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Returns Define The Customer Experience

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

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 or call (615) 371-9319.