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The holiday season is here and amid all of the hustle and bustle is the increased expectation for a smooth customer experience. In the retail world, that includes product availability, expedited shipping, and easy returns. In the B2B space, it often means year-in-review meetings and gifts for important clients to show appreciation for another year of business.

The holidays are also a great time to win new customers, but it is important that these be customers you can actually keep. Failing to provide the same great experience during other times of the year may cause customers to leave once the celebratory feelings of December have passed.

Unfortunately, the holidays are often the only time of year that companies focus their attention on “wowing” their customers. Not only is it difficult to differentiate during the holidays because almost every company is vying for their customers’ attention, but expectations don't diminish after the holidays are over. It is critical to offer consistently superior customer experience all year round in order to stand out in an increasingly competitive business landscape and become the last best experience customers turn to again and again.

While it is certainly wise to thank your customers and show them appreciation during this season, this does not replace providing them with a great customer experience at other times of the year.

Effective customer experience takes planning and technology, and both require time. So be careful not to try to rush through a new, disconnected experience during the holidays. Not only is it a risky strategy at a very important time of year—many companies actually initiate a technology “freeze” in December for that very reason—it also may set unrealistic expectations for other times of the year.

Here's what I mean. I used to stay at the same hotel in Louisville, Kentucky twice a month. During some stays, the employees left a miniature bottle of Kentucky bourbon on my pillow. While this gesture was much appreciated, it did lead me to wonder if I had done anything wrong on the visits where I did not receive the gift.

For many businesses, the holidays are the busiest time of year, making customer experience a critical part of meeting the year’s revenue goals. For other companies, the holidays are a time of slowing down, creating an opportunity to plan for the upcoming year before the calendar turns. Many companies make the mistake of not planning for the new year until January or even February, when precious weeks of the year have already passed.

To make sure your company emerges from the holidays with momentum for the year ahead, be sure to:

  1. Welcome new customers and set realistic expectations for doing business with you going forward
  2. Show appreciation for your existing customers by sending a personalized digital or hand-written card
  3. Delivering a consistently superior customer experience during the holidays and the rest of the year
  4. Planning ahead so your CX strategy can continue to evolve as soon as the calendar turns to January

By thinking about exceptional customer experiences as a 365-days-a-year initiative, businesses can break free from the urge to offer an uneven holiday experience that can create customer confusion—or worse, frustration—throughout the rest of they year.

Looking for tips to build an exceptional customer experience that lasts all year? Download the Big Book of CX—full of strategies, tips, and steps to get started.

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