Best Practices in Returns Policies

Based on Opinion Research Corp.’s December 2006 study on retail returns, we’ve come up with a list of returns best practices that can help boost satisfaction among customers as well as your staff.

  1. Define a company policy for new employees, and remind ongoing employees about the company’s customer service policies. Explain the importance of maintaining customer service practices that consistently echo the company brand.
  2. Define policies that apply across all channels of interaction (store, Web, phone, mail), but adjust the policy as necessary for channel-specific needs.
  3. Solicit direct feedback and ideas from sales associates, customer service representatives, and any other employees who frequently interface directly with customers.
  4. Ensure that the returns policy is very clearly defined for customers at the point of sale and in your various marketing media. Consider verbally communicating the policy during the initial purchase transaction, particularly if a sale is final. Make the policy available for customers to review prior to the purchase.
  5. Make return delivery options and labels easy to access on your Website.
  6. Make the returns process itself as easy as possible for the customer:
    • Limit the amount of time it requires from the customer.
    • Identify return options and corresponding materials (mailing labels, packaging, postage).
    • Acknowledge the return and approximate time needed to post the credit (when applicable).
  7. Teach employees, customer service representatives, managers, and any other potentially customer-facing employee to listen to consumers before responding to a question or a complaint. Responding without listening to the full question might alienate a customer from making future visits and purchases. Train employees to on how to handle a return by emphasizing the need to listen, the need to offer empathy (when appropriate), the desire to resolve the situation, and the importance of the customer’s business.
  8. Develop and deploy internal metrics that can serve as indicators of customer sentiments. Create internal metrics to gauge return levels. Track complaints and compliments associated with returns, and categorize them by channel of interaction and major product categories.
  9. Track performance over time to gauge progress and to allow for course correction. Complement the internal metrics with external feedback from a sampling of customers on an ongoing basis to ensure that the policies have the desired effect on customers.

Linda Shea is senior vice president and global managing director of the customer strategies practice at where based Opinion Research Corp.