My (Not Really) Customer-Centric Return Experience

Image source: maxart/ modified by Tim-Frederik Kohler

When it comes to managing returns and refund requests from customers, many companies today are barely prepared. As I have experienced myself, even the big corporates are lagging – what is this article all about. 

In most cases, many organizations are too focused on reducing the number of returns, while neglecting the reason a product may be sent back from customers in the first place. But a restrictive return policy only drives customers away. My experience with a well-established global brand (from now on referred to as Brand X) recently underlined how a lack of customer-centricity could send customers out the door.

Brand X is a high-quality European-based sportswear manufacturer, and one of the largest in the world. Renowned for its attention to detail and quality, Brand X has been my sportswear brand of choice literally since I was born. However, things turned sour when I purchased a pair of running shoes at their store at Changi Airport before flying off to Germany. To save space, I took out the shoes and left the box behind to avoid taking too much stuff along.

When I got back from Germany, it was time to put the shoes to use. So, I put them on and set out for a light workout. However, only about 10 meters into my run, the lace eyelet on my shoe broke (see picture below). It was obviously an annoying quality problem, so I had no choice and had to contact Brand X’s customer service to find a solution.

Having searched the internet unsuccessfully for their customer service contact in Singapore, their Facebook page popped up. Their response was fast, but I was soon told that they only served customers who bought their shoes online. So, they sent me a link to Brand X physical store locations in Singapore, instead, and told me to go to any one of those to return the shoes. 

After the brief chat on Facebook messenger, I thought it was a good idea to call Brand X’s store at the airport, but since it was located in the departure area, I couldn’t gain access to this area for returns. The lady on the other end of the phone was friendly and patiently listened to my complaints. She asked if I still had the shoe box, but when I replied in the negative, I was told returning the shoes may be impossible without the box. I was surprised. I was shocked.

Just as the Facebook customer service personnel told me, the lady on the phone referred me to any Brand X physical store locations for exchange. So, I searched the brand’s website for the nearest location to exchange the shoes.

Finding a physical outlet through the website wasn’t much of a hassle. With my schedule cleared for a visit, I set out for the exchange. Rebuffed. Again. The staff there referred me instead to another Brand X store for any exchange.

When I finally got there, the staff were again warm, friendly and quite helpful. First, they tried to confirm if an exchange could be made without the box. Upon examination, they decided the little speck of dust on the sole of the shoe meant it was used. Of course, this was the result of a 10m walk, and I duly told them as much.

Fifteen (15) minutes of waiting followed before I was informed once again that the box was needed for any exchange to occur. This time, however, they were ready for a concession. My receipt was requested. The exchange followed, but this time without any receipt of purchase. There was no return of my initial receipt, and no new one was issued either.

Why? According to one of the staffs, an exchange could only be made once – even if the problem, or something different, arose again. Oh well, I could make do with receiving my new pair of shoes after such a long, trying and ultimately annoying process.

In the end, this was an unnecessarily long process for a top-level brand. The entire exchange policy reeked of a lack of care and concern for customers. Nothing shows concern more than a policy that allows customers to receive value for money, particularly when they experience troubles through no fault of theirs.

Being customer-centric goes far beyond having friendly, smiling customer care personnel. It is everything about the customer relation process. Brands like Lazada and Amazon have proved that an easy and friendly return policy is possible. Sadly, for Brand X, both brands have become top-level competition for their offering.

Interestingly, based on my experience in the past, Brand X’s home base in Germany enjoys a much smoother return policy. As a global brand, certainly more is expected. For the records, I have been a Brand X enthusiast since a young boy. I still wonder how much worse it would have felt if I was a first-time buyer? 

On the other hand, Amazon continues to enjoy massive positive reviews from its customers as a result of its customer-friendly return policies. The e-commerce giant has a dedicated ‘Returns and Replacements’ platform on its website – a central area where customers can find answers to most of their queries. The ‘Returns and Replacement’ link shows customers how easy it is to return a product. First-time customers will find this especially comforting, and if you are a regular buyer on the platform, you’d have more than enough reasons to keep returning.

The truth is, traditional sportswear companies still have a strong presence in the marketplace, but things could change quickly if their return policies are not customer-centric. Buyers want to feel like an important part of the brand. Brand X must shake things up quickly to maintain its hold in the industry. If this does not happen soon, modern, more customer-centric companies will take the driver seat in no time.

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