Rankin and Bass clearly didn’t know it at the time, but when they created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer several decades ago they weren’t just giving us an enduring holiday classic. They were also presenting several thought-provoking object lessons about the potential consequences of lax delivery practices – and the importance of employing good ones.
I’m thinking in particular about the scenes involving the Island of Misfit Toys, a group of problematic products that didn’t pass muster with the kids who received them. More specifically, I’m thinking about several products or characters that found themselves stranded on the island despite having few, if any, quality issues.
Here’s my take on three of the most notable missteps – along with several helpful hints for how you can avoid some of the “abominable” delivery concerns they represent.
Delaying Discussions about Product Dimensions
Much like the mint condition “dolly for Sue,” who earned her place among the group of rejects simply because she was an afterthought (animators added her at the last minute and then forgot to give her a flaw), there are many afterthought-related reasons why customers wind up refusing to accept delivery of their purchases. One of the most prevalent is a product’s size, especially if it’s a high-value, heavy item. With that in mind:
- Instruct your sales associates not to downplay customers’ dimensional concerns. If customers express reservations about whether an item will make it through the front door, or into a particular space, that should be an instant cue to recommend they take the time to make careful measurements. Never brush them off by saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it fit.”
- Be upfront and crystal clear about an item’s dimensions and required clearance space. The less often a customer has to guesstimate or eyeball an item to determine if it will fit, the less likely it is that a costly mismatch will occur.
- Provide customers with key delivery parameters at the time of purchase or very soon thereafter. At the very least, these parameters should include a purchased item’s dimensions and required clearance space. Ideally, they also should include a clearly worded request to measure other critical areas, such as doorways, hallways and freight elevators, which also need to be high enough or wide enough to accommodate the delivery.
Forgetting That Keeping Up Appearances Actually Matters
Just as the island’s official greeter, Charlie-In-The-Box, was rejected simply because he had an unconventional name, many customers will reject last-mile deliveries for superficial reasons, including the fact that a product or its packaging appears to be worn, torn, used or dirty. To help avoid this issue:
- Consider changing out any product packaging that’s less than perfect just before the delivery truck leaves your store or last-mile fulfillment center. If packaging looks like it’s been through the wringer, your customer will be more inclined to suspect that the product itself has experienced significant wear and tear – even if hasn’t. The cost of a new box or container is negligible compared to the expense of a return and redelivery.
- Dust off your pre-delivery cleaning strategy. To you, the dust or dirt you see on a product or its exterior packaging may seem like no big deal. To your customer, it’s a possible warning sign that the item he’s received may have been used or rejected by someone else – which is why he’s likely to insist that you come back with another one. Always take the time to make your customer’s purchase look like the high-quality new item it is.
- Bring in professionals to make cosmetic repairs to products prior to sending them out the door. Given the proper tools, time and training, furniture medics and other professionals can execute a wide variety of small but essential product touch-ups that correct surface flaws and restore items to pristine condition.
Ignoring Customers’ Concerns About Getting Products Up And Running
Finally, who can forget the fact that Rudolph was also considered a misfit and even wanted to move to the island himself – until Santa figured out how to make his glowing nose work to his advantage?
Misunderstandings like this happen quite often in the last-mile delivery business, especially with items like electronics or appliances. One of the most common reasons for returns is some variation of, “I couldn’t get the product to work after I got it.” This is usually not because the product doesn’t work; it’s because many products are just too complex for the average end-user to assemble, install or operate for the first time without help.
Your company can mitigate these complaints by:
- Offering product set-up and installation (where permissible by state law) as a delivery service option. Many customers are more than willing to pay for this value-added service, especially if they’re time-challenged or lack DIY skills.
- Having delivery service professionals provide short product familiarization sessions before they leave customers’ homes. It may not sound like this service would be a game-changer. But you’d be surprised what a difference even five to ten minutes of on-site delivery instruction can make.
Have a Holly Jolly Sales Season
As you can imagine, there’s far more to the misfit delivery story than these issues. For example, slow or late deliveries can easily sabotage a sale, as can the less-than-professional demeanor of the people you’ve entrusted with the final-mile segment of your supply chain.
But there’s also far more to the best practices side of the equation. From being diligent about pre-delivery communications to issuing customer surveys after every delivery, there are many ways to ensure your company’s last-mile deliveries are a source of pride instead of frustration, and a powerful competitive advantage instead of a pain in the neck.
The important thing is to take advantage of them. Even though our economy may be improving, every sale is still a precious commodity that you can’t afford to take for granted. So how you choose to handle the final mile could make or break your sale.
Will O’Shea is Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Last Mile for XPO Logistics