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Thirty-six percent (36%) of Americans will begin their December holiday shopping before the month of November this year; 19% plan to have it completed by November 1. That’s according to a new 2016 Holiday Shopping Season survey for BestBlackFriday.com.

If you think more retailers are hanging their stockings by checkout counter with care earlier and earlier each year, you’re probably right. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for sales. And the recently-released National Retail Federation (NRF) 2016 Holiday Sales Forecast expects retail sales during the months of November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) to rise 3.6% this year to $655.8 billion – an increase over the past 10-year average of 2.5%.

Online Sales are Increasing

The NRF forecasts online holiday sales to also increase between seven and 10% over last year to as much as $117 billion of the $656 billion total.

And with more sales comes more seasonal employees who will need to learn to represent their brand and its customer experience in a matter of days or weeks. Retailers are expected to hire 640,000 to 690,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, matching last year’s 675,300 new hire total.

Keeping Up with the Holiday Rush

How can more retailers keep up with, and even improve the customer experience during the holiday rush (or any time of the year)? Here are three top tips: 

  1. Stock up on good answers. Make sure your brand’s knowledgebase content is current, searchable, well organized and plentiful, to include not only the answers to frequently-asked customer service questions, but product and service information, as well. 

    Put the answers to the most-asked questions front and center on your brand’s website or support portal. Ensure content is indexed for the search engines. Share or feed your knowledgebase content across multiple online channels, including social media, to proactively increase customer satisfaction and call and email deflection. 

    But most importantly, make sure all of your employees, especially customer service agents, have access to the same or more answers and information – especially those holiday season new hires.

  2. Make it easier for shoppers holding the phone. The mobile experience is key for holiday consumers, whether they’re shopping from home or in the store searching for specials.

    Last year, 50% of shopping visits and 28% of online sales were driven by a mobile device according to Adobe Digital Insights. Retailers should invest in a mobile experience that is as effortless as possible, but also consistent with the in-store experience. Satisfying mobile experiences not only amplify brand awareness, but help make the sale by making price comparisons, daily special location, scanning bar codes or researching product features easy. 

  3. Improve the omnichannel customer experience. This is the step where improvement and success equals a brand and customer experience differentiator.

    According to Retail Systems Research, due to siloed departments and siloed technologies, many retailers still struggle with having a real-time view of their customer – and providing a consistent and personalized experience to them as they move between and across channels, departments, and through their individual customer journeys.

    In the recent Retail Systems Research survey, 77% of retailer respondents said legacy technology was what was holding them back from providing a consistent customer experience across channels.

For retailers who can move ahead in this area by integrating more of their departments and technology, as well as using data and intelligence to improve and personalize the customer experience, this could be a holiday (and year-round) game changer.

The holiday shopping forecasts are in. The season looks bright. Will your brand be on consumers’ naughty or nice list this year? It all depends on your customer experience.

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To read Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's blog on digital transformation and reinventing business processes, click here.

To get a first look at Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s next generation of Intelligent business applications which brings together CRM and ERP, click here.