Gain visibility into your partners’ operations
In the push for digital transformation and the increasing reliance on third-party partners, your team needs to know what your partner is doing and vice versa. Without visibility, your customers and your staff will suffer.
Several months ago, I needed a few things in a hurry and decided to give same-day delivery a try—despite the added cost. The online experience was a bit disjointed because I had to set up a separate account with the retailer’s delivery partner before I could finish my order. Then I waited. And waited. I fell asleep waiting, in fact.
When I woke up, I called the store. The very patient but also frustrated worker explained that since deliveries are handled by a third party, she had no knowledge of my order or how to help me. When I called the third party, I was told they were experiencing unusually high call volume.
A few hours later, I got an email notification that my order had been canceled. That’s it. Just canceled. No explanation. Nothing about the items being out of stock or how they planned to make it up to me.
When I complained to the retailer directly, they assured me that I would get $20 off my next order “automatically.” I was skeptical. Sure enough, there was nothing automatic nor any savings on my next and final order from that retailer.
Offering same-day delivery is great. I understand why you’d partner with someone who specializes in delivery, but if your frontline employees have no visibility into what’s happening with your customer orders, they miss an opportunity to make things right and keep customers happy and coming back.
Be prepared for logistics failures
Delivery is the last and sometimes most fraught mile for e-commerce shoppers. A bad experience can tarnish a brand quickly even if you’re not at fault. Customers might be tired of hearing that things are delayed because of COVID; however, transparency and setting proper expectations from the outset can go a long way.
Shipping infrastructure has buckled under the weight of unprecedented package volumes. With holiday returns forecasted to reach $70.5 billion, ongoing delays are inevitable. And, while many brands have rigorous tracking, it’s that very last mile when packages go “out for delivery” that they can end up in a black hole. In addition to the sheer volume shippers are dealing with, delivery issues have been exacerbated by seasonal staff and new hires who might not know the roads and neighborhoods as well as tenured workers.
Now if you’re in an area where the volumes haven’t been stressed to the limit, you probably haven’t experienced issues and lucky you. Because in general, logistics is well oiled. BUT, when there are issues, what seems to be missing is analysis and resolution. And how do you prevent these issues from reflecting poorly on your brand?
Transparency is key. Set proper expectations up front, don’t make promises you can’t keep and be honest when problems do arise. Keep customers in the loop about possible delays. Sending out replacement items is a costly proposition and only adds to the deliveries in the queue. Plus, there’s no guarantee that next package will arrive at its destination.
If you have local in-store inventory you can tap to fulfill orders, all the better. Many retailers are pivoting to delivering items locally or using alternative pickup locations such as self-service lockers and kiosks. Whatever options you decide to deploy, remember that your preference might not match your customers. In fact, 38.3 percent of merchants think that consumers commonly use “buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS), while just 10 percent of consumers say they use BOPIS often or always, according to recent data in the Global Digital Shopping Index.
Make returns simple
The next examples come from two very large retailers who are nailing the return experience for items purchased online. It makes sense to prioritize an easy return process. After all, 95% of customers who are happy with the return process will shop with that retailer again. Conversely, shoppers who are unhappy with the return process are three times more likely to never shop with that retailer again.
Although I order almost everything online, I’ve been much more skeptical of buying clothes online for fear of things not fitting right. This year, I decided to dip my toe in the water by ordering pajamas. I was delighted when they were actually too big, but I was even more excited that the exchange was so easy. I had purchased it from an e-commerce giant with a long return window and, thanks to my membership, no shipping fees on returns and exchanges. All I had to do was take my package to the UPS store, they scanned a barcode from my phone, printed the label and off I went. Not only that, I also was able to order replacement pajamas before returning the originals. Seamless.
I had a similarly simple return process at another retailer. This time, I’d ordered a water filter for my refrigerator, but the retailer’s third-party seller sent an air filter by mistake. I took the part to the customer service desk at the physical store and was able to get the return processed expediently and without having to figure out shipping. I just left it at the store–simple.
As you embrace the digital transformation that is upon us, make sure you’re taking a walk in your customers’ shoes, especially for scenarios when things don’t go as planned. Understand all the parts of the customer journey and their ramifications. Be transparent about what optimal experiences like curbside pickup, grocery pickup or delivery, or hassle-free returns require from the customer. And the fewer hoops they have to jump through to get your best experience, the more likely they will be to come back and maybe even tell their friends.
Loraine DeBonis is the director of marketing and corporate communications at Ubiquity.