Use Returns to Cultivate Loyal Customers
Handling returns is often seen as a “necessary evil” for B-to-B marketers. But in fact, it can be a great source of loyal customers. Returns are a fact of life in any catalog business, so why not make the most of them?
Here are some suggestions to turn your returns process from a “necessary evil” into a positive customer experience:
* Have a well-communicated returns policy in both your catalogs and packing slips. Ideally, it’ll be liberal as it’s seldom worth losing a customer over an order.
* Have a well-trained, empathetic customer service team that knows how to take a return — a potentially “bad” situation — and turn it into a satisfied, happy customer.
* Never challenge the reason for a return, but ask probing questions that allow customers to give you valuable information without being threatened. Start with a disarming statement like, “We’d be happy to process that return …” and only then start probing with a statement such as “… but may I ask why the product didn’t meet your expectations?”
* Acknowledge and apologize for any lapses in service or customer disappointments, regardless of blame.
* Sell an alternative product or solution. Most return credits can be more than offset by replacement and/or additional sales made by the processing agent.
* Ask customers at the end of return transaction calls if you’ve met their expectations during the calls.
* Process all returns and credits promptly. Follow up in several days if you don’t receive the return merchandise from the customer.
* Confirm receipt of the return merchandise and processing of the credit via e-mail.
* Call back every customer that’s processed a return, and ask them if their return transactions were handled to their satisfaction.
* Mail customers who’ve returned an offer on their next orders, acknowledging their inconvenience and reinforcing their value as customers.
* Track the next purchases of customers who processed returns. Is their RFM better or worse than average?
* Track returns customers who lapse by the agents who handled their return transactions.
* Improve the lifetime value (LTV) of those customers who’ve made a return vs. the average customer. If you “fix” their problems, and do it well, it should improve LTV.
When you think about it, returns are just another opportunity to show your customers how good you are and why they should always buy from you.
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Terence Jukes is president of Ability Commerce, a 140-person firm that designs, builds and runs e-commerce and related marketing programs for catalog companies. He can be reached at TerryJ@AbilityCommerce.com.