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Perfecting the Return Experience From First Contact to Resolution

Presented By: Amanda Winstead

 perfecting the return experience

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Customer service is a critical touchpoint that can strengthen or strain the customer relationship. Call centers have a unique duty to find the right balance to protect a company from fraud while resolving customers’ return requests satisfactorily. Whether they are calling about a faulty product, a sizing issue, or simply buyer’s remorse, customers have come to expect a seamless and hassle-free return process. Learn how to best facilitate these returns and create opportunities for extended customer loyalty.

The Importance of Smooth Return Processes

Customer returns aren’t typically fun for either party. However, they are common — especially when products are bought online or given as gifts. While some customers do have ill intentions, most are simply expecting a smooth return process. The initial stages of this process are crucial, and first impressions impact customer loyalty. This could be one of the first times the customer has interacted with the brand, and how you respond can solidify the tone for the entire consumer-company relationship. The way you handle returns can affect customers’ perception of your:    

       Service quality;          Adherence to policies;          Willingness to take feedback;          Timeliness and efficiency;          Efficacy.    

These perceptions are likely to prevail past the return experience and determine whether or not the customer will make a future purchase. Customer retention is the key to a successful business. Long-term customers mean not only repeat sales but also brand advocacy to their networks. Even if returns cost money for the company upfront, it’s like making a down payment on future revenue. A satisfied customer today is more likely to come back tomorrow.

Practicing Clear Communication

Miscommunications are possible during the returns process. You want to collect feedback on why a customer is returning something as well as how they want to do so. When a customer reaches out to a call center regarding a return, transparency and simplicity are of utmost importance. Agents must be able to articulate the returns process and policies clearly to customers in order to avoid confusion. For example, everyone should be clear on how to estimate refund timelines and how to provide customers with shipping labels.     

A well-communicated return process is not only able to resolve the immediate issue for the customer, but it provides the company with valuable information. They can use key information from customer feedback to facilitate changes, and this is only possible if the customer and call center agent understand the return policies fully. As the return process unfolds, make sure to provide regular updates to keep the customer informed. This can nurture trust and is more likely to create a positive result.

Adopting Efficient Systems

While call centers may have a specific way of handling returns, policies and procedures may change. If these changes are well-founded, it’s important to get everyone on board and ready to adjust. One of the most common challenges in customer service process improvement is an unwillingness to change established practices. With regular training and staff motivation, this can be avoided.     

Discuss the reasons for changing processes to agents, emphasizing how it will make the entire returns process easier for them. Returns are often stressful if handled incorrectly, so explain how the new processes can alleviate this stress and resolve issues more quickly.     

Refining customer return processes starts with clear communication, as mentioned above. In addition to that, call centers can implement technology and transparent policies to facilitate faster returns and reduce human error. Consider the following:    

  • Assessing return inventory storage frequently;
  • Using software to track returns;
  • Automating certain tasks, like returns that can be resolved through automated chats;
  • Publishing work procedures on company-wide cloud-based software that is easily accessible;
  • Prioritizing returns training and briefing staff on new policies.

Streamlining the returns process allows agents to focus on the task at hand, resolving returns in a timely, efficient manner. It also allows them to be adaptable if problems arise, such as shipping or tracking issues.

Implementing Customer-Centric Policies

Call center professionals are likely tired of hearing that the “customer is always right.” Instead of preaching this repeatedly, tie it into your returns policies. For example, instead of making the customer jump through hoops to make a return, make it easy for them. Even better, see if you can offer free returns.    

The more you can do for a customer without them begging you to, the happier they will be. It’s sometimes difficult to practice empathy with irate customers, but it’s easier for agents to empathize if they can quell a high-intensity situation and appease the customer.

Protecting Against Fraud

Of course, some customers have malicious intent when making returns. Refund abuse fraud is possible and prevalent — from customers buying clothes to wear once and return, to criminal acts involving attempting to return stolen goods. In any case, it’s best to assume customers have the best intentions and have protections against fraud interwoven into the returns process.     

Set agents up for success by having an automated system that checks for proof of purchase, date of purchase, and identity. Have staff be on high alert during high-volume periods, but a system should be in place to catch any bad actors.

Building Loyalty and Trust Going Forward

Customers and call center agents, alike, will appreciate a smooth returns process. By streamlining processes, reducing errors, and adopting customer-centric practices, you build customer loyalty. Customer satisfaction makes interactions more positive all-around — and they benefit the company’s bottom line moving forward.     

Keep updating return policies and training on improved processes, soliciting and implementing customer feedback. This will give customers and staff the chance to have a hand in the returns process and, ultimately, build the long-lasting trust on which successful businesses thrive.