- Product returns cost UK retailers up to £100m each year.
- Up to 40% of clothing and between 5% and 10% of electrical goods bought online, or from catalogues, are returned in January.
With considerable experience supporting our direct commerce clients, we understand the importance of first class product knowledge at the point of contact, in helping to reduce returns. It is all about getting to know your brand and the products you sell to help your customers buy successfully and trying to influence their behaviour to ensure a profitable outcome for all! “Customer friendly” returns policies and processes are now a customer expectation and as sure as the HS2 will cripplingly overspend, there will always be customers who buy sizes 8-18 ‘just in case’.
How to better manage the impact of returns via your customer service and contact centre channels.
- Educate your customers – Provide sizing guides, compatibility guidelines and item descriptions or anything you can anticipate will make the customer’s buying experience more accurate and less likely to cause frustration.
- Equip and train your agents – You need knowledgeable customer service experts or even problem solvers, who are able to interpret customer requirements, without it sounding overwhelming or confusing. Asking the right and the relevant questions at the right time is key. Contact centre agents should be equipped with as much knowledge as any one of your own staff and should ideally have experienced your products for themselves – this will ensure customers are confident when placing their orders and remain happy and loyal following that first contact. Knowledge bases needn’t be wearisome tomes, designed to glaze the eyes of even the most process-driven individuals – utilise your agents’ experience and insights to update product info, humanise it with language that works for the consumer and has proved effective in the past. Develop the best possible search engine for your agents to navigate the knowledge base as well as a set of troubleshooting questions or flow charts.
- Listen and learn – When handling returns, advise call handlers to get as much feedback from the customer as possible; if the return was due to dissatisfaction about quality or there was a disparity about the customer’s understanding of the product, then it is well worth delving into the root cause. Perhaps the product information was misleading? Perhaps the customer is trying to return something which there isn’t a clear process for … gift vouchers for example. Simple tweaks in website FAQs, written or pictorial content in catalogues could help.
- Consider a separate product support line – If your product is complex or something that people might be buying “direct” for the first time, it could be worth having a separate product support line. Customers might consider returning the product out of simple frustration, when some expert customer service or technical support could save the sale, prevent the return and result in a happy customer. Consumer goods are increasingly complex and the audiences for them demographically broader, so your customer service offering must reflect this.
- Embrace social media and forums – If appropriate to your product offering you could introduce forums to your website (though it is wise to moderate these for quality assurance). Social media and email response is a great medium for this, though always be clear to your customer base what they can expect from you – are you open 24/7 etc., can you respond promptly to Twitter or Facebook posts? Web chat platforms are great time savers as they mean agents can process a number of customers concurrently.
- Review your website – Pay close attention to product descriptions on your website and learn from your returns data. If some pages or sections of your site seem to cause more returns then carefully review these pages, utilising focus groups if possible, to help reduce margin for error. Even some of the most high-profile e-commerce sites are fantastically devoid of intelligent keyword search and filters and pay little heed to user experience. Having feedback processes on your website or through your contact centre to gauge customer satisfaction gives you the insight to run a progressive, user-centric website.
- Add perspective – Size guides, or virtual changing rooms for clothing or diagrams that show the product with some perspective are often helpful. For example, detailing how tall the model wearing the clothes is and what size they are wearing, or placing a product next to something of familiar height.
- Keep customers informed – For great customer service and preventing those calls to chase up orders, send out SMS or email updates on the order and delivery status. Knowing their delivery is imminent helps manage customer expectations and can avoid cancellations or subsequent returns.
- Don’t keep your marketing team out in the cold – Analyse your CRM data and identify trends in discounted areas of your catalogue and return rates. The Wall Street Journal conducted research on six years of data from a large US catalogue retailer and discovered a wealth of trends in discounted items, customers preferred distribution channels and the kind of product they were buying. For example, returns tended to be higher when shoppers bought different products from the distribution channel they usually used—shoes from a catalogue that they normally used to buy outerwear, for example. Returns also increased when customers bought new products from unfamiliar distribution channels. Marketing teams can send targeted remarketing emails to these customers optimising sales and reducing returns.
- Ensure efficiency at busier times – Ramping up resource for the inevitable seasonal increases in returns handling is expensive. Assess the cost benefits of outsourcing fulfilment services during busy periods. Ensure all return and refund policies are clear and your valued customers know the next steps.