With the holiday season now over, the joys of increased consumer spending, materialism and holiday spirit are quickly overshadowed by a spike in product returns. At these times, customer service agents can often be stretched thin and should be amply supported to maintain not only their own sanity, but customers’ as well.
In order to compensate for the added stress upon customer support teams this time of year, creating a strategic approach for handling the varying methods of returns is key. Use the following three strategies to streamline the returns process and transform your customer service teams into holiday superheroes:
1. Shed light on your company’s return policy. According to a Shorr Packaging study, 63 percent of customers check a retailer's return policy before making a purchase. It's vital that your return policies are clearly stated and posted visibly online, in packages and in-store. Customers don't want to have to spend their time searching for return policies and reading the fine print, so keep this information in obvious spots that receive plenty of eye traffic. Ensuring information on return policies is easy to find will keep customer service representatives focused on customers that truly need assistance.
Keep in mind that some customers prefer to solve their own problems without additional assistance and will do everything in their power to avoid having to speak with customer representatives. Empower these customers with a variety of options to go about the returns process on their own with minimal effort, and lay out clearly defined policies that address several types of return situations for when things get hectic post-holidays.
2. Bridge the gap between cross-channel returns. Given the popularity for customers to use online and mobile channels to complete transactions, brands should have in-channel systems in place to cater to unsatisfied customers.
Additionally, for brands that don't have physical locations scattered throughout the country, customers will seek methods to quickly return items that do not involve traveling far. Customers have been known to cut ties with companies that have lousy return policies. In fact, a Forrester report found that 91 percent of customers would leave after a single bad customer service interaction and wouldn't be willing to do business with the company again.
By providing customers with easy-to-find return labels and policies, those who do not wish to return to a physical store are provided with a hassle-free way to return their products. Likewise, shipped products should include clear instructions about in-store return policies. Consider including the address and contact information for the nearest store location, personalized to each customer. Subtle nuances can go a long way in helping customers achieve maximum happiness in the returns process.
If there are popular products that traditionally sell out during the holidays, offering ship-to-store options can keep customers coming back in post-holiday season. The knowledge that any product is available, no matter its current in-store availability, will drive in-store visits and maintain customer satisfaction. Today, almost half of shoppers (48 percent) have used ship-to-store options in the past year. The avoidance of shipping costs, no matter how small, can make or break sales.
3. Simplify cross-border returns to drive revenue and customer satisfaction. In areas of the world such as Latin America and Europe, cross-border shopping is commonplace. When customers are placing orders from outside the country, be sure to have procedures in place for how to ensure these customers are able to easily connect with customer service representatives or ship their products back.
Despite the added complexity that international shipping brings to the table, the benefits outweigh the negatives far too much to pass on. According to market research firm Euromonitor, global e-commerce sales will rise to $1.5 trillion by 2018, an increase from $840 billion in 2014.
However, the headaches of customs and market-specific postal codes can prove a hindrance to a positive experience for foreign customers. Many businesses avoid international expansion altogether due to the troubles of international shipping.
A UPS/comScore survey found that 81 percent of European consumers said the ability to ship a product back to the retailer for free, using a pre-paid return label, is important in their purchase decision.
Across the Atlantic, British fashion retailer Boden provides the model for handling international customer service and returns. U.S. customers that wish to return a product can simply add the "Smart Label" provided by the retailer to the return package and drop it in the U.S. mail. No postage is required and a simple flat fee of $7 is deducted from the eventual refund. This strategy allows customers to forego any international shipping issues and mimics a normal domestic returns process.
Holiday returns don't have to be painful. Enable customers to handle their returns on their own by empowering them with the necessary information and tools to make this a time of great joy for customers and agents alike. A simple returns process can be the final “gift” of the season to all.
Related story: A Forward Look at Reverse Logistics for the Holidays