In less than six weeks, this retail holiday season will be over. The season you and your brand leaders have strategized, forecasted, sweated over and meticulously orchestrated. No doubt, right now all hands are on deck as calls, orders and customers walk through your doors or enter your web portals. I wish you well. I hope you finish strong.
I just hope you don’t forget this one very important thing. The best gift you can give your customers. A long-lasting investment of sorts. Something that may not actually show up in this year’s financial report, but is certain to impact your brand in 2018 and beyond.
I hope you remember that the very best gift you can give to your customers this critical holiday season is mindfulness. Brand presence is indeed a present. A present that often gets overlooked in the hustle and bustle of credit card swiping, device-based transactional exchanges.
This is the gift of customer-focused attention, responsiveness, understanding and empathy. This is the gift of looking customers in the eye and connecting meaningfully (no rote scripts!) — “human to human” as the expression goes these days. This is the gift of an online experience that’s simple, efficient and honors your customers’ time and attention (no slow-loading graphics, hard-to-locate product info and promo codes). This is the gift of going the extra mile, the gift of listening and learning more about your customers’ needs; the gift of acknowledging that these customers (I like to call them brand friends!) came to do business with you vs. the plethora of other options out there; the gift of saying thank you very much, the gift of graciously inviting them back again.
Author, teacher and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn best defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose and in the present moment.” Brands that practice mindfulness in these holiday moments give their customers a true gift. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath write in their new book, The Power of Moments, moments “deepen ties.” This focused attention, this being WITH your customers in undistracted ways builds long-term engagement and brand trust.
Progressive companies know this. And they put strategies in place to make it happen. Bloomberg recently interviewed John Idol, CEO of Michael Kors, and he said, “when each customer leaves, we want them to feel like they were styled by Michael himself.” I thought that was lovely and an important and mindful point of differentiation from the company’s many designer competitors.
Michael Kors isn’t alone in concentrating on feelings. Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple, described the new Today at Apple experience this way on CNBC: “It’s about building a relationship. If we can look you in the eyes and create a life-long, loyal relationship — you trust us, you trust what we’re teaching you, it’s what we’re offering you to purchase — because we’re not selling you. It’s no different than fashion. Don’t you go back to someone who’s taken care of you and who you trust to make you a better version of yourself?”
As I counsel clients in my emotional brand development work, I ask them to add brand presence to their year-end evaluations. Get it on the table! Be honest! Or, even better, conduct a deeper and separate “brand presence audit” and review your customers’ experiences from this important-but-often-overlooked heart metric: How did you make your customers feel when they were with you?
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com’s founder and CEO, reminds us: “Your brand is what other people say about it when you’re not in the room.” This holiday season, I want to encourage you to pay attention to both what they’re saying and feeling. It’s not too late to put more heart into all you’re doing. It’s truly the best gift of all!