Returns tech must make employees lives easier in order to improve cx

Most of us now work with technology in some way or another, whether that’s email clients and spreadsheet tools or point-of-sale software and hand scanners. If the tech you use every day is unreliable, awkward, unintuitive or unstable, you absolutely despise it. Worse, you come to hate the parts of your job that require it.

We all have examples of this in our working or personal lives. Think about queueing at the DMV, dealing with health insurance providers, or working on a company laptop that takes 10 minutes to boot up and has a sticky keyboard. You’ve gotta do it, but you’re not gonna like it. 

Most of us (and more importantly, most retail staff) are from a generation whose expectations are set by the likes of Apple and Amazon. We don’t just avoid inconvenience and frustration, we’re not even used to the feeling any more. And yet, for workers in retail stores, the technology they’re working with is rarely intuitive, user-friendly, or designed with their needs in mind.

It’s not just the tech. It’s as much about the processes as the technology. Offering great useful services like order pickup or orders brought out to cars is all well and good, but if the process by which these services get fulfilled is awkward, time-consuming and strenuous, your store staff are going to hate it. That’s going to have an effect on your customer experience, which is essential to your long-term profitability. Happier employees are more productive, and that is especially true for customer-facing roles like store associates.

Think from a staff perspective

I wrote last week about the opportunity to get more customers into stores to do their returns. Let’s play that from the staff’s point of view. At a high level, they may have longer queues and more tasks. This isn’t so bad, after all more customers and a busier store is no bad thing.

It’s in the specifics where we start to see issues. Let’s say I’m the guy behind the counter. You’re handing over a return to me. I need to know a lot of information. What’s your name, do you have an order number or a receipt? Do you have a filled out returns label?

If you don’t, then I need to ask you a bunch of questions and enter the data into my system here at the checkout. Even if you do have a returns label, I’m still likely to have to put that information into the system manually. The worst case scenario (which is unfortunately still relatively common) doesn’t have any digital side at all.

This all takes time, and it’s hard for customers to understand why the brick and mortar store can’t sync up with the online store.

Returns is one journey across many teams

The simpler and more connected a returns experience is, the better it is for staff and customer alike. The problem is that for most retailers, there’s no ownership of the whole returns journey. Marketing free returns and making returns information available happens through the ecommerce, customer experience and customer support teams, all of whom have slightly different aims. The logistical management of the package happens from an ops team, but there’s also an obvious customer experience interest here in how that journey works for the customer. Then there are marketing and revenue recovery opportunities which might sit with a marketing team, an ecommerce team, or simply not be harnessed at all. Ultimately, returns as a strategic priority can often fall between the cracks.

What retailers need is a way to take ownership of the entire returns journey, treating it as one experience from before the sale to after the reconciliation (i.e. a refund or an exchange). Having a digital platform to support this is essential, and this digital platform can then tie into store operations much more straightforwardly. Customers get sent QR codes, staff scan them with the handheld scanners they already use every day, and the information is automatically loaded into the relevant management software. No more paperwork, rapid transactions, seamless offline and online connectivity. These are the goals every in-store return experience should aim for.

Dan Nevin
Dan Nevin
Dan is the CEO of Doddle USA, where he leads our effort to transform the last mile in American ecommerce.