For roughly one month a year, retailers are presented with the ultimate window of opportunity to spread holiday cheer and win over customers. According to Deloitte’s Retailers’ Christmas Survey 2019, over 60% of retailers are expecting to increase their sales this Christmas, despite the gloomy retail spending outlook. From Black Friday right through to Boxing Day, the holiday season brings with it a much-anticipated spending spike, as well as the inevitable influx of customer enquiries, returns, and the odd complaint or two.

The holidays can be a taxing time for retailers of all shapes and sizes. Our research shows that nine out of ten Australian customers say they change their future buying decisions after a bad experience with a company. For retailers, this means that good customer experience is not just about keeping customers happy – it can also negatively impact your bottom line.

Some people will say ‘tis the season to build loyalty by outdoing your competitors and go above and beyond customer expectations. But that’s not entirely true – our data shows there is no material increase in brand loyalty when you exceed customer expectations versus simply meeting them. You do not need to wow your customers every time, you just need to meet their expectations.

A well-prepared customer service team can be a bright spot for customers looking for fast, friendly help with their problems. So how do you steer clear of your customer’s naughty list this festive season?

Here are three suggestions to get you started:

1. Know your customers

Retailers often get caught up in the numbers and forget that customers are unique and need to be treated as individuals. In fact, our data shows personalization – and sometimes even hyper-personalization – is now table stakes and showing that you understand your customers can make all the difference to their experience with your company.

During peak season, customers often ask the same question – “How can this be less stressful?”. With your available information, including shopping history, customer loyalty programs, preferences, customer service history, billing, and inventory you can create a more personal and individual picture of who you’re interacting with, enabling you to provide the best possible customer service to meet each individual customer’s expectations.

2. It’s a team effort

Customers see your company as a whole – they do not see your sales, support and fulfilment teams as separate when they interact with your company. But a lot of organisations are structured in silos, which results in important data ending up stuck in their separate lanes.

When data from all aspects of the business can be seamlessly connected wherever it lives, it gives retailers richer, actionable insights on their customers’ needs and behaviors. Your customer service agents can then have a more holistic view of the customer when providing support, without asking customers to repeat the same information over and over again.

3. Strike a balance

Recent innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have brought about a slew of possibilities for retailers to up the ante on their customer experience game. And as businesses and customers grow more comfortable with it, attitudes towards such technologies have shifted away from one of fear and trepidation to passionate application.

To cope with peak season demand, automation allows customer service teams to reduce human error and improve efficiency, freeing up time for their agents to focus on requests that truly require the human touch.

But the balance between man and machine is critical. Unlike what most people may think, AI will bring about a renewed focus on the human element. Our Benchmark data shows that more than two in three Australians prefer to engage with a human agent over artificial intelligence. Only humans can create a meaningful and authentic experience that some customers desire, which is more likely to leave a lasting impression.

So, when it comes to keeping customers happy, retailers should evaluate customer behaviour and queries to determine the right balance between human interaction and automation. Factors such as the complexity of the query and its urgency are good places to start. Use technology to improve your experience where it helps you reduce errors and improve operational efficiencies, but customer service agents should be available to make the experience customers have with your brand personal and unique.

Putting a smile on your customers’ faces during peak season comes down to one key thing: the service you provide. So, think about how you can use the resources available to you to ensure exceptional service and a merry season for everybody.

And perhaps, all your customers want for Christmas is indeed you – well-informed, and well-prepared.

Malcolm Koh is Customer Experience Strategist at Zendesk.