After the grand opening of the Swindon PC Galaxy store, I had a couple of weeks to get my feet under the desk. I should have realised it was too good to last. A call came from head office - we needed to do something about our returns policy, one of our top marketing features.
"Just bring it back." That's the slogan. The only problem is, too many of the punters are doing just that, mostly because of their own incompetence.
I made sympathetic noises.
Mr Tye, my boss, said: "As our flagship store, we want you to lead the way. A 30 per cent reduction in returns in the next fortnight." He didn't say "or else", but then, he didn't need to.
I had a brainstorming session with my number one, Fiona. It's not that I couldn't manage on my own: I always dismiss Fiona's ideas as too wishy-washy, but sometimes she helps by fine-tuning my brainwaves. My original plan was to verbally abuse customers who returned things, and to swipe their credit cards twice.
But I have to admit the final version was very practical.
A fortnight later, Mr Tye came down from London. "The bad news is, we haven't managed a 30 per cent reduction," I said. "The good news is, we've managed 50 per cent." When he asked how, I took him to my office, pointed to the support desk security monitor, and told him to watch the four-point plan in action.
Someone approached the desk. "Point one, keep 'em waiting. On average a customer waits 15 minutes before being noticed. We lose plenty of them that way." But this punter was the impatient sort, leaning over the counter and starting to play with the till.
Time for stage two. One of the half-dozen service staff who had been pointedly ignoring him popped out. "Point two, make them feel ignorant.
"Our man's asking embarrassing technical questions. See how he's much younger than the customer? It adds to the humiliation. Quite a few don't get past this stage." But our punter did. "Now the technician's going to test the returned item to make sure there's a fault."
"But our policy says no quibbles," said Mr Tye.
"We're not quibbling, we're helping. He takes the item and spends an age installing it, not coming out again for at least 20 minutes. By then most give in and ask for their product back."
"And if that fails?" asked Mr Tye.
"We offer an on-site test. It's free if our engineer can't fix it, but £100 if he can." We watched the punter walk away.
"Amazing," said Mr Tye.
"Not really. You've just got to understand customer service." Next day, a bulletin went round all the stores.
Mr Tye has developed a four-step returns plan.
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