Here are my stylish folks, Margaret and Bob Lester, prepare for the opening of our store in 1968.

Around the holidays, we're all laser-focused on retail service.  But let's not forget those other occasions on which we interact with our customers, like on the phone, in emails, etc. Being helpful and courteous to customers and clients is always important to the health of your enterprise. But now -- and I don't just mean the holidays -- it seems to carry an even higher value. Here's why.

Pleasant customer service

People are tired. It's been a long year, and the economic winter promises to continue for most of us. We want to feel good. Having someone be nice to you -- even when we all know they're being paid to -- makes a difference. Not just in the quality of our life that day, but in our decisions about where to spend our hard-earned and in many cases dwindling cash. If I have a choice between that store where people are surly or that one where they're cheerful and helpful, I know who's getting my business.

Helpful client interactions

People are rushed. Especially during the holidays, but aren't we all always trying to pack more into every day? Helping people solve their problems quickly and effectively is a high-value service. Yes, I know that even we, the sales clerks and service providers, are pressed for time. But if I'm too busy to spend time helping a customer, I have bigger problems than time management.

Lasting customer relationships

This is obvious to me, but it bears repeating anyway: Your enterprise depends on customers and their referrals. If you're nice and helpful, you're more likely to get more of both, whether you're selling corporate training (see our options here) or helping someone find the right gift for that hard-to-shop-for-sister-in-law (here's a cool idea), whether it's the winter holidays or the summer doldrums. That's why so many companies spend so much on customer relationship management initiatives and tools. But you don't have to invest in some fancy CRM dealie if you ask me.

3 free CRM strategies

Maybe it's my humble roots in the little gourmet grocery run by my folks, but I firmly believe  you can make a lot of headway with customers and prospects if you pay attention to small but important things like:

1. Tone of voice. I let the phone ring one extra time so I can take a breath and put a smile on my face before answering. One lady the other day noticed and said, "You always sound so cheerful."

2. Eye contact. If you're on the front desk or in a store, look up and acknowledge people who come in, even if you're on the phone or with another customer. So small. So important.

3. Facial expression. Have you ever seen your face during transactions or interactions? Many of us have a neutral or even unhappy/frustrated/angry expression on our faces and aren't even aware of it. I've learned to be conscious of what my face is saying as much as what my voice is saying. I've got a series of "pleasant faces" that I try to wear in meetings or line at the bank or a store. (This has been very valuable in the airport when things are going badly. I've gotten a lot of upgrades from gate and ticketing agents who appreciated that I wasn't telegraphing a pissy attitude).

So get into the spirit of the season and keep it going beyond the end of the yuletide. Your customers and clients will appreciate it, and so will your bottom line.

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Here are some more CRM/customer service tips and case studies.