It's the weekend before Thanksgiving and manic holiday sales have already started. There is an old joke in the CX professional community that once you 'see' your business's customer journey, you suddenly can't stop seeing them everywhere. "I see journey maps" (Sixth Sense voice over here.)

This phenomenon happened to me on Sunday when I was shopping at one of my favorite high-end/well-known cooking supply stores. They were offering some spectacular "Pre-Black Friday" discounts that, I have to be honest, sucked me in. I've been a fan of this international brand for over a decade, and out of loyalty- with a focus on learning, I won't mention them by name.

As I entered their store, I saw they had special pricing for some items (20%) and different discounts for other items (10%) with all other items being the regular retail price. Except- they had the exclusive shopping tote, that if used- the entire purchase was discounted an additional 5%.  I loaded up 15 items into my tote satisfied with the good news of this unique 'pre-black Friday' savings.

The bad news came when the complexity of this discounted offer was met with the reality of checkout. First, the clerk sorted each item into the appropriate 20%, 10%, non-discounts piles, working on a small work surface designed only to scan and bag, not sort. Then she had to manually keystroke a 14-character discount code, for each item on sale. Each time the discount code was entered, the register would show the appropriate discount, luckily only two needed to be re-keyed.

As my checkout experience extended past minute 10, I realized that the store had inserted a third cash register at the checkout counter in an attempt to 'speed things up.' However, since each cashier had to sort and manual keystroke every discount, it only slowed things down further, as each clerk was fighting for precious space to balance their different discount piles.  I was one of twelve folks in line, and it's not even Black Friday yet.

Finally, because their store isn't designed to handle long queue lines, the long queue had nowhere to go- so each customer seeking to be checked out didn't know where to stand to keep their spot in line, while not being in the way of other shoppers.

One of my favorites brands delivered a pretty awful experience, and the poor check out agent, who was clearly flustered and just as frustrated as me, made sure to invite me back to their AMAZING black Friday sale, later this week when the store would open at 4:00 am. I could not imagine anything more terrible than waking up early, just to have a brand I love, do this to themselves and me.

So what can we learn from all of this? A little over six years ago two of my all-time CX Hero's; Jeanne Bliss and Bruce Temkin co-founded a new group called the Customer Experience Professional Association or CXPA. At the time I was heading up Yahoo's CX global programs and was one of the initial founding members.  Since then, they have grown to an international 4,000+ strong  association with members located in over +70 countries.  When tasked with understanding and improving a company's CX can be lonely work; however, no person is ever really alone in the world of CX if you're a member of CXPA.

Recently, my fellow CXPA International Advisory Board members were discussing the upcoming holidays and the insanity that is sure to ensure with door buster sales and big deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is a time when returning customers are coming back for their holiday shopping because they trust specific brands, and a time when new customers are emerging, willing to try new things if the price, and experience, are right. Balancing the one-time offer (open at 4:00 am + 50% off) vs. your daily/typical customer experience can have unintended impacts to your brand - just imagine how loyal customers of Tiffany's would react to a midnight door-buster sale of 75% off.  So we at CXPA decided to come up with a simple guidebook for any business looking to prepare and better itself for the coming holidays.

We broke the guide into five key considerations, each representing an area that needs to be addressed before Black Friday hits. They are, Technology, Process, People, Brand Consistency, and Environment. If the big five had been used at my favorite kitchen supply store this past weekend, I might have started this month's blog differently.

Technology can be one of your most substantial assets or one of your most significant CX hidden risks.  With Black Friday has grown into a whole week of shopping, including Small-Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, the technology side of a company is more important than ever. There are a few ways in which the kitchen store could have used technology to their advantage. From an online perspective, they could have presented their in-store deals, online, notifying customers through an email, thus avoiding the long queue in stores. Creating new discount SKU codes that are scan-able, vs. manual, individual discount codes is a must have and would have saved the sorting and keystroke hassle for the cashier.

Of course, for a store to truly run smoothly, all of this preparation needs to be a part of their daily Process as well. I've talked about CX process training all of your employees, be they full time, part time, seasonal, or managers, all on the same page. This can be tricky over the holidays when there is a surge of new hires, but if a company makes their brand promises a significant part of the training process, they should have nothing to worry about. The individuals who created the discounts and sales for Black Friday in the kitchen store did not think about the process when they evoked it. If they had, it would have been more streamlined and more comfortable for the employees to execute. I felt awful for the cashier who tried to keep a cheery attitude - Real cheery beats fake cheery everytime which is why a  good process is good for sales, as well as employees and customers.

That is also where Brand Consistency is essential. On Black Friday and the following shopping days, many stores will have 4 am doorbuster deals! They will slash prices for 50%, 70% off the regular prices. This has the potential to draw in a lot of new customers who are willing to try something for the right price. Brand consistency is how a company creates lifelong customers. When these deals have ended, and the shopping experience returns to normal, those people who bought your product or service will be looking to see how you incorporate those same sales techniques into the rest of the year. The first time I shopped at the kitchen store, it was because of brand recognition. Then I fell in love with the products. They have been consistent in their quality of service and products for as long as I have been shopping there, until now. Trying out new deals in important for companies this time of year because new ideas have the potential to be great. Recognizing which ideas are good vs. disruptive to your core brand loyalty drivers is vital.

Of course, a part of the reason this sale did not feel consistent with their brand was sales Environment the store had created. Adding the third register and not providing space for the queue to grow were bad environmental planning choices their big Black Friday deals. I am a huge supporter of portable, tablet/smartphone based check out tools for each sales associates, so the need for queueing disappears. Simply making space for this sale to take place could have bettered my experience with one of my longtime favorite stores.

These are only a few examples of the big five guidelines that CXPA has incorporated into their preparations for Black Friday week guidebook. If you’re interested in the full guide please click here. Also check back here to attend a CXPA round-table discussion on Dec 4th after Cyber Monday to see how other companies did or did not use the big 5 to make holiday shopping more enjoyable for all of us.