Bill Stuart is CEO of Stuart & Associates, a retail consulting firm specializing in Sales and Margin Growth Programs and Returns Reduction Programs.
The Product Returns Management Strategy implemented by a nationwide retailer makes a definitive statement about how they choose to run their organization. Your returns strategy not only impacts your customer experience management process -- but also employees on your sales floor all the way up to the your corporate office. Focusing on product returns management (by way of both volume and impact) without alienating end customers requires thoughtful planning, anticipation, strategy, and precise execution!
What causes product returns? Could be poor sales transactions, scheduling, delivery, service after-the-sale, or product quality. How about the end customer experience or their inability to operate the product? The reasons are numerous. But, the real question to ask yourself is “how much insight do we have and what do we do with that knowledge”?
How effective are your current Reverse Logistics Strategies? Find out by asking your CEO, CFO, VP of Sales, Heads of Design, Engineering, Packaging, Manual Design, Operations, and Call Center these two fundamental questions:
1) Who manages our Returns Reduction Program as part of your overall reverse logistics strategies? Who is the single person inside our company responsible for following and working on reducing our product returns from the design stage all the way through to return liquidation?
2) When one of our end customers takes one of our products home and has a “perceived” problem, what is the first thing we want that customer to do? What practices have we put into place that ensure this action will actually happen?
If you discover inconsistencies in the answers you receive (or perhaps an inability to get sufficient answers along with supporting data), then read on. The potential for increasing profits via reverse logistics is significant and attainable.
Originally published in Twice Magazine
The WEB, the information super highway, the Internet! It’s like a portal to the universe has suddenly opened up and everyone can’t wait to go through it! In a way it reminds me of the famous Twilight Zone episode, you know, the one where the giant bald headed aliens come to earth in friendship offering gifts. They present to the government and the people of earth, a book written in their language "To Serve Man". Well everybody saw how friendly they were and accepted their invitation to visit their planet. Hordes of people lined up to go visit their planet. In the closing minutes, as one of the main characters was about to enter the ship his colleague, drove up shouting, " Don’t get on…. "To Serve Man"…. It’s a COOK BOOK! Well he couldn’t get off and yes was later dinner for some alien family.
Originally published in Twice Magazine
Ever notice how customer service and New Years resolutions seem to go hand in hand. Did you know that 2 of the most common New Year’s resolutions are 1.To get into better shape 2. Lose weight or to go on a diet. Both of those are exemplary goals but did you also know that of all the people who flood the health clubs in January only 25 % of them are still there on a regular basis in May. And the 90% of all people that were going on that New Year’s diet are off it by February! So have you deduced the connection to customer service?
Originally published in Vision Consumer Electronics Magazine
“SORRY – OUR PRODUCTS ARE SOOOOOOO BAD WE ARE TOO BUSY TO HELP YOU NOW”
Is that the impression the consumer gets when they call your customer service number?
If it is, you need to review how much was budgeted for product returns. You did plan (remember You Gotta Have A Plan!) for the amount of product that will be returned and budget for the impact on sales, expense and cash flow didn’t you?
A recent survey of consumers showed that more than 70% of them regard a toll free Call Center to be very or extremely important when they have a question or a problem. Only 5% considered a web site as an important source that they would use to find answers to their questions.
Originally published in Twice Magazine
Most dealers view the customer with a return as a "problem customer" and not a "customer with a problem." Any product purchased by a consumer and returned (for any reason) costs everyone involved, including the customer, time and money —a lot of money. Effective returns management benefits consumers, retailers, and manufacturers alike.
The problem lies not only in that it costs a lot to process returned products, but in the fact that the product was returned at all. It's been proven that the vast majority of all returns have absolutely nothing technically wrong with them. So why are they returned?
Retailers and manufacturers are jointly responsible for the consumer experience regarding the products they offer, yet rarely do they effectively work together to address the solutions to the consumers' problems that are causing returns.
The goal of improved returns management should be to develop a strategy to reduce returns that addresses:
Here are a few suggestions on how to keep the consumer happy and the product sold:
Ask these questions:
Are instructions written at or below a sixth-grade level?
Does your Web site guide the consumer with a problem to easily find the solution?
Are the FAQs updated to reflect the changes in consumer questions throughout the life cycle of the product?
Create and implement training with retailers for sales and service/return counter associates. Training must include not only the features and benefits of the product but also issues the average consumer may experience in learning how to operate the device. Utilize the consumer information obtained by the call center and Web site to update returns management training on an ongoing basis.
We all know that most products are returned because "they didn't perform as expected." There was a breakdown somewhere along the product development and sales life cycle. Effective returns management ensures that it happens less often in the future than it has in the past. This will only occur through better cooperation and communication of the issues between retailers and manufacturers.
Just like in sports, retail has many competitors but only a few great teams. Did you ever wonder why the Chicago Bulls are able to play to a sold out stadium night after night? It's because the fans know their team has an excellent chance of winning every game. Chicago works hard at putting a great product out on the court every night. That's what makes them such a great team, they have the talent and they have the desire to dominate!
Is your company one of those great teams? Here is an easy way to tell: How is your Attendance? Do the fans (customers) return to your store like the fans in Chicago or do you find your attendance (store traffic) somewhat lacking? The customers are telling you everyday what they think of your teams customer service, by the number of times they return to your store to buy something. They are telling you in the form of better sales.
Aren't you sick of hearing all the rhetoric from people who say they believe the customer is number one? I mean if they believed it and it's their business, why aren't they giving better than just average run of the mill service? Why don’t they have better sales? Here's what one retailer said:
Average you say! Why I'll have you know I bought BUTTONS for all my people to wear that say "WE CARE ABOUT YOU" and they all wear RIBBONS that are attached to the buttons that say " ASK ME I CARE!" Why we even put up a Banner that says
"THE CUSTOMER IS #1!!" We even put signs up in the employee break room that remind them to SMILE and to treat the customer like a guest in your house. And on top of that we put a customer service committee in place. Why we are the most customer oriented retailer in the U.S.A.!!
It's obvious that this person has convinced himself, but let me ask, if his service was really this good why doesn’t he have better sales?
It's not about putting BUTTONS and RIBBONS on your people, that tell how much they care, customers want people that show they care.
It's not about BANNERS that tell the customer they are #1, heck they already know that, they're just wondering why they never get treated like #1 from your people.
It's not about putting signs up in the employee lounge reminding your people to SMILE and treat the customer like a GUEST because 80% of all signs go unread.
By now you may have guessed that better customer service and better sales has something to do with your people but it's not just about your people. IT’S ABOUT YOU!
The next time you wonder why you don’t have better sales, take a minute to look in the mirror and ask yourself "What did I do today to help my people?".
Did I recognize yesterdays best performers?
or; did I focus my attention and get upset about the non performers?
Did I recognize associates in front of their peers?
or; did I just tell them when rushing by?
Did I take time with an associate that is struggling, to listen and offer some guidance.
or; did I just figure they were a waste and needed to go away? Is this why you hired them?
Did I ask my people for their specific input on how to achieve better sales?
or; Did I just figure they wouldn't come up with anything of value and do it myself? Two heads are better than one big one. Don't overlook the value and insight of your people, they spend more time on the floor with the merchandise and customers than you do.
Did I personally hand them their paycheck this week, shake their hand and thank them for a great week?
or; Did I let someone else hand it out to them over a counter like a hamburger at McDonalds?
Did I walk the sales floor with my people and review the merchandise in depth?
or; Did I just do it myself to save time today and waste my time and sacrifice better sales in the future because I'm the only one who knows what I want or expect.
Do I know what each of my people’s goals and personal aspirations in life are?
or; Do I just think I know? You don't prejudge or make assumptions about your customer, so why would you do it with your people?
Did I set an example for my people greeting and shaking customers hands and actually wait on customers?
or; Did I just tell my people to do it. Do as I say not as I do management.
How well do you really know your people and how involved with them are you on a daily basis? You may fool yourself by saying you're involved but you won't fool your customer, because you see:
If you treat your people well they will treat your customer well.
If you treat your people as if they were the most important thing to you then they will treat your customer as if they were the most important thing to them.
If you show your people you care about them and value them they in return will show the customer they care and value them. But treat them with indifference and they will treat the customer with the same. Think about what it is you do each day with your people and challenge yourself to become more involved in their growth and the attainment of their goals. Remember you will only get better sales when you first help someone else get what they want!
Things to remember when hiring a new associate:
The day of the interview is as good as it gets! If they are trying their best to make an impression what does that impression say? How well were they dressed? Were they open and easy to talk to or were they quiet? Can they carry on a conversation and hold your interest? What you see today is what you will see on your sales floor tomorrow.
Were they a good listener? Go back and ask questions about something you explained earlier. This should tell you something about how well they will listen to your customers.
Did they express an interest in working in a particular area? If the person has no real interest and says they can work anywhere then point them to the pizza place in the mall. How good can anybody be at selling anything if they have no real interest.
Do they have ENTHUSIASM? If they don't have this then you don't want them on your floor! By enthusiasm I don't mean they have to be a cheerleader. They should have and show a desire, a fascination for the product and for selling. You can teach product knowledge but you can't teach personality, and better sales is a personal thing!
Selling is a people business, it's more than just the interaction between the customer and the salesperson, Its the more meaningful interaction between you and your people and the example you set on the floor that will determine the quality of service your customer gets and the success your business will enjoy. So the next time you ask yourself why you don’t have better sales, take a look in the mirror and see if the reason isn't right there in front of you!