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

The season of sales is here, and retailers are preparing for an influx of site traffic, store visitors, and (hopefully) purchases. But as inboxes flood with pre-Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and more offers, retailers must ask themselves: Are we ready?

As retailers, your products and services matter — but so does your ability to deliver a positive emotional experience to gain, and keep, customers this season. In fact, Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) analysis for the multichannel retail industry reveals that if customers feel happy, 89% will advocate for the brand and 87% will plan to spend more with the brand. Annoy, frustrate, and disappoint them — and the numbers drop to 19% and 25%, respectively.

How Can You Keep Customer Emotions Positive Amid The Chaos?

While you might be out of time to launch new in-store features or redesign your site and app (filters, inventory counts, sale code applications, and more matter . . . ), you can still plan to avoid and recover from the common customer experience mishaps that the holidays bring.

To improve the customer experience during this final stretch:

  1. Audit your current experiences to see if they’re vulnerable to common pitfalls.
  2. Quickly fix what you can.
  3. Prepare your employees to address and recover from what you can’t.

Where To Start?

Years of seasonal sales have identified common customer experience pitfalls — including many that can be remedied if employees are prepared to address them in real time. Assess your risk and create a plan by asking:

Is your site ready for traffic?

Lowe’s, Lululemon, Walmart, and J.Crew were among the brands that suffered site crashes last Black Friday. The impact for J.Crew: an estimated $700,000 in sales. Confirm that your site is prepared for traffic spikes, and have employees on standby to address angry customers via channels like the call center, Twitter, Facebook, and more just in case.

Will in-store self-service tools work?

Retailers increasingly embrace tools like self-checkout and in-store mapping to enhance the store experience and improve operations. But these aren’t always foolproof for customers: What happens when the customer can’t scan a product or the app glitches? Provide customer onboarding, and prepare to handle inevitable customer and technical errors with signage offering clear directions and employees trained to troubleshoot technical problems.

Are your in-store employees prepared?

The holidays introduce crowded aisles, long checkout lines, and empty shelves into the experience. These conditions frustrate both customers and employees. Equip and empower your employees with the tools required to alleviate these pain points — like the ability to access inventory across stores through a tablet as they help customers in the aisles. At Walmart, this preparation also includes VR employee training to simulate the once-a-year but business-critical conditions of the store on Black Friday.

Is customer service empowered to turn bad experiences into good ones?

You know that one brand you love because it had made an order error and then went above and beyond to fix it? Not only does our research show that customer service is the most important driver for multichannel retailer CX, it’s also been demonstrated that companies can recover from — and even capitalize on — turning bad experiences into positive outcomes through customer service. Assess if your customer service team is empowered to identify common problems, solve them quickly without escalation, and go above and beyond if needed. And ensure that they know and are goal-focused on their CX impact. For example, Zappos assesses the positive emotional connection and rapport created by its agents during calls.

If you have any questions about how to optimize your digital and in-store experience for the holiday season and beyond, please let me know. In the meantime, happy shopping and selling!