By Carolyne Gathuru
The festive season is here and with it comes a variety of activities, both giving and receiving in nature. Year after year, the creativity and innovation around the festive period escalates. Organisations and brands have shifted the festive season start date earlier and earlier with visible efforts observed from mid- November. Many customers are alerted of its incoming and ushered into the festive season by retail outlets stringing on festive décor over a month in advance, all in a bid to woo and impress customers. Indeed, year on year, the initiatives get more impressive with brands trying to outdo each other. Customers are exposed to many different campaigns designed to make them feel special, including goody bags and gifts, season’s greeting cards, festive season wishes on both traditional and emerging media, special discounts and offers, and all manner of entertainment from both secular and religious order.
Internal customers are also not left behind as the organisations they work for swing into implementation of their ‘end year’ events including staff parties, team building activities, strategy sessions, gift exchange forums and office decoration sessions. All these activities have one thing in common – that at the very origin, their intended objective is to delight the recipients and to have them endeared to the originator of the initiative. Indeed, everyone does look forward to it, the commercialization of the season witnessed in recent years notwithstanding.
Examining the strategic intent of the festive activities drive, would have at the very root, the desire by the participating organisations from across the economic divide – be they start ups, small to medium enterprises, or large corporates – to have customers feel appreciated and acknowledged. The intention is the same no matter which way it is packaged;and public sector which has since joined in the customer experience agenda, has not been left behind in the cause for customer delight. Thanksgiving messages indicating that the organization values the customers’ support all year long, and wishing them a happy festive season dominate this period. Whilst appreciating customers forms the backbone of every customer experience strategy, and the very understanding that human beings want recognition be it that they are accessing services or purchasing products, the festive season onslaught does tend to have an overwhelming effect. The overload of messages from every direction, and in all sorts of shapes, colours, sizes, expressions and applications, has customers give cursory attention to them. Whereas these are carefully thought through and crafted by organisations with the best of intentions at heart, the festive season mayhem is targeted at the very same audience by numerous players.
What compounds the issue as well is that very often, these initiatives that are released at the same time, are pretty much the same, with little frills and bells attached to differentiate one brand from the other, and all designed to create the same impact. Customers in this period get festive season messages in their inboxes, on text and other messaging platforms. They are also presented with goody bags and little gifts of candies and other relatively low cost goodies at retail outlets, provided with calendars and diaries of different varieties based on the gifting organisations budget, besides receiving festive season greetings from staff at the different places they visit. Many recipients end up giving away the gifts – especially when there’s a lineup of similar ones received – either internally to colleagues or to their relatives, totally beating the purpose for which the gifts were originally sent. This festivity ‘flood’ happens every year without fail, and discerning organizations need to think through what will differentiate them from the rest, what their customers really want, and what would have the customers think endearingly of them.
First and foremost should an organization decide to jump into the regular swing of festive season things, then the very least they need to do, is to do things differently. The production of calendars for example that is very popular and taken up by numerous organisations, needs to be a strategic discussion, with the creative team, tasked to figure out what would have their calendar radiate the most creative appeal, and make it to the table top or wall of the intended recipient without being given away. Same case for diaries and gift baskets. No matter how much affiliation the customer has for the sender, if the gift is not deemed worthy or attractive, then it will find itself in the hands of another person. From a marketing perspective, this may not be too detrimental an outcome given that the brand visibility will still be felt no matter who the recipient is. However, from the customer endearment perspective where a gift was intended for a particular person, then the objective will not have met its intention.
To make headway in this festive season space that is swamped by numerous players, there is need to start early. Not in the sense of starting the festive season matters early, but to start the journey towards customer appreciation earlier on. When customers know that the brand has made appreciating them a regular activity, then they are less likely to reject the festive season focus when it comes. Customers are becoming more and more discerning by the hour, and are no longer hoodwinked by seasonal gestures. They want more, they demand more, and they expect more. Appreciating customers no matter the channel of choice based on their demographic preference, ensures that customers remain connected to the brand, and continue to have a warm regard for it. Such customers will have the experience of being addressed all year round, and will be in a position to call out brands who only show up occasionally during the festive season to ‘show’ customers that they care. They as such will not be wooed by the festive season faddists that brands become at this time.
Sustaining customer experience excellence dictates that both internal and external customers feel appreciated throughout the year in scheduled bursts. Once brands get this right, they will be well on the way to customer experience excellence victory. Regardless of what tech solutions will emerge towards revolutionalising customer experience, or what creativity and innovation applied may emerge in expression, if the outcome does not have the customer feeling appreciated, then it will not stand the test of time. If brands show customers how much they care for them all year round, then they are less likely to dismiss or reject the festive season drive when it comes.
Developing a customer experience plan of action for customer delight that runs from the beginning to the end of the year, will call for thought and planning to incorporate variety and interest. The strategy around the customer communication and gifting process, will preempt getting caught up in the routine ordinariness of doing what everyone else is doing and has always been doing at the end of the year. When initiatives are part of the ‘masses’ then the customer views them as such, and it is only those that are a cut above the rest that will pass muster. This being the case, organisations need to really know their customers, what would appeal to them, what personalized messages may be included, and what would pique the customers’ interest. Customers do not want to feel like they are being ‘batch processed’ and to this end paying attention works. In as much as there is no gift that will be rejected for people love free things, it is what is done with it after and what thoughts linger later that make or break the success of the festive gifting initiative.
The competition to win customers’ attention during the festive season is very high. And as is the case with all competitions, it is the contestants who sharpen their swords and are quick to make contact that win the duel. There will be comparison of initiatives from different players in various industries, with customers recommending those that appeal. The competitive edge therefore, that organisations need to invest in, is winning the customer’s emotional engagement, which is a product of careful thought and design. Paying special attention to customers never fails.
The call of festive season innovation is loud and organisations need to heed it. They should dare to do things differently and to stand out from the overcrowded festivity space. This may even call for abstinence from participation if the brand deems that this would allow for running customer engagement campaigns at a different time when it is less ‘busy’. Whatever the strategy in place for the festive season, the message still remains – think about what the customers actually want and not what the organization wants. With that in place, then the festive season customer initiatives will resonate, and will be in tandem with the desired outcome of customer delight. The thinking caps need to be donned on and the customers need to have something new to talk about. Will brands be up to this challenge? Only customer feedback will tell.