It’s always fun to see the flood of articles this time of year about the holidays. “Is Your CRM Ready for Christmas?” the headlines knowingly ask.
“Are You Facing a Christmas E-Commerce Customer Experience Crisis?”
“The Holidays: Will You Survive? Will Your Family Survive?”
OK, I stole that last one from comedian Tom Kenny. But here’s the point: Every year, especially in the B2C space, the holidays are viewed by some (many of whom are in the media) as a sort of mini-Y2K crisis: Things have changed! Have you changed enough to cope — or will there be a CRM meltdown that drags your business into the abyss?
The first point that needs to be made here is that these articles, which usually turn up right after Thanksgiving, are too late to be of any practical use. By Black Friday, any problems that exist will most likely have been exposed by the most sensitive and accurate measurement system there is — your customers. Panic is not a real option, regardless of what the media says.
What the holidays really represent is the ultimate laboratory to examine your business and all the aspects of it that contact the customer. Think of it as the world’s most effective stress-testing. You should examine your operations closely, take notes, and change things to meet changing conditions as fast as possible, wherever possible. In other words, the holidays should be like the rest of the year — except more and faster.
Where should you start looking? Well, here are a few areas to keep an eye on during the holidays and immediate-post holidays:
1. Are your marketing efforts resulting in sales?
This is the time of year to convert all the effort you expended earlier in segmenting your customers and preparing campaigns for those segments into results. People are ready to buy at holiday time — but are they? An analysis of how your marketing efforts are related to sales — including sales over the phone and in person, not just sales resulting from click-throughs in marketing emails — is vital to understand how those efforts are influencing customers.
Following up with customers after the holidays is also critical; it could be that your marketing is great, but your product or pricing is the problem. The same email system that sends marketing messages can also be used to ask questions; don’t let that opportunity go to waste.
2. Are you listening and responding effectively?
More than ever, customers are eager and ready to share their views with the companies they buy from. That can mean valuable intelligence regarding changes to products, a better understanding of buying patterns, insight into failures in service and an understanding of why you won or lost in individual cases.
That intelligence is only available if you pay attention to it — and not only in social media, where customers are engaging in one-to-many conversations. There’s an awful lot of direct communication between customers and business, and too much of it is simply shunted to the department where it can be dealt with and then disregarded.
3. Does service engage only with the customers?
At first blush, that sounds like exactly what service should be doing. In reality, however, service is the sensory system of the company when it comes to existing customers. Any issues that present a pattern will be spotted by service first. Many companies focus their efforts on developing an effective fix within service, and that’s the end of it. That’s a big mistake.
Instead, service should be feeding back into the rest of the company with a report card from customers on where products can be improved. That may be pure product quality, or it may be clarity of instructions, or it may be duration of warranty.
It may allow you to make an improvement that keeps you from having to expand your service organization. More significantly, though, is that it will allow you to improve the experience of the next generation of customers.
4. Is your IT organization prepared to cope with spikes in usage?
The holiday rush means not only people rushing to shop — but also pressure on your IT organization. Many IT departments have been the victims of other departments’ success, which is a true holiday tragedy.
Keep an eye on how far your computing infrastructure bends; if you’re scared by what you see, start looking at cloud-based solutions or at least hybrid solutions that allow you to flex your capacity without making a permanent investment in gear that is only necessary one season out of the year.
The tendency is for employees to get caught up in the holiday hubbub, so it pays to designate someone as the lookout for pain points during December. The things that person observes this year can help your days be merrier and brighter next year.
CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.