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Evolving Policies Require Consistent Updates

Posted on March 6, 2009 by Arianna

With enumerable online companies it is safe to assume that policies will vary from organization to organization and some will probably seem unfair, maybe a bit odd, and sometimes confusing.

A company’s rules and/or policies should give a clear understanding of what a customer can and should expect from the company. These policies are usually created in a company’s infancy and then evolve over the lifetime of the company as things change. It is recommended that they be kept up to date.  What happens when unwritten rules become policies? Or to put it differently, what happens when company known policies are not properly conveyed to those outside of the organization?

Let me try to explain it a little better using a recent example. Last week we canceled a customer’s order because he could not provide us with a physical address. He had selected an APO as a ship to address for which we do not ship to. The customer called and complained that it was unfair, that nowhere was it stated that we didn't ship to APO's. After trying to clear our point with the customer, we reviewed our shipping policy and realized that the customer was right! Our policy stated that we do not ship to PO Boxes, but no where did it state that APO's were also not allowed.

I began to think of why this happened. Was it because we assumed the customers knew that? Or was it because we truly believed that it would magically show up on the page? Whatever the reason, we had created a rule that our customers were not aware of. As embarrassing as it was to have to admit that the customer knew our policies better than we did - I think it was a good thing. We were reminded that maybe, just maybe, we need to review our own policies to make sure WE know exactly what we are telling our customers to expect.

I'm glad to inform you that we are doing a review of our policies, and will hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, have them updated.

Inventory and Warehouse Visibility: Color Coding Returns to Increase Efficiency

Posted on February 4, 2009 by Arianna

Color coding has been used for many years and by many different organizations. A color code is a method that allows information to be displayed by using different colors. Restaurants use them to note what day of the week a salad was made, or when a food package was opened.  Even our Department of Homeland Security uses it to inform us of our government’s national threat level.  So when I was told that a customer’s return had been sitting in our warehouse for an uncaccpetable amount of time before being inspected … I knew that I needed to find a solution.

The Issue:

Large box returns were being delivered and placed in our “Inbound” section of the warehouse, while smaller packages were being positioned on top. When our warehouse manager went in to inspect the returns they would automatically collect all of the smaller packages first. At the end of the day when they were unable to inspect any further returns, the remaining boxes were taken back to our inbound section. The next day as UPS delivered more returns, the smaller boxes were again placed on top of the larger boxes, and so with this continuing cycle our customers return was continually overlooked.

The Experiment:

I remembered how easy color coding was when I worked at a café, and so I decided to experiment. I went to a local office supply store and purchased color coded stickers that were large enough to write on. There were five colors, one for each day of the week. Our warehouse manager was to place a color sticker on every box that arrived on that day. Mondays was a yellow sicker, Tuesdays was green, Wednesdays was brown…etc. That way we knew exactly what day a package arrived at our warehouse. On Tuesdays our warehouse would inspect Monday’s returns, on Wednesdays they would inspect Tuesday’s returns and so on. This seemed to work perfectly! However the cost of the stickers was pretty high.

The Solution:

As we realized how amazing the stickers worked we went in search of some less costly stickers and were able to find them on Uline.com. We began this adventure about two weeks ago and it has been amazing! Our warehouse is more organized, and our customers are made happy when their return is inspected within one or two days of its arrival.

When we first found out about the issue we had no idea how we would fix it. We started talking about getting more warehouse space and even hiring a new employee. Though the stickers solved our issue for now we know that as our company continues to grow this process will have to be reviewed – but for now we love it!

I was completely proud of the fact that we were able to solve the issue with color coding stickers! I’m sure that there have been many companies that were faced with an issue and found a pretty simple and cost effective solution. Feel free to tell us about your cost effective solutions – we’d love to hear about them!

Till next time, remember that a problem is only an opportunity for an excellent solution! 


 

Should all Departments Have “Customer Experience” as their Number One Priority?

Posted on December 29, 2008 by Arianna

Our Returns Policy provides customers with information on how to request a Return Merchandise Authorization [RMA], how to return a product, etc.  One of the most overlooked sections in our policy is our “Basic RMA Policies” which states that “returns must meet all applicable criteria”.  It later goes on to say: “RMAs must be valid, unexpired, and issued for the product being returned”.  We then go on to explain timeframes and acceptable shipping methods.

Recently a customer returned an item that was received incorrectly, but exceeded our approved timeline, and so their return was refused. I was later asked to review the customer’s RMA and rethink our set timeframes and associated policies in order to improve in the area of customer experience.  In an effort to see where we stand as opposed to other major retailers I began to review our returns criteria and compare it to that of others.  According to consumer world we are more consumer friendly than most of the major retailers reviewed.  This brings me to my next point…

Where do we draw the line between our company responsibility and that of the customers’? As I reviewed the RMA it was clear that we did all we could to get the item back. The customer requested an RMA, and in less than an hour received an acceptance email informing them to refer to our Returns Policies before returning the item. The next morning the customer was sent a return label so that they would not incur return shipping costs [which was never used]. Exactly a month after the accepted RMA email was sent to the customer, they returned the package, which was refused by our warehouse. It is the customer’s responsibility to get the product back to us within the specified timeline, and it is our responsibility to do the best we can to help customers with that process.

It is important to note that if the customer had called our Customer Service department to inform us that they were late in returning their item, the RMA may have been approved for return despite the required timeframe.  We strive to give our customers the best experience we can offer. However, there are times when all we can do is assist our customers, and let them do the rest. We will be reviewing different ways of improving our RMA timeframe; for now we hope that customers will understand that we want to help them as much as we can, but in the end we can only help them as much as they allow us to do so.

I encourage feedback and comments from others dealing with similar issues.  When should we meet the customer in the middle and when does it become completely unprofitable to do so?  According to Maxim Mironov’s Optimalogica blog “1 % returns costs you 0.45 % of sales”.  What is even more interesting is the question he then poses “On $10 million sales 1 % returns increase means $45,000 lost in costs. At 4.5 % margin to off-set this loss you need $1 million extra sales. Are you getting this much because of a nicer policy?”  While these numbers may not match ours perfectly it is good to understand that even with a good returns policy we aren’t able to make everyone happy.  We just have to decide if that is something we are ok with and if the dollars make sense.

 

Consumer Research: An Insight to the Buying Patterns of the Online Hispanic Shopper

Posted on July 29, 2008 by Arianna

Providing excellent service in today’s highly competitive marketplace is somewhat difficult for call centers. Even more difficult is the task of servicing multilingual customers.  Dealing with Hispanic customers encompasses customer relationship opportunities that are not necessarily typical to other demographics. There are a few differences that make it more difficult to “seal the deal” on a purchase, but that can create a pathway to repeat purchases.  I know these things from experience, not only am I myself a Hispanic, Bilingual woman, but I come from a family that encapsulates the Mexican culture.

From my experiences I have learned three key things about Hispanic consumers who decide to purchase from an unknown company and these are the things the look for prior to completing a purchase.  The three key elements I am referring to are: simplicity, relationship and security.

Simplicity

Having a website that is easy to browse and understand is essential when dealing with Hispanic consumers. They want to feel like they understand and have control of the website, not fearing that they may get tricked, or that there is a chance they make a costly mistake. Another feature that may be the most important is the ability to locate a contact phone number; which brings us to the next feature they look for, a relationship.

Relationship 

Having a relationship with our customers can be very time consuming and costly, especially when time is money. With Internet sales sky rocketing, the seller-consumer relationship has dropped considerably. There is no need to talk to someone if you can do it alone, online. Hispanic consumers however, think differently. Though they might be using a different mean (store vs. online) by which they are purchasing an item, a relationship is still essential. Spanish speakers want to be able to ask many questions, talk about the products, and even want to be walked through the ordering process. But the relationship does not stop there. After the sale has been made, Hispanic consumers expect a phone call or an email with updates on their order.  Just as simplicity builds upon the relationship aspect of this purchasing decision, relationship builds on the next point, security.

Security

The relationship that is started with a Hispanic customer brings about a sense of security for the customer. They know two things:

  1. They purchased an item from an actual “person”.
  2. That person took the time to know who they were and what they purchased by simply picking up the phone.

These two simple facts reduce any fear that they might have had from purchasing from a new vendor. Thus allowing the customer to relax and patiently wait for their order.

These three features, while often difficult to provide, can and will give a company a competitive advantage. When fully satisfied with the above, a Hispanic customer is more likely to become a return customer. Loyalty has to be one of their greatest attributes. When a Spanish speaking customer finds a company that provides them with a relationship, that company becomes a “friend”; a friend whom you trust and continue to do business with. 

Opportunity for Growth

According to ambicultural.com there are 37 million Hispanics in the United States alone.   An estimated 15 million use the internet, and this number is expected to increase by 20% year over year.  Based on these attributes and our desire to create these relationships, we ourselves have been able to track remarkable results in this demographic.  We have experienced a 4.7% increase in repeat purchases with this customer base. We understand that a customer will not be purchasing a faucet monthly or even yearly, but the fact is that with our Hispanic customers, loyalty stands and we see that revealed in our numbers.  As this market continues to grow so does the opportunity for all internet retailers.