This blog post is part of Forrester’s Holiday 2019 retail series.

As we quickly ramp into peak season for most retailers, your job as a tech vendor is clearer than ever: Make life easier for your customers.

To start, ask your customers these questions now, whether formally or (ideally!) informally during regular conversations:

  • “When do you feel like your Black Friday/Cyber Monday planning is complete?” I suspect it’s later in the year than you’d expect — potentially “never,” with a settle for “good enough” based on time or effort capacity limitations. Many retailers develop contingencies, Plan B campaigns, and on-the-fly adjustments that make them feel like the plan is never actually done.
  • “When does your retail peak season start and end?” It’s more than just those five days. Retailers with giftables have a condensed timeline, but many of your customers are seasonal to cold weather or have a longer sales cycle. They may feel the earlier onset of peak, like many retailers in recent years, which adds pressure to perform and compete long before the major shopping holidays are (officially) in sight.
  • “How well does your family know your company’s goals, your coworkers’ names, or your most common weak link?” Not a typo — yes, their family. While everyone else is relaxing in front of the TV and eating themselves into a tryptophan coma, your customers are on their computers, on their phones, and on the edge of their seats. Their Thanksgiving Day is punctuated by emergencies, celebratory updates, and scheduled check-ins. Their senior managers may have no idea what they’re going through — but you should.

Commerce platform/suite vendors: Your mission (and you’ve already chosen to accept it . . . ) is to be the partner your customers need! At this most critical time for your digital retailers, make sure that you do not:

  • Require major changes or updates to the solution. This is especially important if those changes have the potential to create issues (don’t they all . . . ) or necessitate user acceptance testing (shouldn’t they all . . .) or generate any other work for your customer. Your users will likely implement their own code freeze schedule. If you’re not doing the same in your environments, you will lose loyalty and trust from the professionals who rely on you. It will be clear that you either haven’t prepared well (and clearly don’t understand your customers and their needs) or that you have encountered a major issue that threatens stability during peak season.
  • Surprise them! Even announcements that sound like good news can add stress. When you promote new features, a digital marketer is just counting down to her manager asking if she’s researched the viability of that functionality yet. When you announce an upcoming event, your users feel the additional pull of travel and time away while they’re trying to just buckle down and get through.
  • Try to sell them something. Your customers don’t care when the end of your quarter is. They are hunkering down to use the tools, investments, and plans they’ve already made to carry them through the holidays. As their partner, they are now relying on you for support and reliability. Monetize them later — for now, just be there for them.

So what should you do? I encourage you to:

  • Offer suggestions at the right time. Be a true partner: Are there settings they should check or areas that should be locked down to protect them from common pitfalls during peak? If your client is worried that they’re not fully prepared, what are some feasible, quick-win, low-effort actions you can suggest that they can still take now? Your timely recommendations will demonstrate your understanding of where they are at this moment.
  • Establish expectations and stick to them. Are you staffing differently to better support their needs? Are there special steps you can suggest that would garner a faster response from you to critical issues? Even — and maybe especially — if it’s less positive news (like days you’ll be closed or staffed with just a skeleton crew), it is important to provide this clarity well in advance.
  • Ask how you can help. If you have regular meetings, do they want them more frequently now or not at all? How else can you support their efforts? They may decline, but you’ll get the credit (and goodwill points) for offering!
  • Be in it with your customers, all the way through. Congratulate them on successes and celebrate their wins with them. If things didn’t go as they’d hoped, know that they’ll be in triage mode. Can you help them with a postmortem evaluation so they’re armed with the answers they will need to provide? Meet them where they are, and you’ll be the partner they needed at their most critical time of the year.

Tell me what you think: What are effective ways that you’ve partnered with your clients — or that you’ve partnered with your commerce platform provider? In a perfect world, what would this partnership look like?