For retail businesses, many of  the people who shop with you this holiday season will interact with your contact center. For some customers, it may be their first purchase or interaction with your brand. So, the contact center customer experience (CX) you offer these seasonal buyers now will determine whether they become loyal fans who make additional purchases throughout the year—or are just another holiday memory.

When it comes to loyalty-winning CX, your contact center plays a critical role in delivering the type of service people expect—through the channel they want, when they want it. Ensuring your communication channels are coordinated and responsive during the holiday rush will reverberate for months to come.

Consider the Impact of Good (and Bad) CX

According to a study by Vanson Bourne surveying 3,000 consumers in the U.S. and the U.K., 73% of respondents would purchase from a company again if they had a good experience, and 43% would buy more. On the other hand, poor service will push people away. Sixty-two percent of the survey respondents would not purchase again after a bad experience, and 55% would purchase from a competitor. Since it costs many times more to capture a new customer than to keep an existing one, substandard service will drive costs up and revenue down.

But the influence of good and bad CX echoes beyond a single customer. About half the people who have a bad experience will advise family and friends to not do business with a particular company, according to Vanson Bourne’s research, while 70% of people who receive good service will recommend the business to family and friends. And roughly a quarter of people will put their experience, good or bad, on social media. These personal and social reviews have become increasingly important as 90% of people believe what friends and family tell them about a company, and 70% believe online consumer reviews.

Both word-of-mouth and online validation lead consumers to make purchase decisions. The contact center, as an essential element of CX, is in a position to drive customer satisfaction in the holiday season and throughout the year by creating positive, memorable experiences.

Help Agents Handle Calls Quickly and Knowledgeably

The Vanson Bourne research found 79% of people had a bad experience if agents were rude or unhelpful. Other top reasons for poor service were uncaring staff (73%) and lack of knowledge (64%).

If agents are struggling with unintuitive and inflexible business systems that make it hard to find answers or distract them from paying attention to callers, they’ll seem rude and unknowledgeable to callers, regardless of how experienced they are.

Agents need integrated data and one single view that gives them full access to the customer journey, past transactions and interactions, and business workflows. With a unified approach to their contact center applications, they can pay more attention to the customer, quickly understand what’s needed and resolve the problem. As a result, customers feel they’re dealing with people who are helpful, caring and knowledgeable, and they’ll tell their friends.

Make It Easy to Reach a Person

Vanson Bourne found that 61% of people surveyed were frustrated they couldn’t talk to a real person when they needed to transfer out of companies’ self-service solutions, and 59% were disgruntled by how long they had to wait to reach a person. While more and more people are willing to self-serve as much as possible, there are times when they need to talk to a human.

In these situations, find ways to connect customers quickly without overloading the contact center. For example, offer live connections through chat or text, which agents can often handle more efficiently than phone calls. Employ a contact center solution that includes coordinated messaging through social media personal messaging, text, chat and email. Encourage people to use these channels for complaints or problems by placing links on mobile and web apps where people might need support. If someone is making an order on the website, you can offer a live chat window in case they need help. With an integrated data system, the agent can see what shoppers were trying to accomplish—regardless of the channel—and help them finish the order quickly.

By removing impediments to reaching a live person when needed, you can turn unhappy shoppers into loyal ones who will likely make additional purchases and recruit family and friends to do the same.

Respond to Customer Inquiries (Quickly)

According to the the Vanson Bourne study, 55% of those surveyed identified not responding to customer communications as an element of poor service. People want to use their favorite channel (e.g., email, text, social messaging, etc.) to reach you. It is important to track how quickly each contact is answered, and associate the message with the customer history, so agents can handle them knowledgeably and efficiently. Responding to people over their preferred digital channels lowers customer effort and increases satisfaction.

 Understand Your CX Strengths and Weaknesses

 As you deploy systems to improve CX, track the progress with metrics that reflect how customers feel about your brand. Look at net promoter scores, customer effort scores and satisfaction surveys. Implement a performance management system that will combine contact center metrics like first call resolution, wait times and dropped calls into a full picture of your CX and highlight areas for improvement. Tracking the right combination of metrics ensures that as you work hard and move the needle, customers feel the improvements.

Think Long-term, Not Seasonally

When the holidays are in full effect, it’s hard to think and plan for the upcoming year. But seasonal CX, good and bad, will impact business well beyond the next two months. As you work now to prepare for the rush, be mindful of the long-term focus. Look for solutions that will help you continue to improve CX all year. When the holidays roll around again, you’ll know how to convert more seasonal shopping into future profits.

To learn more about the Vanson Bourne research, as well as how a cloud-based contact center solution can help improve your CX and lower costs during the holidays and all year long, check out Contact Centers: The Moment of Truth for Your Brand.