I recently had to return a pair of shoes I’d purchased online.  I realized immediately when I tried them on just after they were delivered that the size was wrong.  Fortunately, the return process was super simple from a Customer’s perspective:  The company had included a return label that I could slap right on the exact same box (that we wisely chose not to let the dog get hold of) in which came the original order and all I had to do was swing past any FedEx office to get it back on its way.  Then, once they’d “received the return” they’d get my replacement, properly-sized, on its way back to me.

The “received the return” part is in quotes on purpose.

See, it’s not so much a matter of FedEx competently returning my package to the shoe company, which they were able to do with great dispatch.  The return has to be ‘received.’  That’s company-talk for, checked over to make sure I’d not taken them on a mud-ladened BMX ride, re-accounted for, restocked (you’ve heard of that fee, right?), and then, they’ll get my new shoes off another rack and send those along to me.

But here’s the problem (as if that weren’t enough of an issue):  this shoe company didn’t have a system to update me on the status of anything until the shoes had already been checked back in and a new pair was on its way.  One thing they did do is set the expectation of how long this would take:  14 to 20 days.  Yes.  And that’s business days.

Can we first acknowledge that, the primary thing they could do here is hire a few more people in their warehouse so the process…doesn’t take a month to accomplish?

Short of that, of course, what’s keeping this company from being better at communicating with me?  Thanks to FedEx, I was notified the very day (with details including the actual time and place at the warehouse) of the delivery of my return package.  No thanks to the shoe company, I at least had that visibility.  But that was it.  After that, the whole process went silent.

I often say that, the worst place you can ever leave your Customer is in the dark.  That’s exactly where I was, and where I’d remain for, apparently, several weeks.  This company didn’t seem to recognize that, while the irritation that it took forever to get my return/replacement squared away was already strike one, not giving me any sort of witness as to what was going on and leaving me to twist was the icing on the cake.

Short of hiring those new warehouse workers to speed up the process, it’d have been cheaper (probably free) to simply increase communications.  They already have an automated system for communicating with us, but there’s no trigger for it until the replacement ships.  The radio silence doesn’t show a lack of resources; it’s a lack of care for and attention to the Customer.

In fact, since it went so long, I eventually engaged with their CS team (“Can you please offer me an update?” via email), which cost them more money (and took a couple days, no less…likely because of all the inquiries they get since they don’t automatically communicate more frequently about the progress within the process) because it involved actual employees responding to my inquiry.  Automating with a quick “we received your return package and it should only be short while before we have officially restocked and can ship your new pair” message, then later a “we’ve shipped your new pair, you should be recieving them in a few days” (with a link to track them of course), would have changed the experience tremendously, and saved them all the resources individually responding to every question a Customer has.

Why do companies do this to their Customers?  What’s worse, why do they do it to themselves?  Even from a strictly efficiency perspective they’re missing the boat and costing themselves more (in terms of resources, employee busyness, etc.), but clearly it’s also a hit to their CX.  Even if they’re not thinking about their CX, it’d be more cost-efficient to proactively communicate when they know they’re going to have to eventually do so anyway when the Customer hits them up for information.