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Simple Returns with Amazon.com

Amazon_com_200I know this is my second pro-Amazon post in a week or so (the first was this one: Amazon Thinks Ahead), but that’s just a coincidence that resulted from me using Amazon a lot over the last three weeks or so.

One thing I noticed after I ordered something I didn’t actually need was that Amazon has what is probably the simplest return process I’ve ever seen from any online company. Here’s the said process as I experienced it:

  1. Login to Amazon.
  2. Locate the order that contains the item you want to return.
  3. Click “Need to return an item?” (or something like that) and select the item you want to return.
  4. Pick from a drop down box about why you want to return the item (I chose “No longer needed”). Enter in any optional comments about why you’re returning the item.
  5. Click next. Decide if you want to print out a USPS postage label from Amazon (they deduct the postage from the refund amount) or mail it yourself and deal with the postage yourself. (If you’re returning the product for something that is Amazon’s fault (defective product, wrong item, etc.), they cover the postage for you.)
  6. I chose deal with it myself and was then able to print out a nice RMA form, along with a pre-addressed shipping label.
  7. Include the form in the package with the product you’re returning, mail it off, and then wait for the refund.

It was very simple. I didn’t have to call anyone, I didn’t have to hunt down anything on their website, and I didn’t have to wait for approval or explain my situation to anyone. It’s all very automated and very simple. This isn’t surprising given how Amazon works in general, but it’s an excellent return process that any company could learn from.

Amazon Thinks Ahead

I like Amazon.com and I’ve never been ashamed to admit that. I buy pretty much everything I can on Amazon, compare prices using the site, and have had nothing but good experiences with the company. I agree with most of the ways they do things and I like using the site. Given all this, I wasn’t surprise when I found out something that Amazon does that’s pretty cool; they think ahead.

I had to have something I bought on Amazon sent to a PO Box. With some companies, this is a painful experience at best. Carriers like FedEx, UPS, and DHL can’t deliver to PO Boxes because they’re run by the US Post Office (obviously, a competitor to the aforementioned companies). Only the US Postal Service (USPS) can deliver to PO boxes. A lot of big product companies use different algorithms to decide which carrier to use based on pricing, distance, delivery time, etc. I believe that Amazon does this, but for customers with a PO box, they do something better.

With Amazon, every customer who puts the words “PO Box” in their shipping address will automatically get their package shipped via USPS. It’s as simple as that. No worrying about returned packages, no lack of delivery guarantees because it’s a PO box, etc.

This isn’t a complicated thing to make work behind the scenes. It might cost Amazon a little bit more than their “optimal” carriers for regular home delivery, but it saves their customers a lot of hassle. Companies that act this way and think ahead about what sort of problems certain types of customers can run into and then work to address those problems quickly and efficiently tend to do well when it comes to customer service and the customer service experience. I thought this was a great example of how Amazon handled the situation.

photo credit: thisisbossi

Stained Glass Service

My son and his fiancé elected to get married in a large antique church in mid-town Atlanta. Their choice of church was driven in part by the magnificent stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Just at the “I do” part of their late afternoon ceremony, the setting sun suddenly showered through one giant stained glass window sending a mosaic of bright colors over the wedding party. It took our breath away!

Stained glass windows decorate many churches, cathedrals, and significant buildings around the world. The art form goes back a thousand years when craftsman using metallic salts added to the glass during its manufacturing to create a special colors. The glass provided a palette that enabled an artist to turn panes into pictures. It is a powerful metaphor for remarkable service. What if customer service was like a stained glass window?

Arched, Not Square
Most stained glass windows are shaped different than other windows. Instead of following the traditional square or rectangle lines, they are often arched or round. Great service does not follow a tradition approach. It is distinctive and bold. It is:

  • Remarkable
  • Colorful, Not Plain
  • Handmade, Not Cookie Cutter
  • Story Maker, Not Perfunctory

Remarkable customer service evokes a remark—commentary on an experience. When that level of commentary reached anecdotal level, the customer is imbedding a poignant memory in the mind of the listener. As customers, we forget others accolades and recommendations, but we remember their stories.

Stain glass windows tell a story. Those in churches and cathedral often have a history behind them and depict a scene worthy of its own story.

It would mean service that is arched, not a plain square or rectangle. It would be distinctive and very colorful. It would be handmade and special, not cookie cutter like an ordinary window. And, it would create a story-to-tell in the memory of the recipient. How are you bringing a stained glass experience to your customers?

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell is the author (with John R. Patterson) of Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. He can be reached through www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: lvm15

Track Satisfaction by Segment

If your company is like most companies, you most likely track customer satisfaction by sending out a survey to a random group of customers. This is definitely better than nothing and certainly worth doing, but it’s still a bit lacking.

The next step is customer satisfaction tracking is to track customer satisfaction among different segments. Segments worth considering include:

  • Geographic regions (North America, EMEA, Asia, etc.)
  • Demographic data (gender, age, etc.)
  • Length of time with company (for services)
  • Loyalty / rewards program membership
  • Different products / services they utilize
  • Customer value (customers who you actually make money off of)

And any number of other characteristics or information that you might be interested in segmenting. The point is to track where and for whom your customer service might be doing exceptionally well and where and for whom it might be failing.

Examples: If new customers are responding with very poor opinions of your company, chances are the getting started process is a bit rough around the edges. If members of loyalty / rewards programs are responding poorly, they probably don’t feel as valued as they are expecting and need some extra attention.

Segmenting makes what could otherwise be a boring blur of customer satisfaction data a lot more interesting and a lot more useful. It is a perfect thing for companies who identity their service as “pretty good” to invest some time into. When your service is doing well overall, segmenting will reveal what needs to be improved in much more specific terms.

PayPal Makes It Easy

I got an email from PayPal the other day letting me know that my PayPal debit card was going to expire soon and that they were going to send a new card to the address I had listed on my account. If the address wasn’t correct, they said, I had seven days to get it correct and they would then send the card out.

The experience was about as good as it could have been. PayPal told me what had happened (card expiring), what I needed to do (nothing if the address they listed was correct), and what would happen if I did nothing (they’d send a new card to the address). They also included my address in the email so I didn’t have to login and check if it was the right address and they gave me plenty of time to act on what they said in case there was a problem.

My experience with PayPal was a great example of seamless service done right. For PayPal, the process was entirely automated and didn’t cost them a thing (it probably saves them money by reducing the numbers of cards sent to the wrong address). If your company has processes similar to a situation where a credit card expires, look into automating and improving the processes as much as possible. It’ll be worth the time and financial investment.

Crazy Drive-through Experience

angus deluxeI went to the drive-through at McDonald’s not that long ago and had what had to be one of the most absurd customer service experiences I’ve ever had.

The experience started off by me pulling up to the drive-through. The guy came on through the intercom and asked how he could help me. I asked if they had hot chocolate. Silence. 30 seconds later, he comes back on asking if he can help me. I ask if they have hot chocolate. Silence. Again. This happens one more time before I give up and just pull up to the first window.

I place my order at the first window (no apologies for zoning out or any potential technical difficulties) and the guy tells me my total. I hand him my credit card and he then instructs me to pull up to the first window and continues to look at his screen. He instructed me to pull up to the window I was already at while I was in the middle of paying him.

In one drive-through experience, I managed to find what seemed to be the black hole of McDonald’s and get told to pull up to the exact same window I was already at. As someone who typically focuses on helping companies go from 8’s to 10’s, the experience was somewhat shocking.

photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker