In a few days the last quarter of 2012 will begin. Christmas and other holiday shopping often mean the difference between a good year and a bad one for many retail businesses. But it’s not just the retailers that prosper during this period. Suppliers and manufacturers, both here and abroad, gear up and cross their fingers that consumers will put financial fears on hold and loosen the purse strings. Is your business prepared to finish 2012 in a sprint; or will you be crawling to the finish line. Here are some tips to make your last quarter better.

Re-Think Your Customer Service

If you allow the customer to define the level of service you provide you are already handicapped in the sales process. Your advertising and marketing have to prepare the customer for what to expect and then meet that expectation. Didn’t McDonald’s train us to use a system that’s profitable for them? No table clothes, waiters, water glasses, etc. Pay before you get your food? Who does that?

Big Box Stores have great sales but rarely have a system set up where customers can get some assurance that they will get the product. The open the doors and there’s a stampede. That’s not a smart way to develop customer loyalty.

Re-Think Your Floor Plan

Traffic patterns that work during average sale days don’t always work when there is heavy holiday traffic. Is there room for customers to line up and check out without blocking new shoppers entering your store? Are there tight corners where “lookie loos” can stop traffic and add to shopper frustration?

Do your displays encourage “add on” sales? Clothing stores have suits, ties, dress shirts, belts, socks and shoes all in the same area. Can you place complementary items together to increase your average sale?

Re-Think Word-of-Mouth

Single shoppers usually spend less than shoppers who bring a friend. Does, “That looks so good on you. You should get that,” sound familiar? One of my favorite promotions is a, “Shop With a Buddy” coupon. Women traditionally shop with friends or family members. Put a printable coupon on your web site, and in your advertising, and encourage more traffic to your store. Bring in a buddy and you both save on your purchases.

Re-Think Your Polices and Procedures

Returns, exchanges and complaints are the downside of the holiday shopping season. Procedures that work when traffic is normal can frustrate shoppers who were hoping for a quick in and out. Can you reduce the time or eliminate any steps in your policies?

Talk to your employees. They deal with this on a regular basis and might have some suggestions you haven’t thought of. Can forms be shortened or eliminated? Is technology available from the industry to speed things up? The less hassle a customer has to endure the more positively they will speak about doing business with you.

Some Final Thoughts

McDonald’s is constantly looking for ways to speed up their food delivery process. Wouldn’t it make good sense for you to do the same? There is no question that shoppers are in a hurry during hectic shopping times. Are they laid back and relaxed the rest of the time? Not likely. Anything you can do to improve the customer experience will improve your business all year long. Take the next two weeks to really give your business a “cold, hard, look.” There is always room for improvement. Start working smarter; not harder. Make your last quarter your best quarter and find the best ways to build a stronger 2013.