Let’s talk about the link between eCommerce and business operations and why it’s so critical to look beyond your eCommerce goals when you implement new solutions. Part III of my eCommerce Operations Series.

Are your Customer Support teams and DC(s) overwhelmed by a poor return process?

This problem one is a big one. I know, I know–you’re probably giving me the side eye, but this is actually still widespread in B2B. I think it’s because it always falls to the bottom of the development priority list, and no one ever takes the time to quantify the sheer number of problems a bad return process causes and its cumulative impact on the bottom line.

I have had so many clients who are frustrated with their return process. Here’s a typical scenario:

    1. A customer without their order number calls in, tying up customer service by requesting a return on the phone. The call takes a long time because they don’t have the information they need to place the return.
    2. The customer service process is prohibitively manual–generating return or pick up labels has to be done one-by-one because label creation isn’t automated.
    3. The customer service rep wants to do the right thing, and they issue a return to pick up the item. However, with no reference to the original item, it may or may not square up with the DC information when the packages arrive on site. This makes restocking a real issue for DC as they struggle to identify the pick location (after they determine if it is or is not returnable).
    4. Accounting doesn’t know what to do with the return because they can’t align the return to the original order or price paid.

So, in this scenario, you have impact on Customer Service, Distribution Centers, and Accounting–all just for a simple return. If the process takes too long, it can also get escalated to Sales, who will then put pressure back on Customer Service. All that time, and so many people, used for only one returned item.

Developing an online, customer-initiated return process within your eCommerce platform can create a much easier and more streamlined process for everyone. As Amazon and other online retailers have mastered this process, more and more people are comfortable initiating their return online without the help of administrative staff, and B2B businesses need to take advantage of this.

How do we usually start this process?

First, we work with our clients on their return policies. We assess the current structure and supporting teams. We analyze any pain points, especially with support and the distribution centers, and we even look at product data (glaring errors definitely create mis-orders).

Next, we help tweak the existing policy to drive customers to their online account to initiate their return online. This helps clients not only in automating the return policy, but also in online adoption. After all, if your customers can only initiate an order online, this is the perfect jumping-off point for the stubborn, anti-online-account-customers.

The process then prompts the customer to select an item from an existing order before they can submit the return request. Finally, we ensure that non-returnable items are flagged with a specific item attribute, which will keep improper items from ever making their way onto a return or back to your distribution centers.

Our platforms all have functions that:

      • Prompt the customer to start their return in their account
      • Pull return options at the item level from existing orders
      • Hold returns in a queue for approval before generating the credit and return labels
      • Send automated communications as the steps of the process are completed
      • Can connect with your delivery service of choice to automatically generate the right type of return label and send it to your client via email

Leveraging the customer for some of this work helps take the onus off your customer service and sales teams. Requiring the return be tied to an order to be processed automatically smoothes out the process for your distribution center and your accounting team.

As a side note, as you work with your data management team to help customers find and order the right product at the outset with improved product information and images, you can reduce the return rate itself by improving order accuracy. (This will also gain you points in customer SAT ?.)

This is one of the simplest things we’ve implemented that has made the biggest impact for multiple businesses we’ve worked with. But so many B2B businesses don’t understand that a customer-initiated return process should be table stakes in their eCommerce platform. Customers can manage to do some of these things on their own–to their own benefit as well as to the benefit of your business. It’s time to stop putting this one off!

Using eCommerce to Solve Operational Challenges III: The Return Headache