By Bill Brunelle

For small businesses, and particularly retailers, the months of November and December can feel more like a blur than a holiday. New and familiar faces appear in the store — some desperate to find the most sought-after holiday gift, others looking for something unique. As good as the holiday-shopping foot traffic is for your bottom line, it’s important not to lose sight of valuable opportunities to build and maintain customer relations during the holiday season.

By and large, small businesses are known for their customer relations. Compared with big-box retailers and national chains, small establishments share a more personal relationship with their community, allowing them to make decisions on a local level that benefit their customers. What’s more, consumers have reportedly come to expect that kind of personal relationship with their local small businesses.

According to American Express, 63 percent of consumers who are willing to pay slightly more at a small business than at a big-box or chain business expect top-notch customer service from the small business. For context, nearly 80 percent of consumers have said that they are indeed willing to pay more at a small business.

Whether your prices are slightly higher than your big-box competitors, the same or even lower, customer relations should be in focus this time of year. Clearly, consumers are willing to base their purchasing decisions on more than price, which means small businesses have an opportunity to play to their strengths. To foster strong customer relations during the busy holiday season, focus on service and two-way communication.

Celebrate Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is November 25. On that day, millions of consumers across the country will make purchases at their local small businesses. To raise awareness for the shop small movement and identify your business as a participant, plan to celebrate the day with recognizable marketing materials and a promotion or two. Customers who discover your business on Small Business Saturday may become your new regulars.

Leverage Social Media

On social media, the holidays are an opportunity to humanize your business. Rather than promoting products and sales, devote some social media attention to showing off your store’s holiday traditions. Will you participate in a downtown parade? Will you host a potluck for employees? Share your holiday stories to give followers something to remember about your business and encourage followers to share their own stories so you can get to know your audience better.

Encourage Reviews

Research shows 97 percent of consumers say customer reviews factor into their buying decisions, and 92 percent of consumers will hesitate to purchase a product or service that has no customer reviews online. During the gift-giving season, shoppers may search for different products or businesses than they would otherwise need. As a result, it’s perhaps even more likely that consumers near your business will look for customer reviews online before coming into the store. Encourage those who do come in to leave your business a review on sites like Facebook, Yelp or TripAdvisor. The reviews you generate now will remain online for future seasons.

Keep It Local

During the holiday season, communities across the country hold all kinds of festive events, from tree lighting ceremonies and parades to toy drives and charity fundraisers. Participating in these events gives your business another opportunity to interact with consumers. Plus, your business’s presence will help to make these events more dynamic, which ultimately supports the local community and economy.

Prioritize Customer Service

This tip should go without saying. Generally speaking, small businesses do customer service well because they are passionate about their work and can make decisions locally. The holidays are the perfect time to show off those advantages. Busy, on-the-go customers will appreciate your in-store gift-wrapping service, your flexible return policy and your employees’ expertise.

Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them.

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