Step Up Your Returns Experience

With the big holiday sales behind us many merchants are now facing a steep increase in returns. It’s one of the most inquired about customer service questions prior to purchase, and arguably the most dreaded operational task.

Handling returns appropriately will do wonders for your reputation and build trust in the long run, and falling behind can become a customer service nightmare. Here are some suggestions to make your returns experience a positive one for both you and your customers.

Aim for a 7 day turnaround

I recently spoke with someone at StellaService, a merchant rating company that secret shops retailers, and they told me a good turnaround time is 7 days from shipping to credit. This means the item may be in transit for 5 days and you then have 2 days to complete the return.

Your best bet here is to clear the floor before the end of day each day. This way you’ll remove the hassle to determining what’s next when things pile up and you’ll easily hit the standard. Batching may seem to be the way to go here for merchants with less volume, but you may want to consider processing all returns daily and consider the extra time a marketing expense.

Don’t fight the defects

The bar has been raised in the last few years and customer’s now expect to be able to return ruined merchandise. While this used to be considered outrageous, nowadays it’s the norm. Smart merchants have done the math and realize that the cost of upsetting a customer and refusing their return far exceeds the cost saved from not crediting the customer. Save yourself the customer service nightmare and just accept it. Customers expect this and merchants that follow this rule don’t get taken advantage of nearly as much as you might be afraid of.

Skip the gimmicks

Along the same lines as the defects, requiring receipts, only offering store credits, or denying returns after the cut off dates will ultimately cost you more in reputation and trust than it will save you in lost revenue. Customers expect companies to be more human and stop hiding behind policies in today’s marketplace.

Make sure you email the customer

These is usually automated, but if you are going to go through the effort of processing the return in the 24 hour time frame make sure you let the customer know the moment you do it. While you’re at it, include some alternate suggestions in the email. No email should ever go to waste!

Consider crediting while in transit

If you’re on board with the idea of accepting returns regardless of condition, then why not bring things to the next level and credit the order as soon as it’s in transit? This is a way to turn a lost sale into a great experience.

UPS and FedEx both have ways to setup automated incoming shipment reports. You can also use this strategy to cover up any operational problems you may have with processing returns in an acceptable time frame. As long as the credits are processed you can have a backup for weeks and it won’t affect your customers.

Run a returns sale

Once you have all this unwanted inventory it’s time to figure out what to do with it. Try marking down the items and advertising them as refurbished. You can not only discount them deep but also advertise fast shipping since it’s in stock.

Ultimately if you can assure the customer that your returns process is as easy and hassle free as they’d desire, then you will remove the all the hesitation from the next purchase. Every contact with a customer is an opportunity to make an impression. Think about how much you spend to acquire one customer, treating a customer right even when you’re not making a sale is essential to building on a good relationship.

Tom Fougerousse is president of