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Customer Returns: They’re Good For You

Most consumers have had reason to return an unsatisfactory product at some point in time. Maybe it was defective, or a bad fit, or the wrong color, or they found it for a better price, or maybe they simply changed their mind. For some, returning merchandise is no big deal. For others it isn’t so easy. Consumers have plenty of reasons not to return something. Some of these are inconvenience, uncertainty regarding the company’s policy and even fear of embarrassment due to mistreatment by store personnel. Some believe that, if they do take the product back to the store they will have to be ready for a fight.

Is it any wonder, then, that some go on the offensive as soon as they enter the store carrying the product? For some reason the customer is not satisfied with their purchase. They parted with their money and, in return, they had an expectation of performance or benefit. Why on earth should they have to fight, or risk embarrassment and abuse if that expectation is not met?

If they’re back, product in hand, obviously their expectation was not met and they are not satisfied. Only the most arrogant of retailers would ignore this fact. And it is a fact regardless of the concern. The customer is not satisfied and that is indisputable. Forget the reason – it’s simply not relevant. The whole idea is to ensure that you satisfy at this point. Take the opportunity to turn a refund into a sale.

I know that there are people in the retail industry saying “yes, but…”. To these people I say, again, that the customer returning a product is not satisfied and that is indisputable. That is all you need to know. It’s all that matters.

I do not intend to go into the matter of customers who abuse retailers’ policies. Those situations are entirely different and immaterial in the scope of things. Nor will I address the issues created by those retailers with unfriendly customer service and return policies. Those retailers are creating their own difficulties. Enough said.

So, what should retailers do to ensure that all their staff members get it? You know…the execution part of the customer friendly return policy?

Here is the answer:

If you haven’t officially done so already, develop a great, easy-to-interpret, customer friendly return policy.

Make sure every employee knows and clearly understands the policy – including the receptionist, mailroom and accounting personnel, clerical and management staff at Head Office, the warehouse workers at the Distribution Centre, the Web Design team and all those who keep the on-line end of the business running, the stock people, sales associates and merchandisers and management at store level and anyone else that receives a pay check from your company. Absolutely everyone.

Ensure that all employees know why the policy was developed and how it benefits the organization.

Repeat the message often and very clearly; communicate the message in every possible form and at every possible opportunity. Post it everywhere.

Establish a procedure to check that the policy is being applied.

Reward success. Consistently.

Teach all employees to make judgments in favor of the customer whenever the policy appears to be vague.

Returns are good for your business. The customer who went to the trouble to make the return is talking to you. Take advantage of the opportunity to satisfy! Most companies pay huge amounts of money for customer-to-company communications such as focus groups, polls, customer response surveys, comment cards, etc. And it is all in the effort to find out what the customer has to say.

Treat the return customer with respect. S/he is actually coming to you and volunteering valuable feedback. How great is that?

Make sure your front line personnel understand their obligation to act on behalf of their company and follow the friendly return policy every single time they are faced with a return. Make sure they understand that they absolutely do not have the right to make your customers uncomfortable during this critical point of contact.

Just because you have a great, customer friendly return policy doesn’t mean that it is of any value to your organization. Unless customers see it in action, at the cash desk, it might as well not exist.

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