Be An Empowered Consumer!
Follow These 25 Tips for Service-Filled &
Stress-Free Holiday Shopping, Traveling & Dining


By Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, authors, “Customer Service For Dummies”, 2nd Edition

If you feel like you’re still recovering from last year’s holiday season — made memorable by incredibly Long lines at the cash register, last-minute shopping and midnight gift wrapping, hour-long delays when traveling to visit relatives and poor service at restaurants — you’re not alone. The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year because consumers travel, shop, and have family and business obligations all crunched into a two week, very intense period filled with lots of expectations. You can enjoy the holidays, experience less stress and get better customer service if you follow the advice of internationally renowned customer service consultants Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, founders of The International Association of Quality Service and authors of Customer Service For DummiesŪ. According to Leland and Bailey, “Getting good service is about a partnership between the consumer and the company. The consumer’s part in that partnership is to be well prepared, specific and empowered.” To be a more empowered consumer and help you plan for a service filled and stress free holiday season, Leland and Bailey offer these proven tips:

Stress-free shopping
1. Make a list of who you need to buy presents for and from which stores. Being organized will save you tons of time, money and stress just by knowing ahead of time who you want to buy gifts for and what you want to get them. Plan on spending a set amount of time on a given day at the stores on your list. If at all possible, go in the early morning or late afternoons and try to avoid shopping on the weekends from Thanksgiving on through Christmas.
2. Shop by mail or computer. Many catalog companies will wrap your gifts, include a personalized card and ship them directly to friends and business associates. This is a great way to get all your holiday shopping done without ever leaving your house.
3. Stock up on basic items before the season rush begins. This includes wrapping paper and ribbon, tape, cards and tags, even candles and candy. The selection will be better, and you’ll avoid having to fight the crowds and waiting in line for just a few “small things.”
4. Don’t feel pressured to make a purchase because others are waiting in line. Making a gift-buying decision under pressure invariably leads to poor choices and often a second trip to the store to return the item. If you can’t decide on an item, ask the salesperson to put it on hold for you for an hour and take a break, get a cup of coffee at a cafe in the mall, have a bite to eat or just window shop. If you still want the item, go back to the store and buy it with the confidence that you are making the right choice.
5. Shop at ‘children friendly’ stores. If you need to bring along young children, look for stores or malls that have a welcoming attitude towards children. Some malls at holiday time will even provide entertainment for children. Remember to bring a spouse or friend so one of you can shop while the other keeps an eye on the kids.
6. Call stores ahead of time if you’re going to need special assistance. During holidays, most stores bring in temporary workers who don’t know the ins and outs and may not be able to give you the special attention you’ll need. If you need the assistance of a knowledgeable sales person for a special purchase, make an appointment ahead of time by phone.
7. Don’t buy gifts at stores that don’t have a 100% refund or exchange policy. If you don’t know, ask before you spend time shopping there. It’s best to buy gifts that can be easily exchanged; make sure all warranties are in the box to avoid conflicts later. If they have an “all sales final” policy ask the store if they will do a “24 hour approval.” This way you can take the item and then return it if it does not work out. This is especially useful for household items, clothing and gifts you want to run by a spouse or friend for approval.
8. Check your merchandise and sales slip before leaving the store. In the busy holiday rush, it’s easy to end up with the wrong items in your bag or an incorrect charge. So check your purchases and sales slip before you leave the counter, this will prevent an unwanted return trip to the store. If one slips through, call the store upon returning home, often they can correct the charge by phone and send you an updated copy. Similarly, they will often send you the correct merchandise and allow you to return the wrong product by mail.
9. Save all receipts from holiday purchases in a 3x5 envelope. This way if you have to return or exchange something, you’ll have the receipt conveniently at hand and won’t waste valuable time and effort trying to find it. You will also avoid being in the uncomfortable position of trying to return a purchase post holiday while sheepishly explaining that you’ve lost the receipt.
10. Avoid a crowded sales counter. Certain departments in a large store are busier than others at holiday time. For example the men’s accessories may be crowded, while the ladies foundations department is empty. Take your purchases to the counter where there is the least activity. Most department stores will allow you to pay for your purchases at any open cash register.

Relaxed dining and entertaining
11. Make restaurant reservations three weeks in advance of the holidays. Let the restaurant know if you have any special requests at the time you make the reservation —t his will help them prepare in advance and increase your chances of getting what you want.
12. Prepare your grocery list for the “big” holiday meal before you go shopping. Divide the list by section and shop the store in that order. If there’s a special item you’ll need, call the store ahead of time to make sure it’s in stock and ask them to hold it for you. If it’s not in stock, ask them to special order it.
13. Purchase host/hostess gifts before the busy season starts. A bottle of wine, a box of candy, even a pair of holiday candles make lovely host/hostess gifts. Stock up on several so you aren’t rushing around before parties and dinners for last-minute, on-the-way-to-the-party gifts.
14. To avoid being late and losing your restaurant reservation, plan on arriving 15 minutes early. This allows for delays caused by holiday traffic, parking problems, etc. Be aware that most restaurants, especially at the holidays, will only hold a reservation 10-15 minutes past the time set. 15. Keep a few spare presents on hand. You can prevent embarrassing moments and wasted last minute trips to the store by purchasing and wrapping spare presents ahead of time. Some items that are simple, reasonably priced and always appreciated include: boxes of soap, books, compact disks and specialty food products.

Hassleless holiday travel
16. Guarantee your hotel room for late arrival with a credit card. This will prevent the hotel from canceling your room in case your flight’s delayed or you’re stuck in holiday traffic. Even so, as a backup plan, as soon as you know you are going to be late, call the front desk manager and get their personal assurance that your room will be there for you when you arrive.
17. If your flight is significantly delayed or canceled, don’t stand in line. Instead, use a nearby pay phone or cellular phone to call your travel agent or the airline. They’ll make travel arrangements for you by phone much faster than a harried gate agent with 200 other people in line with the same problem to solve.
18. “You can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” This old adage is true, especially when dealing with airlines and other travel professionals — and particularly during the holidays when everyone is stressed. Leland and Bailey have found that if you ask politely, service personnel will usually go out of their way to help you. And if your needs aren’t satisfied, you can always speak to a supervisor.
19. Check in for your flight at least an hour before departure. While the usual airline policy is to hold all reservations until 15 minutes before departure, don’t take any chances at holiday time. By arriving early you will have a better chance of getting the seats you want and ensuring that your luggage makes it to your destination on the same flight. And be sure to ship gifts ahead of time, don’t try to stuff them in the overhead compartments on a busy, full flight!

Universally good ideas for getting better service
20. Get the service provider on your side. Make direct eye contact with sales clerks as soon as possible, greet them with a pleasant “good morning” or “happy holidays” and use the word “please” within the first 30 seconds. Use “I” statements and avoid “you” statements so the service provider doesn’t get on the defensive. For instance, “I’m frustrated that I can’t get help” works better than “You are not being helpful.”
21. Be clear, concise and direct in your request. For example, if you need a holiday sweater special-ordered for Uncle Joe, be specific about when you need it, make sure the clerk who is helping you has the authority to do what you’re asking, and be specific about any details. You may even want to politely ask the person to repeat back to you the specific details just to check for accuracy.
22. Be understanding. Holidays are stressful for sales clerks, waiters and waitresses, and other service professionals you’ll encounter. You can diffuse a bad situation by saying, “I appreciate your help, and I know how busy you are at this time of the year.”
23. Always write down the name of whomever helps you. This way, if there’s a problem later on, you’ll be able to resolve it quicker when you can give the name of the specific person who provided you with the information or a promise.
24. Do business where you always do business. Give your holiday business to businesses you know and that know you. An established relationship formed throughout the year will almost always lead to better customer service at holiday times.
25. Use the knowledge of the sales person. If you need help in solving a problem ask the salesperson, “What would you recommend I do?” and then stay silent. By giving them a minute to think about it, they will often come up with a workable solution.

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