Last father’s day I received a soda siphon – a pressurized bottle that uses CO2 charges to make sparkling water. I had one as a kid and always thought they were the coolest thing ever. The excitement quickly faded when rather than creating a fizzy drink my siphon effectively soaked the kitchen in a violent blast of pressurized water. After a few additional attempts (in the yard this time) I sadly admitted that the unit was defective.
Having purchased the siphon online my wife turned to the retailer. Expecting the whole “send it back, let us check, we’ll send you a new one” spiel we were thrilled when they simply offered to send a replacement head. There was a slight delay because they needed to contact their supplier somewhere in Germany but within a few weeks we received the new part and it worked flawlessly. While we waited they kept us up to date with status updates and we didn’t even need to return the defective part!
The purchase of the siphon was super simple. Shipping was fast, the price was good. Everything was exactly as expected with no surprises. If it hadn’t been for the return we probably would have never thought about the retailer again. It wasn’t until the need to interact with them did we learn just how customer oriented this company really was.
This got me thinking. Customers who reach out to your online business with legitimate concerns are like gold. Someone who originally needed a product to purchase is now intimately involved with your product. It’s no longer a mindless “I’ll take one of these” but a much more in-depth “Listen up, here’s the deal…”. Having a customer’s attention focused like that is a great opportunity to turn a normal customer into someone who will recommend your online business to friends. But where do you begin?
Having proper policies in place and ensuring that everyone in your company follows them exactly is a great starting point. Various product types may need different return methods so start by making a list of typical online return policies and specify how to handle each one. Be organized and very specific. What do you do when someone has a defective product? What if the person just isn’t happy? What if the product is lost or contains missing parts? Keep the list on hand or post it somewhere visible. Be sure to update it regularly as new and unique cases occur or as better methods are identified.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and decide how you would feel after dealing with each return policy? Would you be happy? Now think of ways to improve that experience. Could you have provided a faster turnaround time? You had this person’s complete attention, what would make this person want to share his experience with a friend?
One of the biggest drawbacks with doing online business is that everything takes time. Products are mailed and can sometimes take weeks for customers see the items they’ve purchased. Add to this the fact that most people are impatient and you instantly start having an issue with convenience.
Go over your policies and see how you can optimize your various return processes. A few years ago I recall needing to return a defective child seat. The manufacturer needed the old seat shipped back but I didn’t want to be without a child seat during the whole process. They gladly offered to take a credit card deposit and send me a replacement seat right away. Once the old one arrived they did a refund. I had a replacement within days while the return took weeks to be processed. Needless to say I was very satisfied.
Recording customer reactions and feedback can be very helpful – especially when you’re just starting out. You could do a follow up call or a survey to monitor customer satisfaction but quite often you’ll know right away if you’ve done a good job. Use this to identify which of your policies work well and which ones don’t. Also remember that a policy with no positive feedback may be one you should consider revising. The whole “no news is good news” thing doesn’t apply here.
What if you feel that your customers are very happy and you’re satisfied with the way you address things? That’s wonderful but are your competitor’s customers happier? What if your competitors are not charging for return shipping? Perhaps they’re not asking for defective items to be returned at all? Knowing your competitor’s return policy is a great way to stay competitive. Of course you may not always be in a position to compete, especially if you’re just starting out but there is always room for improvement.
Asking questions is necessary during a product return but try to keep them to a minimum. Decide what you really need to know and leave out the questions that have little value. The customer is probably already disappointed that a product isn’t as they expected, excessive questioning will certainly get their guard up. Decide quickly, perhaps suggest help if necessary, and then assure them that there is no problem and deal with them politely.
People will often expect a fight when they do returns so proper communication is key. Use a friendly tone, assure the customer that you will help them quickly and be sure to listen to their concerns. If there are issues that you need to address try to approach them in ways that won’t get a customer’s guard up.
People tend to remember things that involve emotions and surprised is certainly one that leaves a lasting impression. If treated properly, a pleasently surprised customer can generate word-of-mouth endorsements. There are many ways of pleasantly surprising people. Adding free samples to your mail outs, sending birthday cards or small gifts, making super simple returns are just a few examples.
It’s important to note that the points I’m making here are all private things you do with the customers you interact with one-on-one. I wouldn’t recommend advertising that, for example, you offer free returns on certain products. This is more of an ace in the pocket. Something that makes your customers feel like they’re special and getting treatment that’s above and beyond what you would normally do. If you post this on your site people will come to expect it and no long find it special.
Remember, having a customer’s attention focused on you during a product return is a great way of showing that person just how wonderful your customer service really is. Win that person over and they will not only remember you, but with luck they will endorse your products to friends and family.