Returns Define The Customer Experience

By Tom Hebrock On Apr 5 2010 - 4:01am




Ah, springtime, when a tech enthusiast’s fancy turns to fancy new technology.

The good news, as many manufacturers roll out their new lines, is that nearly 90 percent of your potential customers are still employed. The bad news is that over 10 percent are not, and everyone will remain guarded about how they will spend their hard-earned money this year.

With this in mind, how have you prepared your employees differently for the new product season?

So many people refer to improving “the customer experience.” A great way to judge the success of your customer experience is to stay on top of your returns rate. Which is why it’s baffling that companies do not spend more time planning, not for the returns themselves, but how to reduce the number of returns that customers will make.

For retailers, one of the largest contributing factors is the lack of training for part-time help, particularly during the holidays. When part-timers are hired they are given a brief orientation about safety, loss prevention and HR. Then it’s off to the floor, where they promptly, through no fault of their own, misrepresent products and services while also attempting to avoid the embarrassment of having to interact with a customer due to lack of product knowledge.

These associates lack basic selling skills, and we fail to arm them with just two or three simple questions that would help identify a customer’s needs.

There’s also a lack of consistent management involvement to ensure that all of the above are minimized, and inadequate review of payroll coverage. While computerized payroll systems rule our lives, we often forget that garbage in = garbage out. Walk the floor and view the payroll coverage compared to customer traffic. Is it planned right?

Try this: Take last week’s schedule. Add up the hours used by day. Add up the hours used for the week. Divide the daily hours by the weekly hours to get the percent of payroll hours spent by day. Do the same with last week’s sales. How do the percentages for payroll and sales match up when examined day by day? Is there opportunity to do better? Of course there is, but the computer program is only as good as the human input. Being more proactive lessens the need to be reactive.

If you are a manufacturer, what have you done to lessen the flow to your return centers from various retailers, and to increase profi ts by providing a better customer and end-user experience? What did you do differently to help educate the retailer’s associates? Did you meet with the training department, store operations and the head of the service centers to see what training materials could be provided? Did you reinforce the retailer’s selling skills by blending it into your product training materials?

Internally, what steps have you taken to improve your first line of defense in reducing returns – your 800-number call centers? Make 10 calls citing the same problem with the same product. How many different answers did you receive? How many times a week do you monitor calls to hear firsthand what is going on? What is the average hold time? Even 60 seconds can be an eternity to your customers when all they hear is a repeating message about how “your call is important to us, an agent will be with you shortly.”

Returns are a problem for the retailer, the manufacturer and the customer. There are countless things that could be done to reduce returns, which would dramatically improve the customer experience. It all starts by creating a different mindset. Returns should not be viewed as “ just a cost of doing business”; that thinking is short-sighted. Instead, manage returns as a business and develop a returns-reduction strategy just as you would a sales strategy.

Do this and you will do a better job of keeping the product in the customer’s home. With every product that is returned is a customer that is less likely to return to you.

Tom Hebrock is retail services VP at Stuart and Associates, a consulting firm working with manufacturers and retailers on returns reduction, extended-service plan sales and sales training. Visit www.bettersales.com or call (615) 371-9319.

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