How can I better manage Product Returns to improve customer service?
First and foremost, have a process.
That process must be omnichannel and flexible to allow for the customer to return goods in the way they want to.
The industry gives the name RMA (Return Merchandise Authorisation) to the process. This has its roots in the traditional B2B wholesale sector whereby returns were pre-authorised (often over the phone) prior to receipt and acceptance, replacement or refund. This smoothed the process of returns, for both the wholesale and the customer.
The process is much the same today, however “in store” a typical RMA starts and ends at the till. A customer returns an item, an assistant or store manager learns why the items are coming back (records that fact) and either gives the customer a refund or offers an exchange and the IT systems take care of the financial and inventory implications.
The importance behind the process and the RMA is it allows for traceability, reporting and analysis.
Free returns are now the norm for online purchases. This has created a culture in the B2C sector of “try and return” that is now becoming more widespread in the wholesale sector. The returns process online should be simple and easily understood and follow the same principles of any other RMA.
Ideally the customer should complete a self-service returns instruction, request a replacement and print a returns label all online. Or alternatively complete a pre-printed form to be enclosed with the returned goods. If there is a price difference between the returned item and the replacement the customer should be able to settle the difference, also online. The transaction should be recorded against the customer account.
Next, wholesalers need to consider the management of inventory – not just ensuring that it’s as efficient as possible, with a short time to get sellable products back in the warehouse – but also ensuring that all relevant information is centralised, so that they have an accurate, unified view of stock control. This means getting rid of silos between different sales channels, so that a batch of returns through one channel is visible to another. Real-time analytics are also a must, ensuring that a new batch of product A isn’t ordered five minutes after another batch has just been returned (in a saleable condition) by a customer.