It may have escaped your notice, but it appears as though Christmas is coming. The eagle-eyed among us will have noticed Christmas displays being erected as early as August in some retail locations, but it is not until November that the commercial Christmas bandwagon really get’s rolling. By the time we reach the first week of December, it is impossible to avoid it. To most, it is the start of a wondrous few weeks of festive jollity and gift giving – although we must not forget the significance of the religious meaning that started it all – I sometimes wonder if it gets a little lost!
Many retailers talk about Q4 – or the fourth quarter of the year – as the ‘golden quarter’. Why? Well because it is a three-month trading period that is paved with gold – it is the time when retailers make the majority of their annual revenue and profit. Quite simply, without Christmas, retailers balance sheets would look far less healthy. To win in the golden quarter, companies ‘spend big’ to get us to transact with them. Much of the spending goes into marketing and advertising. Over the last few weeks, the Golding household has been playing a game called ‘guess the Christmas advert’. Have you played it? It is actually fabulous fun – and most of the time, we guessed right.
Advertising at Christmas has become so big, that many companies now have official ‘releases’ in much the same way that a Hollywood movie does. The biggest ‘release’ of all this year was John Lewis. One of the UKs most trusted brands, they have become renowned for producing emotional, sentimental TV commercials at this time of year. Not only do they make us feel warm and fuzzy, they often bring a tear to the eye. This year, the advert (in my opinion) is not quite up to their usual standard – it has a wonderful backing track (which is very memorable), but very little product on display. It has had plenty of people talking about it – and maybe that is the point. If you have not seen it, have a look for yourself.
The strap line to the advert is ‘give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget’. The advertising campaign has been reported as costing John Lewis £7 million. Wow. Show’s how important Christmas is to them. Will the advert make me any more or less likely to buy my gifts from them? It will not make one iota of difference. However, this blog post is not intended to debate the effectiveness of TV advertising campaigns. I am neither a marketer, nor qualified to discuss marketing strategy. So just what is the point I am making?
Having worked in retail for 7 years, it always struck me how focussed, efficient, and competitive the industry becomes at this time of year. It is as though all retailers insert new batteries into their strategies, thinking, energies and motivation. Conferences, meetings, brainstorms are abound – all trying to come up with wonderful ways of convincing customers to ‘shop with us’. Smiles and sentiments are ‘turned up’ and we all start being terribly nice to customers. Stores and workplaces are decorated and ‘lit up’. Fabulous offers are created to provide ‘better value’. Operational performance is enhanced – opening hours are extended, delivery times are improved. Retailers compete with each other to see who can have the latest ‘cut off’ for delivery before Christmas day itself. Quite frankly, it is a time of the year completely unlike any other.
So here is my question – why should we as customers be treated better at Christmas than any other time of the year? I can hear some of you thinking – ‘get real’ Ian! If the majority of your revenue comes at Christmas, of course companies are going to focus their effort in the ways described. I do not disagree. What I do take umbrage at is the fact that we, the consumer, are not just customers at Christmas, although it often feels as though that is the way we are treated. We are, and have the potential to be customers every single day of the year. Whilst Christmas is a special day – it is not the only one. Birthdays occur every single day of the year. Anniversaries occur every single day of the year. In the UK, we live in a multi cultural society with many religious festivals throughout the calendar year where gift giving is important.
So why can I not have a special, ‘super duper’ late cut off delivery in June? Why can I not receive a super watt smile from a member of staff when I buy a birthday present for my daughter in May? Why can I not walk into a beautifully decorated, brightly lit store in February? To me, a consumer who just happens to work in the field of Customer Experience, I believe that we should be treated the same in February as we are in December. The customer experience is a 365 day a year phenomenon. Every time we transact with an organisation we want and need the experience to meet our expectation. It is not enough to ‘just do it well at Christmas’. In fact, it could be argued that just focusing in Christmas can be fatal for a retailer – the demise of Woolworths is an example.
Christmas is a special time in many countries – there is no doubt about that. What that means is that there is a greater volume of customers whose expectations must be met. If the present is not available or does not turn up on time, the effect is amplified. But that is no different to a birthday present, or a christening gift, or a present ordered for your son graduating from university. Whilst other times of the year may see hugely lower volumes of purchases (relative to Christmas), it does not mean that the service and experience offered should be worse.
So my challenge to all organisations is this. As you take your decorations down on boxing day and re-stock the shelves with Easter eggs, think about what you can do to maintain the smiles, and motivation, and energy that went in to Christmas. What can you do to ensure that the experience your customers receive ‘feels like Christmas’ every day – rather than for just a few weeks at the end of the year. Remind your people that ‘customer experience is for life, not just Christmas’. Someone once said that they ‘wished it was Christmas every day’ – why can’t we make it feel that way for our customer experience?
Have a wonderful and successful Christmas everyone.