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Mastering Post-Holiday Customer Service

Christopher Sarne
Senior Director Product Management Strategy

Ask a retailer what keeps them up at night when they think of the month of January, and there’s a good chance the answer will be “returns.” Since Thanksgiving and Black Friday, merchandise has been flowing out of the stores full tilt, into the hands of eager gift-givers and (at least theoretically) happy and grateful recipients.

I recently spoke with Retail TouchPoints about post-holiday customer service strategies and how to prepare for those gifts that didn’t make the cut. Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

Educate: Arming Staff for Success

One post-holiday situation customer service reps (CSRs) and associates are likely to battle is the case of the phantom gift-giver: “Hello? I have a box here from you, and I have absolutely no clue who sent it to me. It’s essential that I know who this is from. Can you figure that out for me?”

Assuming the CSR has immediate access to all the data surrounding that purchase, the answer is yes. Starting with the particulars of the item and the recipient’s name and address, he or she can identify the purchaser. Some systems, however, can’t deliver that information, so the CSR is stuck with saying, “Okay, I see the delivery address, but I don’t see the source of the order.”

Today’s consumers expect the CSR to have full visibility into their purchase details. Our global research, Topography of Retail, reports that 57% of shoppers expect the CSR to know the original price of the item, 52% the purchase date and 47% the method of payment used. It is the retailers that have a contact center functionality built into their order management system that empower sales associates and CSRs to quickly remediate the situation.

Reciprocate: The Art Of The Upsell

Return rates are high — in apparel, it’s somewhere between 30% and 40%— but returns aren’t all bad news. They inevitably lead to traffic, whether on the web site, at the call center, or in the store — and traffic is opportunity. Educating your associates on the ability to shift a return/exchange/appeasement transaction into a sale is critically important.

If a customer is calling to make a return, the CSR will probably get some information on why they’re returning it: I didn’t like it, it didn’t fit, the quality wasn’t there, etc. This creates an opportunity for the CSR to make a suggestive sell. By empowering associates with quick access to transaction details and merchandise knowledge, they can offer suggestions for an alternative purchase.

Ascertain Return Reasons: Leverage Your Data

Processing returns also enables the retailer, based on data collected in the warehouse and stores, to do research into its own operations. The reason for the return needs to go back into the system and ultimately be fed back to the merchant who bought the item. The customer says, “I ordered a red sweater, and it was really orange when it showed up.” So it wasn’t described well, and apparently it wasn’t photographed well, either, which means somebody didn’t do their due diligence over on the merchandising/marketing side of the house.

But whoever caused it, you’re the one the customer is asking to make it right. It may involve a time investment for the retailer, but it’s a golden opportunity to acquire a new customer, or to cement the loyalty of an old one. The retailers that understand that — and that make sure their front-line associates not only understand it but are equipped to act on it — will be the real winners in the post-holiday season.

Check out the full article: Mastering Post-Holiday Customer Service

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