How Does Your Company Handle Customer Returns?

What processes and procedures do you have in place to both handle the items themselves, and credit the customer?

For the last year we have looked primarily at sales and pre sales material and item handling, but recent research from Amazon suggests that the perception of a companies returns process is driving an increasing number of customers buying decisions.
In Amazon’s case of course there is an open and transparent consumer rating system that the site actively encourages all consumers to get involved with. As a consumer myself I can guarantee that within 48 hours of anything arriving from a large on-line outlet, I will get a polite e-mail asking me for my opinion of the product an, importantly, the service.
Interestingly, in 2012, this process for Amazon at least changed quite subtly. They made it possible for consumers to re-visit previous reviews and add information regarding their long term experience with a product. Frequently this is used to describe any after sales service that might be required, and, as you might expect would be the way with human nature, it is most often used when their is an issue that needs addressing.
Here is where open criticism of the after sales service received finds its voice, and, this is where, particularly for high ticket price items, this is where new potential customers head first. What they find here informs the buying decision to an ever greater degree. Seeing a bad experience with customer returns from previous buyers is now seen as a major turn off. Almost as high a factor in the buying decision as price and higher even than availability.

In other words, if the returns policy is reviewed as bad, it is one of the very few factors that will lead customers to move to another supplier, even if they are currently out of stock in preference to your own in stock alternative. If that’s not a scary thought, it should be.

There are some great examples of third party sellers using the occasional problem to highlight a caring and reactive customer service response team. As long as the number of issues is low this, of course, can be an effective way of turning a potentially difficult situation into a positive.
On the other hand, their are a surprising number of brand name companies, who prudence (and the threat of litigation) prevents me from naming openly here that have review numbers in 4 figures, a below average score, and little or no customer service presence visible at all.

Perhaps the biggest bug bear according to Amazon’s own research, is the returns cycle for any goods. It seems it might be better to top load the initial cost of an item to reflect the overall cost of servicing returns, then offer a postage paid, quick turn around – than take the route of having a lower initial price then charging a premium for postage and packaging costs and perhaps offering a slower service.

The telling fact here? Of the 24 suppliers contacted directly by Amazon and queries about their sub par on-line presence. Only 7 of them seemed aware they had any problem at all, with the sales director of one multi million pound company whose on-line sales account for almost 305 of their overall sales, was unaware that their products were even available online.

What challenges does your company face when things go wrong with a customer? How do you deal with repairs and returns? How might new media be affecting your potential customers view of your product range and after sales service?

Author: Miss Inventory

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