By Johanne Bouchard
Explore Big Sky Business Columnist

Businesses are approaching an exciting and stressful time of the year as the lucrative holiday season approaches at breakneck speed. Many companies are scrambling to meet or beat revenue targets, managing end-of-year orders and juggling staff. Meanwhile, the ski slopes are calling, and as much as we yearn for fresh powder, there is more work to be done.

In addition to vacationers, Big Sky’s second-home residents are starting to arrive with sales opportunities in retail, hospitality and beyond. For most local businesses, this influx of consumers can translate to sales spikes that could be greater with extra staffing to cover the busy period, or by being as streamlined and disciplined as possible.

Here are a few recommendations to maximize the holiday sales season:

Reflect on your customers’ needs: Will you lose the sale if the phone isn’t answered promptly, or if it goes to voicemail? If you’re providing a service – from real estate to plumbing, and everything in between – customers want to reach someone who can at least take down their name and phone number and promise a prompt call back. If you hire someone to log calls and relay messages, be clear on how you want them to answer the phone, take messages, respond, and make sure they’re friendly and professional. Don’t lose a customer through lack of communication – text messages only go so far. If you’re going to be late or if the project will be delayed, let clients know.

Make the environment inviting: Your business may get packed with customers, so make sure it’s still inviting to your patrons. Consider making your temporary staff responsible for your customers’ environment. Sidewalks should be clear of snow, the floor should be dry, and bathrooms should be clean and stocked.

Be friendly: Take an interest in your customers. Introduce yourself, find out where they’re from, and help them obtain their goals while they’re in the area.

Offer service with a smile: Remind your staff that there is a direct relationship between customers and paychecks, and that we should be grateful for each sale. Encourage staff to smile at customers as they complete transactions or finish work, or to shake hands after they explain the work performed. Be friendly with sincere verbal send-offs, like “Happy holidays” or “Come back soon.” Keep your business cards in full supply next to the till.

Count out change: Tell your staff that counting change is mandatory – not just to avoid mistakes, but to speed up time spent at the till. I’m amazed when I pay with cash how often the change is just handed to me instead of counted back. If your teller counts out the change due, customers won’t do it themselves, speeding up transactions.

Say more than “Back Soon”: If you need to leave your business unattended, don’t leave a sign that says “Back Soon.” Let your customers know specifically when to expect you.

Get in the spirit: Consider celebrating the season by outfitting your staff with Santa and elf caps or blinking antlers to bring a bit of holiday fun into your business. Think about offering complimentary sugar cookies and coffee to your early morning visitors as a little something extra.

Having your team on their “A” game over the holiday season is one way to ensure your customers get great service that keeps them coming back time and again, year after year.

Johanne Bouchard is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. An avid skier, Bouchard and her husband have a second home in Big Sky. Visit her blog at johannebouchard.com