NF These tips will help retailers up their game and provide customer service that will generate holiday sales and repeat customers in the New Year. By Nancy Friedman

The holidays are fast approaching. Few times are more important for franchise owners. The holidays cannot only make your financial year a huge success, but it’s also a prime opportunity to gain new customers who will return year-round.

However, if your employees fail at customer service and are not helpful, knowledgeable, or unpleasant, you not only lose customers and lose future sales, but you also risk the chance of getting slammed on social media. So what can owners and managers do to encourage excellent customer service during the holiday season?

Here are five tips that will help up your game and provide customer service that will generate holiday sales and repeat customers in the New Year.

1. Start some sort of training now, before the holiday shoppers arrive. If you have some customer service training in place, review with your employees and those seasonal workers you are hiring for the holidays. If you don’t have a customer service plan in place, hire an experienced expert to spend a day training your staff. And if you have no time to train, remind your employees that “thank you for shopping with us”; or “we appreciate your business” or “have a wonderful holiday” go a long way, costs nothing and leaves a positive lasting impression.

2. Meet with your staff at the end of each day. Discuss what went wrong and what went right. Make sure any customer service concerns are addressed immediately and solutions are made so customers walk away satisfied.

3. Prepare your employees with a “mental” suit of armor. Make sure they are aware all customers won’t be so nice and some will be difficult. Your employees will be on the front lines of occasional customer abuse. Warn them in advance, and make sure that when those incidents happen that your employees will still treat the customer with politeness and respect. We all know the customer isn’t always right. But they remain the customer.

4. Your employees need to care. While knowledge of a product is important, it’s just as vital that your sales people show they care, and want to help the customer with a purchase. A friend of mine went into a restaurant only to find the hostess busy texting. She was more concerned with her phone than properly greeting the diner. Not good! Greet each customer as if they were bringing a million dollars of business to your store.

5. The most important customer service win: smile! Don’t let your employees greet shoppers without a smile. A smile leaves a positive, friendly first impression.

As the holidays quickly approach, in addition to hiring seasonal workers and planning for big sales, also remember that if you don’t provide excellent customer service and leave a pleasant experience with your customers, you’ll lose an opportunity to gain and retain valued customers forever.

Nancy Friedman is one of the country’s top customer service experts and president of St. Louis-based The Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc. Friedman helps businesses improve their consumer relations by training them to communicate better with their customers and co-workers.

Brian BaileyWhile cash may not always be the most-preferred payment option in all scenarios, it resiliently remains the most commonly used form of payment, and there are many instances where it is still exactly the way people want to pay. By Brian Bailey

Americans generally do not like being told what to do or how to think. And based on the results of the 2017 Health of Cash Study – a Cardtronics collaboration with independent research company Edelman Intelligence – they aren’t interested in being told how to pay, and will likely push back on retailers’ cashless experiments which eliminate freedom of payment choice.

While many consumers are indeed adding smartphone-driven digital pay options into their payments toolbox, cash continues to resonate with American consumers, who show little interest in being ‘all in’ with cashless, or having their choices limited in any way.

Cash’s Enduring Role in a Digital World

Contradicting an assumption that cash is fading away in the digital age, the Health of Cash Study reveals that not only do consumers continue to use cash, but in fact cash remains the most commonly used payment method by a comfortable margin, used by nine out of 10 consumers in the past six months, and by 80 percent on a monthly basis.

Indeed, the data is clear that cash usage is woven deeply into the fabric of Americans’ payment behavior. When asked “Which is your most preferred payment method?” consumers selected cash as their second most-preferred method, at 27 percent, just behind debit cards at 33 percent. Credit cards, digital and checks rounded out the list with 22 percent, 15 percent, and 3 percent, respectively.

And the most preferred way to pay for millennials? Cash, at 29 percent, followed in a close grouping by debit card (26 percent), digital (25 percent), then credit card (17 percent) and finally checks (3 percent). Yes; you read that right. Millennials’ most preferred way to pay is cash.

Why Cash Endures – Three Key Truths

The Health of Cash survey results suggest there are three key truths that guide consumers in their payment decisions. Despite the rise of digital payments, people don’t think cash is going away, and they aren’t longing for a cashless future because they value cash’s unique attributes against the backdrop of all three truths.

Truth One: American Consumers Embrace Freedom of Payment Choice

The idea that consumers want to be limited to cashless payments is not consistent with consumer behavior. Consider: 89 percent of people like having the ability to use a variety of payment methods; 90 percent of consumers use at least two payment methods a month; and 82 percent of people would miss cash if it went away altogether.

What’s more, and regardless of their personal payment preference, 61 percent of consumers admit they get upset when establishments don’t accept cash – and among millennials there’s an uptick to 68 percent.

Truth Two: Exchanging money should be convenient, safe/secure, easy to use & (at times) private

Consumers want their preferred payment method to be both convenient and easy to use, and they feel most payment methods deliver those attributes to varying degrees. However, when the choice of ‘how to pay’ hinges on safety and privacy, cash clearly separates from the payments pack - most notably on privacy (e.g. doesn’t track purchase behavior) – a benefit that cashless cannot deliver. Cash is identified as the safest (48 percent of survey respondents) and most private (60 percent) way to pay.

Truth Three: Payment options should empower financial well-being and inclusion

Concerning financial well-being, the Health of Cash Study finds consumers agree that cash is a great way to control spending and maintain a budget. In fact, consumers believe cash is the single-best payment method to help keep them from overspending. Cash was selected by 47 percent of consumers; debit was second place at 23 percent.

As payment types relate to societal inclusiveness, the Health of Cash Study findings paint a clear picture of a segment of society disadvantaged in a cashless America focused on digitizing all transactions and financial services. As reported by the FDIC, approximately 33.5 million U.S. households are either underbanked or unbanked, and largely disconnected from the traditional banking system.

Digital-only retail and payment environments often exclude these Americans, whereas cash is universal within our society. Having a smartphone is one thing; having a smartphone AND the banking relationship necessary to load a mobile wallet with a debit or credit card is quite another. When the Health of Cash survey asked for all payment methods, “Is everyone able to use this?” 94 percent responded positively to cash, compared to 67 percent for credit, 73 percent for debit and 66 percent for mobile wallets.

Let the People Decide

The 2017 Health of Cash Study continues to underscore the falsity of the cashless America narrative. While cash may not always be the most-preferred payment option in all scenarios, it resiliently remains the most commonly used form of payment, and there are many instances where it is still exactly what people want, and precisely the way they want to pay.

Indeed, there is compelling evidence that cash has formed a durable and enduring bond with American consumers.

Brian Bailey is Managing Director - North America for Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM owner / operator. A global financial services technology executive with domain expertise in the consumer transaction technology sector, Mr. Bailey has deep knowledge of retail financial services with a unique view of the changing consumer at the intersection of technology, regulation and omni-channel expectations. 

GronkballThrow your music – Gronkball leads the company’s top holiday gifts this season.

There’s music in the air at Brookstone this holiday gift season—literally. The innovative product developer and specialty retailer announced its lineup of top holiday gifts for 2017, and leading the list is Gronkball, a throwable, catchable (and droppable) football that also doubles as a Bluetooth® speaker.

Launched in partnership with Super Bowl-winning tight end for the New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski, Gronkball features color-changing light-up laces and stripes. Color combinations can be set to match most pro or college team colors. Gronkball retails for $79.99 at Brookstone stores and online at

“Fun, social audio products continue to trend upwards,” Brookstone CEO Steven Goldsmith said in a release. “Customers continue to want their headphones and speakers to do more than just play music. They want their audio to make a scene anywhere they go, with lights, extra volume, and surprising form factors.

“We’re also seeing continued growth in massage, and of course the new Star Wars Droids,” Goldsmith continues.

More Brookstone Top Holiday Gift Picks for 2017:

Cat Ear HeadphonesWireless Cat Ear Headphones with Removable Ears

The latest in Brookstone’s line of famous Wireless Cat Ear Headphones now has removable light-up ear speakers. The cat speak-ears can be swapped with available devil horns, bunny ears and bear ears. ($129.99)

Big Blue Party XBig Blue Party X™ Extra-Loud Wireless Speaker

Brookstone took its best-selling Bluetooth® speaker and made it 40 percent louder. Big Blue Party X™ is the perfect speaker to turn any gathering into a party. Cordless, rechargeable, water resistant, and has a big handle for grabbing and going. ($229.99)

Gronk MassagerCordless Gronk Shiatsu Massager with Heat

Brookstone’s most powerful, deep-kneading Shiatsu Massager—for serious muscle recovery. It’s good for soothing neck and shoulder muscles, back and lumbar, plus quads and calves. Launched in partnership with Rob Gronkowski. ($169.99)

Rock ReclineRock & Recline Shiatsu Massage Chair

Designed for people who want full-body, deep-kneading massage, but who don’t have the space for a full-size massage chair. Its beautiful, contemporary design looks good in any room (and from any angle), and has a relaxing rocking feature. ($899.00)

Energize 3DEnergize™ 3D Massage Chair

Brookstone brings luxury at-home massage to a new level with the Energize 3D™. It delivers personalized three-dimensional massage that follows every contour of your body. Zero-gravity recline and built-in Bluetooth® speakers. ($4,499.00)

400 Lumen Projector400-Lumen Virtual Touch Smart Projector

For presentations, the big game, or family movie night, this compact projector casts images up to 200 inches (diag.) with razor-sharp autofocus. Its “PIQS Draw” app lets you draw on any projected content—like .PPT presentations. ($499.99)

Zoom Bee DroneFlight Force™ Zoom Bee™ Drone

This palm-sized drone has a built-in camera for shooting videos and stills from any angle—including selfies. It can be flown using the included controller or via Wi-Fi® networking and the free app for iOS® or Android® devices. ($69.99)

Monoprice was founded in 2002 with one goal in mind: to sell premium products at an affordable price. Founder Seong Hong found success by eliminating layers of markup within the supply chain and selling products in a direct-to-consumer model via its website. Read more about the company here and see some of its new and notable products below.

Monoprice NN 1MP Select Mini 3D Printer

The World’s Best-Selling 3D Printer! This entry-level 3D printer comes fully assembled and ready to print out of the box in just ten minutes. Perfect for S.T.E.M. and bringing your ideas and designs to life. ($219.99)

Monoprice NN 2Select Series 3.1 USB-C to USB-C Gen 2 Cables

Connect USB Type-C phones, laptops and more with the Select Series USB 3.1 Gen 2 compatible cable. This USB-IF Certified cable can deliver up to 5 amps of charging power and has 10 Gbps data bandwidth. Lifetime warranty. ($8.99-9.99)

Monoprice NN 3Select Series Power Banks

Select Series Power Banks provide the power you need to keep your devices charged on the go. Available in 2,000 mAh to 27,200 mAh and 10,000 mAh USB-C. ($6.99-$34.99)

Monoprice NN 427” 4K UHD 3840x2160 IPS Ultra Slim Aluminum Monitor with Freesync Technology

Get stunning color and superior detail all backed by a Pixel Perfect Guarantee. With a maximum resolution of 4K@60Hz, it is perfect for increasing productivity, watching movies and gaming at UHD resolutions. ($399.99)


Monoprice NN 525 Watt Stereo Hybrid Tube Amplifier with Bluetooth

Hit the trifecta of sound, style, and convenience with this 25-Watt Stereo Hybrid Tube Amp! A statement piece for any setting that adds warmth and richness to digital music with the modern convenience of Bluetooth® connectivity. ($139.99)


Monoprice NN 6MP30 In-Ear Earphone with Two Tuning Nozzles

The Monoprice MP30 In-Ear Earphones deliver exceptional sonic fidelity and high-end appearance utilizing beryllium drivers enclosed in a natural wood housing. Tuning nozzles allow you to tailor the sound to your liking – go for accuracy or add a dash of extended bass response. ($29.99)

Monorpice NN 7SonicSolace Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

Take comfort in your sound. SonicSolace headphones are a perfect combination of great sound and ultimate comfort. Use on the go or at home. Available in Black or Champagne ($69.99)


Monoprice NN 8Emperor Tumblers

The Emperor Tumbler is the ideal drinking glass for people on the go. The durable double-walled, vacuum-sealed design helps keeps drinks icy cold or steaming hot for hours. Lifetime warranty. Available in 20 and 30 ounces. ($7.99-9.99)


Monorpice NN 9Multi-Channel Home Theater Power Amplifiers

The Monolith amplifier series are state-of-the-art, high-performance, audiophile-grade components. Rated at a full 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 300 watts per channel into 4 ohms, the Monolith amplifiers are capable of driving the most demanding home theater systems. Available in 2, 3, 5 and 7 channel. ($999.99-$1,499.99) 

Monoprice NN 10M1060 Planar Headphones

Spectacular imaging, low distortion, and perfectly balanced sound make the Monolith M1060 a true audiophile listening experience. Featuring a 28mm planar driver, these earphones produce a detailed aural landscape and will resolve all the sonic detail from the best recordings ($299.99)

See more new & notable products here. 

ThinkstockPhotos 655758080AI enabled personal assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, have expanded the reach of customer interactions from text to voice. These conversational interfaces give retailers a new way to connect with customers in a cost effective and meaningful way. By Michael Levine 

Retailers are constantly searching for new, more effective approaches to reach customers. It’s down this path that they will inevitably find their way to artificial intelligence (AI). This emerging technology can increase additional purchases, solve customer service issues with minimal frustrations, and instill customer loyalty.

Major retailers have already started incorporating conversational interfaces in their customer conversion repertoire by; creating bots such as Amazon Echo skills, incorporating predictive analytics based on geolocation, and automating customer touchpoints - conversational interfaces, give retailers a way to connect with customers in a cost effective and meaningful way – in the channel of their choice.

AI enabled personal assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, have expanded the reach of these interactions from text to voice. Voice activated experiences now open new logistical paths in the customer journey. How can these businesses effectively use these platforms to engage all possible customers? The answer is with conversational interfaces.

A Conversational interface is a means of connecting directly to customers via voice, text, or image. It is powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing, image and video processing, and audio analysis to extract contextual meaning and user intent. It then responds with a human-like intelligence. These data-driven machine-learning engines can interact with apps and humans in real-time.

There are three primary reasons why conversational interfaces are essential to any retailer’s success in this changing business environment:

Cognitive Digital Experiences

Devices such as the Amazon Echo have revolutionized how connected people are. Consumers now have direct access to AI in every room of their home, their mobile device, and even their cars. These invisible, conversational, and voice-based interfaces allow customers to interact with retailers in a more intuitive way, and bring new levels of convenience through voice control. Vocal interactions extend digital experiences to multiple activities beyond the web and mobile. Enabling quicker customer interactions than touch-based experiences.

Simplify Purchasing

One of the biggest barriers between a customer and a purchase is the complexity of the shopping experience. The more difficult it is to find the items a shopper wants the less likely they are to make it to checkout. AI powered Conversational interfaces, simplify the shopping experience. By remembering customer preferences through past conversations/interactions, analyzing purchase history, browsing data, customer profile, current location, and unique customer asks, AI can offer personalized product suggestions or even suggest appropriate impulse buys.

Instant Customer Service

Another pain point for customers which conversational interfaces address is customer service. For any customer, there are few things more frustrating than having an issue with an item purchased. For every second they are left listening to hold music, or given the wrong information, that frustration increases exponentially.

This is a huge risk for retailers, as it damages brand reputation and alienates customer loyalty. AI avoids this by responding within seconds to user queries. Bots can also display buttons for quick, personalized, relevant replies, and make it easier for people to communicate with a brand when they most need to – no matter what time or day.

As AI technologies continue to develop, the potential use of conversational interfaces for retailers will increase. How these businesses choose to adopt these tools will shape the future of the retail landscape. Conversational interfaces will serve as the most direct and impactful means to access existing and potential customers whether they are in-store, online, or even in bed.

Michael Levine is the vice president of products and marketing for Photon, the digital innovation agency of choice for 37 of the Fortune 100 companies. At Photon, Michael is working with some of the most cutting edge and emerging technology tools for advancing ecommerce efforts for some of the world’s largest businesses.

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