Early in my career, I left the law firm to work for a startup company called Melaleuca—maybe you’ve heard of the multi-billion-dollar direct sales giant still serving their customers 30 years later. My mentor gave me strict instructions on my role at the company: “keep distributors happy.”
That’s when I learned success in direct sales is dependent on your customers and distributors thriving in your company. The success of customers brings more success to distributors, and a happy distributor sells more products.
It takes strategic planning, excellent communication, and authentic training to build a world-class direct sales, network marketing, or multi-level marketing company. After all, the direct sales channel is all about serving people well.
I’ve learned throughout my 30+ year career, customer service makes or breaks MLM (multi-level marketing, network marketing, and party plan). Yet there are three simple disciplines every customer service team must have, I call them the Three R’s: reading, researching, and responding.
These three essential disciplines are interdependent. When implemented, the following results are likely to follow:
Fast turnaround on customer inquiries
Courteous and friendly service
Meaningful and accurate responses
Low operating costs
The bedrock of a solid customer service experience is understanding what the customer or representative fundamentally wants when they call for support.
A customer wants:
to be believed
a quick response
a meaningful answer
a fair adjustment.
How to Minimize Customer Calls and Returns
If you’re checking your customer service email, calls, and returns and they feel excessive, let me walk you through successful strategies to turn a bad experience into a positive outcome.
The first key to minimizing customer contacts and returns is simple: the more efficiently you operate your business, the fewer inquiries, returns, and requests you will receive.
Even the most efficient companies receive four to six subsequent contacts, exclusive of returns, for every 100 orders they take in. Returns can range as high as 30 percent but be encouraged that return rates can also be in the single digits.
However, your representatives should be aware of abusive returns and prepared to make decisions that protect the company.
Creating Customer Service Tags
Start by creating a system to tag a potential abuser’s account within your CRM and prepare your team at your call center with the words to say to potential return abuse. Remember, a customer who knows where the lines are drawn will likely adjust their habits to work within the newly discovered parameters. Don’t be too hasty to cut off an account. Find other avenues to which you can escalate a ticket for special handling.
Above all, help your customer service agents to resist the temptation to suspect all customers and reps. Research shows that less than 2% of people are inclined to cheat and take advantage of a company, and it’s not good form to treat the 98% of good and honest people with suspicion. The standard is to be generous, but track and watch the data. This includes making notes in CRM files and watching histories, and do it as a standard practice. This will alert other customer service agents when they are in the practice of reviewing notes when they are handling requests.
One company reports that during a year one customer returned $7,960 worth of products of the $8,000 he purchased—most slightly used. Another company’s research showed that returns from 200 chronic returners amounted to seven percent of the total annual dollar value of the company’s returns. These are outliers, but they point out the value in having the right strategies and processes in place.
Important strategies for abusive customers give you two wins:
Give your customer service agents a chance to lead with trust.
People who contact on rare occasion to simply receive their money back quickly and painlessly can be trusted. Doing so can dramatically reduce the number of calls you receive. It is worth the effort to win retention and a key area for scoring big points with your contact.
Protect your bottom line!
An interesting situation on returns exists in West Germany. A customer may return a package via the postal service at no charge. The law requires the company to pay the return postage cost! As a result, many customers order more than one size and/or color of a product and return the unwanted items. It also creates the unusual potential for customers to place high-volume orders for commission qualification, and then return much or all the merchandise at the company’s expense.
In the US, the number of customer contacts received is heavily influenced by merchandise presentation, ordering information, checkout process, published policies—essentially, your reputation. Other factors affecting contacts and returns can be divided into three groupings:
customer service performance
If you feel like you cannot get ahead of excessive product returns, follow the list to reduce customer inquiries, complaints, and returns under these three groupings.
Multi-Level Marketing Fulfillment Execution
Again, thanks to Amazon, we are primed to receive our orders to arrive within a few days—or hours in some regions. While that may not be an option for your company focus your team to get to the customer in less than a week—max. Many new customers will get impatient waiting any longer. Time is your success factor when it comes to shipping!
While you may not always know the demand for your products, make every effort to stock sufficient inventory. Insufficient inventory not only affects the personal consumer, but any delay also affects the distributor as well. Protect this relationship!
Check the accuracy of each order before packing.
Make sure to include the initials or employee of picking to develop a system of feedback. This information can help your customer service agents when they are on the phone with a customer. Then provide feedback in the spirit of helping each team member to improve.
Years ago, I learned that that I should always expect what I inspect. The concept made sense, and I advocated for inspections. In the months and years that followed, I learned that the concept is sound, but that “inspection” in the MLM warehouse is most effective when it is cultural—when an employee takes ultimate ownership and inspects their own work.
The customer becomes the ultimate inspector, and if you can identify the employee for providing feedback, that will always be the best system you will find when humans are involved.
This standard is enhanced with rewards since performance that is measured always improves. And when performance is also measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates. Ultimately, when performance is measured, reported, and rewarded, then performance is optimized.
This management concept applies equally in all areas of your company, starting with the wise inspection of individual performance. This also helps to explain why some of the best managers proclaim to “fire the inspectors!”
Enclose a packing slip.
This critical addition ensures each shipment includes what was ordered, yet it also serves as instructions for returns and engaging with your company. Don’t forget to think of it as a touchpoint that can help to strengthen the relationship. Sweetwater has for years included a small bag of 4 or 5 candy pieces in every box they ship. Even if you don’t like hard or chewy candy pieces, you cannot help but smile because of the special touch.
Also, look at the packing slip page for yourself, is the packing slip a reflection of the brand you’re building? Any document or page from your company needs to further illustrate your commitment to your new or recurring customer!
Never leave your customer wondering about any back-ordered item!
Communicate in their email—even a phone call, address why the delay occurred, empathize with the problem, and give expectations.
Pack neatly and protect the order.
Returned damaged products are frustrating for you and for your customers! Part of the services you are providing is packaging that supports the safe delivery of the product.
Provide easy payment processing and payment returns.
Returns are a part of business; ensure your website provider helps customer navigation for smooth payment processing and payment returns. When you map the emotional responses in the customer journey, you will see that the three high-anxiety points are (1) the first time an order is submitted with payment (“Am I doing the right thing by buying from this MLM company?”), (2) opening the order and something is wrong or missing (“Did I make a mistake by choosing this company?”), and (3) returning an item for credit or refund (“Do I need to track this and make sure I get my money back or credit on account?”).
The really good news is that when you create the processes that anticipate these questions, then deliver in a way that shows you have anticipated and can reassure, then these questions will not be asked again in the future. This is because the basis and definition of trust is the result of consistent behavior over time. And trust is another love language of the MLM distributor and customer.
Merchandise for Online Customer Service Success
Leave nothing to chance—ensure product quality upon receipt from manufacturers.
If you’re not doing it already, meet periodically with your manufacturers and suppliers and build the relationship. Convey the culture and value expectations and open the discussion for meaningful feedback designed to help you both win. Create a meaningful connection that focuses on the happiness of your customers and the ultimate success of your reps.
Provide understandable and complete product use instructions where appropriate.
Keep in mind that the products are designed to deliver an experience—to evoke a response, to deliver benefits, and to reinforce the goodness of your company and commitment to customer success. Happy customers come back. When they come back, your reps are happy.
Leverage each shipment as a touchpoint to convey value, including creative ways to help the client understand the products better and to get the most value (which includes perception) from their purchase.
Cancel backorders after a reasonable time—with apologies!
When backorders become problematic, make sure customers are informed as soon as you find out. They are your partners, after all, in that they have placed trust in you. By informing them—even if the news isn’t the best news—you show respect, and in doing so, you maintain the relationship. In fact, it has been said that a difficult situation handled well delivers a more powerful testimony than when everything is going well.
Customer Service for Increased Performance
Ultimately keeping customers happy helps reps and the company to win! It’s the most simple, brilliant strategy used by the global direct sales MLM companies. Simple acts of intentional support for your customer service agents as well as for the field can increase performance quickly and consistency.
Examples include a top executive taking an hour to sit with customer service agents, put on a headset, and listen to calls. Or sit next to an agent and answer emails. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers, the agents are smart and they will help you. It’s one of the most powerful ways to tune into the pulse of the business while showing much-needed support in the customer service department.
Respond to inquiries and adjustments quickly and stay current with the processing of returns and refunds.
Customers and distributors have a need for speed. Attention spans are short these days, and speed is the love language of most consumers. When you are handling their money, they trust you to put their interests first. So just do it.
Acknowledge returns upon receipt.
Today, an email is sufficient. It’s also inefficient unless it’s triggered immediately upon scanning a delivery into your system.
Use plain talk in writing to customers; call the customer on the phone for complex problems.
Tag customer service problems and returns monthly, review and then take corrective action to reduce them.
Train your team to receive personal feedback and make a note with their customer’s name in your CRM. Common responses:
Wrong Item Received
Unsatisfactory Color (fragrance, etc.)
Not Pleased with Product
Did Not Fit
Not As Expected
Received Too Late
I’m often called upon when multi-level marketing or direct sales companies face a challenge with too many returns or too many tickets for their customer services representatives to handle.
So, I go to the customer service floor, slip on a headset, and listen to the customer. It’s the most fruitful part of my time!
Every policy or SOP is developed out of providing great customer service. If you’re struggling with too many calls or returns, book a call with me. We’ll help you locate the problem so you can win with direct sales!
Terrel Transtrum is the world’s leading consultant for Customer Service in Direct Sales. He is most widely known for attacking all inflection points from startup, fast growth, and downturn. In his book LaunchSmart, Terrel shares his more than 30-years of experience in starting and running a successful direct sales company. He owns two successful 7-figure businesses and has supported more than 800 direct sales companies on six continents. Read More