You will get returns. Welcome them. They provide an opportunity to fine-tune your sales and delivery machine, making a one-time customer into a loyal, repeat customer.

The first step is to assign a unique return number to every returned order. Next, examine each case within the context of how you should change your fulfillment process to prevent a similar return in the future. Of course, not all returns will be caused by an error on your end -- some can be attributed to a customer's change of mind, a manufacturer defect, or something else over which you have no control. If the problem can be traced to your process, fix it. If it can't, you must still resolve it to your customer's satisfaction.

Determine the Reason for Each Return
There is a reason for every return. Some result from simple customer quirks; others are due to fulfillment errors, poor product quality, or shipping damage. View each return as an opportunity to create a loyal customer. First, make sure you understand why a product is being returned. Second, look for return trends; if you spot one, act quickly to fix the problem. (For example, you may notice that only products shipped on Fridays are being returned. Perhaps the Friday UPS driver is careless.) And third, make every effort to contact customers directly to acknowledge their issues and solicit their feedback on how your processes can be improved.

Inspect Inventory for Problems
Occasionally you (better) or your customers (worse) will find defects in your product inventory. One return for defective merchandise may be a fluke. Two is a trend. Defects can generally be traced to these sources -- the manufacturing, storage, or shipping process. Check your inventory. If you find problems, contact the manufacturer. If you are the manufacturer, examine your own procedures.

Review Your Own Manufacturing Procedures
If you manufacture your own products, it's critical that you keep your equipment in excellent shape. Make sure you rigorously adhere to the maintenance and calibration schedules established by the equipment manufacturer. Ensure that your employees understand how to operate the equipment correctly and safely. Keep your employees' skills current with regular training.

If you use outside parts and materials, check all incoming shipments. Set aside defective parts for expeditious return in accord with the vendor's return policies.

Examine Fulfillment Procedures and Make Adjustments
If the returned item was damaged in shipping, check your own picking and handling procedures. To locate potential problems, track a similar item from start to finish on its journey through the fulfillment process. If your system appears sound and the damage appears to be the result of mishandling by the carrier, inform the carrier.

Investigate Overall Product Quality
If the defect results from a manufacturer's lack of quality control, investigate your options for obtaining the same parts or goods from another vendor. Take the following steps to check for inventory defects, thereby correcting small problems before they become big ones.

  • Randomly sample incoming parts and materials for defects. If you find problems, advise the vendor immediately.
  • Examine incoming packages, pallets, and containers for damage. Closely inspect the contents of any damaged packaging, and remove and return all questionable items.

Return Defective Products to the Manufacturer
If they are covered by manufacturer's warranty, immediately return defective parts and products to the manufacturer. Provide notice of the problem by e-mail and then follow up with a letter via fax or regular mail. Make sure you follow the stated return policy.

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