Six Steps to Improving Customer Service at the Returns Counter

It's a fact of life that many consumers' most important encounter with a retailer is at the returns counter, a place that's often crowded after the holiday shopping season. Retailers who use the returns process as an opportunity to offer sparkling customer service can differentiate themselves from their competition and turn a potential negative into a strong positive. Here are six steps to creating superior customer service during the returns process from Tom Rittman, vice president of marketing for The Retail Equation.

Don't underestimate the importance of proper staffing and training: Make sure there's an ample number of staff at the return counter and that they're well-versed in the company's policies. Ensure employees communicate return policies to customers during purchases as well. A verbal reminder of policies at checkout, in addition to printing on store receipts and well-placed signage, will prevent tension and misunderstanding.

Provide flexible return policies: The RIS/Cognizant 2010 Consumer Study showed that consumers' biggest complaints included retailers that don't provide cash refunds on returns or don't accept returns without a receipt. Retailers using return authorization systems can offer customers consistent and customer-friendly return policies and a comfort level with providing all types of refunds, because the retailer can easily confirm that the transaction is legitimate.

Cater to return/exchange customers: Long lines and cumbersome return policies do little to assuage crowd tensions, and will erase any positive impressions made at the initial sale. At the holiday season, consider extending receipt age times and offer more lenient policies to reflect your emphasis on customer service. VIP customers' returns should always be handled with extra care to drive deeper loyalty.

Avoid penalties for good customers: Another benefit of a return authorization system is its ability to separate good customers from those committing returns fraud like "renting" or "wardrobing" (buying merchandise for short-term use with intent to return). Eliminating or reducing re-stocking fees for honest shoppers can win big points (and sales) with these consumers.

Understand the benefits of preventing fraud as it occurs: Special software like the Verify-2 Return Authorization System is designed to identify consumers whose behaviors mimic fraud or abuse by analyzing their unique return behavior. Since less than one percent of consumers are responsible for fraudulent or abusive return behavior, the software helps protect honest customers by providing them with flexible policies.

Give return customers a reason to keep shopping: Programs like Return Rewards can facilitate significant new sales at the point of return and build customer loyalty by using a customer's return information to instantly customize an offer for that particular person, thus providing an immediate incentive for the customer to continue shopping at the store. The program is an opportunity to deliver a discount or special offer and recover revenue from the initial "lost" sale.
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