How to get better service while Christmas shopping

A few simple tips can help you enjoy your holiday shopping.

A few simple tips can help you enjoy your holiday shopping.

The movies make Christmas shopping seem so delightful. Christmas carolers spread joy while everyone sings along and sips hot chocolate. Families cavort in their yuletide glee. Kris Kringle helpfully suggests that you can get better skates over at Gimbels. 

Reality is often a bit different.  

First, there are the crowds. As I noted in a post earlier this year, crowds are like kryptonite for customer service. There’s something about throngs of people that makes everyone a little less friendly. 

Crowds lead to lines, which sour our moods even more. I recently read an article in the New York Times that suggests people overestimate their time spent waiting in line by as much as 36 percent. Ugh.

There’s also the pressure to get the right gift at the right price right now. This pressure leaves us little time for hot chocolate-sipping, cavorting, or unscheduled trips over to Gimbels.

It’s a recipe for disaster, yet we do it every year. Will this year be any different?

Before you brave the masses, consider these tips that can help you actually enjoy your experience. 


Be the best customer

If Christmas shopping sucks, working retail during the holidays sucks a lot more. You may spend a couple of miserable hours at the mall dealing with rude shoppers who get in your way, but the people serving you spend all day dealing with the same folks. Then they get to stay late and clean up the mess, only to come back tomorrow and do it all over again. And again.

It’s natural for retail associates to feel a little downtrodden at this time of year.

Why not help spread some holiday cheer instead by being the best customer? This is the person who exercises just a little bit of patience. Who smiles and says, “Thank you.” Who sincerely wishes the people who serve them a happy holiday. 

This person is like a breath of fresh air to customer service employees. Employees will go out of their way to provide this person with better service, if for no other reason than to avoid all the miserable people competing for their attention. 

“I’ll be right with you, Ms. Crab. It will be just a moment, Mr. Grump. I’m helping another customer right now.” And that VIP customer will be you if you take a moment to spread some holiday cheer.


Don’t follow the crowd

Holiday shopping crowds are pretty predictable. Going shopping the day after Thanksgiving, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and Friday after work are all for crowd-loving masochists. 

You can get much better customer service if you avoid the hordes. Get to stores when they first open and associates are fresh. Order online whenever you can. Do your after work shopping earlier in the week.

Try to avoid the crowds when you do venture out. Plan to park in the back of the lot rather than slowly stalk pedestrians in hopes of getting that perfect front row parking space. You’ll get in a few extra steps, which conveniently cancels out all of those delicious holiday treats. Plus, you’ll be a lot less creepy. 

Choose neighborhoods that are a little less crowded. There are three Best Buy stores within 15 minutes of my house, but one of them is always a lot less crowded than the other two. I go there to get the same stuff with much better service and far fewer hassles.

Don’t eat at the mall. Yes, the Cheesecake Factory is delicious. It’s just not wait-for-two-hours delicious. Avoid the crowds and fuel up before hitting the stores. (Save room for a hot chocolate so you have something to sip while you enjoy the caroling.)


Be reasonable

There’s something about the pressures of holiday shopping that makes customers unreasonable. 

Unreasonableness only amplifies negative experiences. It causes people to search for a scapegoat for their self-inflicted problems. People begin to dwell on anger and blame rather than accept what is and move on.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my wife and parents in a busy restaurant in Los Angeles. The fact that they were going to be busy should have surprised no one. They were located near the epicenter of the LA Auto Show, a Clippers game, and the American Music Awards. 

Even so, the restaurant was a little unprepared for the onslaught and their service was slower than it should have been. Orders took a long time to come out of the kitchen. More than a few orders were wrong. We noticed the manager intervening with a lot of guest issues.

One diner decided to handle things by storming into the kitchen and yelling at the cooks, her server, and anyone else within earshot. The manager finally got her to return to her table, where she huffed for a few more minutes before she and her dining companion stood up and walked out. 

The epic injustice, as overheard by everyone in the restaurant, was that she had been waiting 45 minutes for her food to arrive. This doesn’t qualify as great service and can’t really be defended. However, her very un-pragmatic approach amplified the problem. The net result was she never got her meal and she likely had to wait quite a bit longer to eat since every other restaurant in the neighborhood was just as crowded.

My table experienced similar slowness and an undercooked entree to boot. We handled things a bit differently by calmly and politely raising the issue with our server and then the manager when he happened to stop by our table. They took the offending entrée off our bill plus an additional 10 percent for our trouble. We spent the extra time enjoying each other’s company rather than dwelling on the restaurant’s service problems. 

Well, we did laugh about the lady who stormed into the kitchen and yelled at everyone. How can you not be amused by that?


Happy Holidays

The holidays should about giving as much as they are about receiving. This principle should be extended to service and civility. Give the people who serve you and your fellow customers good cheer and you'll likely get quite a bit more in return.

If you’d like even more holiday shopping tips, you can read my posts from 2012, 2011, and 2010.

How to get better customer service this holiday season

Shopping during the holidays can be a fun and festive time, but we’ve all experienced our share of service failures too. Huge crowds and exhausted employees can conspire to make shopping miserable if we're not prepared.

That’s why I reached out to some of my favorite customer service experts to ask them, “What can customers do to get better service during the holidays?”

Here are their terrific tips:

While we're busy with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we forget that those individuals we're needing service from are at work...and it's stressful, even more during the busy holiday time. Take time to celebrate with them, wish them a happy holiday. Remembering that they're a human being too with their own holiday plans helps bring humanity and personality back into the employee/customer relationship.

- Flavio Martins. Flavio is on a mission to end bad service and writes about it on his blog, The Customer Service Manager.


Don’t Be a Jerk
The customer has almost as much to do with the success of the interaction as the worker does. Manners, energy, gratitude, patience, mutual respect, and common courtesy are all critical. Just be a good person. Please don't undermine your own service experience by being a jerk.

- Patrick Maguire. Patrick’s outstanding I’m Your Server, Not Your Servant blog discusses customer service issues from the perspective of service industry workers.


Dress Up
People still judge a book by its cover. Just because you can wear jeans down around your butt, a muffin top and crocs doesn't mean they'll respect you in the morning – or in the store. Those who spend a bit of time to dress for the occasion receive elevated service.

- Bob Phibbs. Bob writes an excellent blog on retail sales, Bob Phibbs Retail Sales Blog, and is the author of several books including The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business.


Retailers hire a significant number of part-time seasonal staff to meet the demands of the holiday shopping season. Many of these employees are working multiple jobs and/or going to school on top of having to prepare for the holidays. To receive better service during the bustling holiday season, heed the advice of the Greek philosopher, Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

- Steve Curtin. Steve’s customer service blog has a great collection of customer service stories that all illustrate important lessons.


Touch the Heart
If you don't get a great rep, do what I teach the best to do -- touch the heart. A simple question, "how are you surviving the crunch today?" breaks through their self-focused attitude to the heart of customer service.

- Kate Nasser. Kate’s Smart SenseAbilities(TM) blog addresses the explicit and subtle moves that make customer service consistently great. She is also featured in the DVD, Customer Service USA - The Regional Differences That Make a Difference.


Use Names
Most service providers feel more connected to you if you refer to them by name. If a provider's name isn’t volunteered, consider asking for it. Make this into a friendly exchange: ask in a sociable way, and also offer your name.

- Micah Solomon. Micah Solomon is a professional business keynote speaker and the bestselling author of two bestselling business books. His website is and his blog is College of the Customer,


Compliment Outstanding Service
Let them know that you believe that outstanding customer service is rare these days and that you really appreciated their efforts. And with leaving that associate on Cloud Nine, you have certainly guaranteed that the next customer will most certainly receive the same exceptional service.

- Bill Quiseng. Bill is the Resort Manager for Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club and writes about customer service on his blog, Deliver the World’s Best Customer Experience


Give Companies the Opportunity to Solve Problems
During the holiday season, companies are understaffed and employees are highly stressed. Mistakes will be made, and your holiday season will be that much easier if you allow companies a chance to make good when they drop the ball. Give companies a chance to fix problems before taking away your business or sending that angry tweet.

- Adam Toporek. Check out Adam’s Customers That Stick blog where you can also receive a free e-book called 7 Secret Customer Service Techniques Every Expert Knows!


Treat People the Way You and They Want to Be Treated
If you want better service practice two rules:

The Golden Rule – You grew up learning this one. Treat people the way you would want to be treated, which is with respect, dignity and patience.

The Platinum Rule – My friend Dr. Tony Alessandra came up with this one, and it is twist on the Golden Rule, which is to treat people the way they want to be treated. Show empathy.

- Shep Hyken. Shep is the best-selling author of the Amazement Revolution, and also writes a very insightful customer service blog.


Be Patient
Crowds, loud working conditions, too much food, too over committed, too many tasks pulling you in too many directions.  Then you have to go to work and smile, be patient and provide excellent service!  When you are a customer, be kind and empathize with your service provider - you know how they feel.  Be part of making someones day better, not worse.

Wendi Brick. Wendi's company, Customer Service Advantage, Inc., specializes in helping government agencies improve service. She is also the author of The Science of Service: Six Essential Elements for Creating a Culture of Service in the Public Sector


Do your homework. Be informed.
Educated customers make better customers. There are so many tools and resources at our fingertips to do price comparisons, find the best deals, read product reviews, locate products and get updates on availability, read about shipping policies and deadlines, and learn about return and exchange policies.

- Annette Gleneicki. Annette writes the CX Journey blog  and leads Southern California networking events for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA)


Send Checks
One approach that guarantees a headache-free customer service holiday season is to avoid customer service representatives altogether. Checks are never returned or exchanged. No customer service issues involved … unless it bounces. If you're prone to bouncing checks, try money orders.

- Write The Company. The Write the Company blog features witty customer service correspondence with real companies. Read between the lines and you’ll be reminded not to take yourself too seriously.

How to get better service this holiday season

Every year I compile a list of tips for getting better customer service during the holiday season. This year, I decided to ask for tips from some of the customer service authors and bloggers I admire most. Their wonderful suggestions form a list that is sure to result in outstanding customer service.

Treat employees with respect (Patrick Maguire)
Patrick Maguire’s terrific blog, I’m Your Server Not Your Servant, highlights customer service experiences from the employees’ point of view. He reminds us that getting better service starts with treating employees with respect.

We need to remember that human workers are not the same as self-checkout stations, and that workers should be treated with the same mutual respect that we would expect if we were doing their jobs. If you treat workers with common courtesy and make a sincere effort to have some fun and make a genuine connection with them, your chances of receiving excellent service will improve dramatically.


Be engaging (Steve Curtin)
Visit Steve Curtin’s customer service blog and you’ll see a picture of him holding a pineapple. Why a pineapple? The pineapple is a universal symbol of hospitality. (Seriously, who could get upset when there is a pineapple involved?) Naturally, he recommends being a more hospitable customer.

When a customer glances at an employee’s name tag and uses her name at the beginning of the interaction along with a smile and eye contact, it has a disarming effect that quickly breaks the ice. The customer may also ask, “How is your day?” or compliment the employee by saying, “You look like the one in charge...” Just as employees tend to reflect the dispositions of their supervisors (for better or worse), they can also reflect the dispositions of the customers they serve.


Be reasonable (Shep Hyken)
Shep Hyken, best-selling author of the Amazement Revolution, also writes a very insightful customer service blog. One of his suggestions is that a reasonable customer will almost always get better service.

Let’s start with a confrontational situation to illustrate the point. There is an old story that goes something like this:

A passenger approached the airline representative about his lost luggage. Obviously upset, he more than complained. He yelled and made derogatory remarks about the airline. The airline employee’s response was simple. “Sir, I can see you’re upset. Right now there are only two people who care about your lost luggage and you are starting to make one of them upset.”

The moral of the story is that as a customer, you can’t get what you want by being unreasonable. If there is a problem, a level headed approach with reasonable suggestions will always win over confrontational arguments.


Place your irritability on hold before complaining (Guy Winch)
Sometimes, we have customer service complaints that need to be resolved. Who better to give advice on complaint resolution than Guy Winch, a psychotherapist who literally wrote the book on how to complain the right way (check out The Squeaky Wheel)? Here are complaint tips from an article he wrote for Psychology Today on how to resolve Christmas shopping complaints.

Complaint in person: “We should arm ourselves with receipts, patience, civility, and authentic smiles.”

Complaint via toll-free hotline: “We should place our irritability on hold (even if we are placed there too), remain calm and present the facts simply.”

Complaint via Twitter:If you do tweet a complaint about a company, be fair, especially if you have oodles of followers. Remember, frustration fades but tweets are forever.


Don’t take yourself too seriously (Write the Company)
Write the Company’s blog features witty customer service correspondence with real companies. Read between the lines and you’ll realize that his tip is a great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.

Getting better customer service during the holidays requires a secret weapon. This should not be confused with producing a concealed weapon, which has also proven to be very effective in getting the full attention of service personnel. One secret weapon to consider is sympathy. Not for the service representative, for yourself. You'll be amazed by how much faster and more compassionately you'll be treated by simply taping a slightly soiled white gauze pad over an eye or applying fake blood under your nose with even more on a tissue. Holidays are a crazy time to be a customer, so go crazy!


Enjoy the holidays and good luck getting outstanding customer service this holiday season!

10 ways to get better service during the holidays

It's time again to share my annual list of ways you, the beleagured holiday shopper, can get better customer service this holiday season. Why should you be miserable while wading through crowds at the mall, firing off emails to track your online order, or waiting on hold for 20 minutes? These are the happy holidays, right?! I'm pretty sure the following aren't the only good ideas in the universe, so please leave a comment with your own suggestions for getting outstanding service.


Idea #1: Make the first move. Go out of your way to greet the people who serve you. Yeah, they are supposed to come to you since you are the customer, but why waste time being upset if they don't? You are more likely to get cheerful service if you initiate cheerful contact.

Idea #2: Use names. Calling someone by name is a great way to establish a personal connection. Service providers are more likely to give a little extra effort if they feel a bit of rapport.

Idea #3: Give positive feedback. If you've never worked retail during the holiday season, let me sum it up for you. Long hours, low pay, and pushy people. Ode to joy. Say "thank you" or compliment someone serving you and watch them get magically re-energized.

Idea #4: Plan ahead. We feel stress when we are pressed for time and stressful people tend to be difficult to serve. Give yourself a little extra time and you'll be less likely to get upset at the slightest service transgression.

Idea #5: Don't follow the crowd. Do your shopping on weekdays or in the morning when the crowds are smaller. Fewer shoppers generally equals more attentive service.

Idea #6: Enlist their help. The people who work there know all the secrets, so tell them what you are looking for and ask for their suggestions. People love to be experts, so you are likely to get a little extra help if you ask for their opinion.

Idea #7: Don't be THAT person. The teenager working their first job at Toys R Us DID NOT ruin your Christmas because the store was out of stock of that toy little Johnny just had to have. When I worked retail (in stores and in a call center) during the holidays, it was only human nature to try a little less when the Grinch or Mrs. Scrooge started screaming and fist pounding. If you need help, ask for it calmly and politely. And, if they don't have what you want, ask for options (see #6).

Idea #8: Focus on the solution you want. Problems can and do occur, but it's always best to focus on solutions. Getting upset or playing the blame game will make it less likely for your service provider to go above and beyond to help you out. Instead, propose a clear and reasonable solution.

Idea #9: Never lie or exaggerate. It's well known that customers tend to lie or exaggerate when they get upset so their anger can seem more justifiable. Try the opposite approach and be honest. I once booked a flight for the wrong day during the holidays and admitted my mistake to the Southwest employee. Lo and behold, he was able to waive some fees and find me a seat. (I'm quite sure that seat wouldn't have materialized if I blamed him for my error.)

Idea #10: Be merry! It's the holiday season, so be happy damn it! Spread some holiday cheer yourself and you'll like find others will return it.

So, what are your ideas for getting terrific service? Please leave your comments!