customers must feel the partnership of their providers from start to finish; not just because a season has arrived or that there is need to go with the flow because ‘everyone’s doing it’. The ‘everyone’ label has never and will never be a good customer experience strategy. There’s only one solution for it – Desist!