November 23, 2015

Imagine it's 6:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Do you know where your people are? Are your employees happily asleep dreaming about pumpkin pie leftovers, or are they steadying themselves for an onslaught of frantic shoppers? Are your customers nursing a turkey hangover over coffee with Mom, or are they angrily standing in the cold waiting for your doors to open?

REI made news this year with their declaration of #OptOutside, where they will remain closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Instead of selling kayaks and camping gear, they're encouraging customers, employees, and well, all of us, to get the hell outside and work off the turkey together.

Admittedly I didn’t grow up in a household that spent post-turkey day at the mall. And as an adult, I’m more apt to shop online instead of a store. So I may be a little biased about spending the day with family, rather than with hundreds of sale-frenzied strangers.

Closing for the holiday

While REI is standing somewhat solitary in their stance against Black Friday, many more retailers are closing their doors on Thanksgiving. The reasons vary—the holiday benefit for employees, the reduced pressure on customers, or the desire to preserve a brand's service-minded reputation.

GameStop is one retailer remaining closed on turkey day. “We believe strongly that our customers and associates should have the opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving holiday relaxing with family and friends, and not worrying with the stress of where to find the best shopping deals,” Mike Buskey, executive vice president and president of U.S. GameStop stores, said in a press release.

H&M took a similar stance this year, closing on Thanksgiving for the first time. “H&M would like to show our appreciation to our employees for their hard work year round, so in the tradition of Thanksgiving, H&M will close our U.S. stores on Thanksgiving Day, allowing our store teams to enjoy this time with their families and friends,” Daniel Kulle, president of H&M North America, said in a statement, as reported by the Huffington Post.

The purpose of employees

This isn't the first time there's been dialogue around 'putting the thanks back in Thanksgiving,' and shifting the focus from spend to family. In recent years, Walmart and Target have both been subject to boycotts and petitions urging them to stay closed on the holiday. But it’s refreshing to hear the talk generate more conversation about the welfare and happiness of employees.

Customer service professionals understand the mantra that 'happy employees create happy customers.' While that's true, research shows a more accurate statement might be, 'engaged employees create engaged customers.' According to Gallup, engagement means an employee works with passion and has a connection to their company. Actively disengaged employees, on the other hand, fight against all the progress and good work their coworkers accomplish. They literally act out their unhappiness.

Arguably all companies have the ability to provide the two primary dimensions that impact engagement: control (influence, respect, access) and purpose (mission, pride, accomplishment).

And what's one of the most powerful purposes that drives engagement? Customers.

Home for the holidays

It's not hard to figure out the correlation. Employees that feel appreciated by their employers are more likely to extend that appreciation to their customer base. They will be friendlier, calmer, and more concerned about the customer’s needs than their own. Instead of being bitter, they will be appreciative about the experience. It’s a relationship cycle worth investing in.

If you gift someone the holiday off, they are subsequently better equipped to provide their purpose: good customer service.

In Michael Silverstein's new book, Rocket, one of the eight rules for building enduring brands, he implores companies to follow high-performing retailers, like REI, and invest in training, compensation, benefits, and holiday time off. “Win the hearts and minds of employees,” he says. "Transform your employees into passionate disciples." Treat them with respect and they'll return the favor.

Of course, not everyone can be off on Thanksgiving. Take contact center agents, for example. Many of them will need to work on the holiday. So get creative and find ways to give agents control of their day while still fulfilling their customer service purpose. Laura Pappas from Zendesk encourages companies to think about extended self-service, live chat, and at-home agents to help lighten the customer service load. Let employees work from home and enjoy their breaks with family, instead of in the office cafeteria.

Black out Black Friday

From Black Friday, we roll into Small Business Saturday, which quickly becomes Cyber Monday. (I've oft wondered why Sunday lacks a shopping mania term.) The holiday shopping season seems to start earlier and extend longer every year. This alone is additive pressure to both customers and employees. Let's face it, retailers aren't killing their holiday revenue by closing for a day. So what’s the harm in blacking out Black Friday too?

Thanksgiving isn't about how much stuff you can buy; it's about how much time you can spend with your people. A day of rest, of stuffing, and pie. Enjoy the day. Enjoy the weekend.

Sarah Stealey Reed is the editor of Relate. When she's not wandering the world, she's a loud writer of customer experiences, contact centers, and optimistic relationships. Find her on Twitter: @stealeyreed.