In 2006, consumer researcher Elke den Ouden conducted a study which analyzed, among other things, product returns. The study concluded that the average U.S. buyer spends just 20 minutes trying to make a product work before sending it back to the manufacturer or store.
Americans are an impatient lot – we gripe if we have to wait five minutes at the post office. Furthermore, product designers and marketers can do little to control this aspect of human behavior. They can, however, make it easier to order, assemble, set up, or otherwise use and enjoy their products.
Reduce Your Product Return Rate With Better Product How-Tos
Does your company have a high return rate? Have you evaluated your product instructions lately? Asking a non-employee to use the company-issued how-tos to set up your products can be enlightening. You may uncover answers that will help you save money on returns and boost your customer retention rate.
An Epidemic of Lousy How-Tos
Why do so many products come with awful instructions? The problems include complex language, poor translations, inaccuracies, missing steps, low-quality pictures, copious legalese, non-waterproof paper for wet projects, and difficulty in saving and re-accessing.
Many users get the general drift of overall set-up and just need to know how to do one simple process. If a user’s manual is poorly organized and hard to navigate, the user can’t find the one thing they are looking for.
Here are some excerpts from actual product instructions:
“Please do not put the one embarrassed because it gets wet under the air conditioner.” (This one in particular won Berkley’s 4th Annual Worst Manual Contest.)
This is for a Penholder and Clock set-up:
“The beginning accounts the hour: At position number that show the “DATA” from 00 change into 59 circulations are gradually decrease, current a minute for setting up the number gradually decrease open to start, the same a number for setting up gradually decrease also start.” (This one from a commenter on Techlore.)
Have you looked at the comments accompanying your product returns? They contain valuable information that can be used far beyond the customer service department.
Where Can High-Quality How-Tos Have an Impact?
Customers return products for a variety of reasons, some of which cannot be effectively improved in manufacturing processes or marketing campaigns.
- Buyer ordered the wrong product
- The company shipped the wrong product
- The customer decided they didn’t need the product
- The item didn’t match the image/description provided on a website or in a catalog
- The product malfunctioned or was defective
- The buyer was unable to assemble or set up the item (even though the product was not defective)
Reduce the Return Rate for Non-Defective Products
Improving QC is an ongoing effort for most manufacturers, but I believe the best opportunity for reducing the rate of returns lies with the last reason in the list above – the buyer can’t get a non-defective product up and running. This is especially true with electronic and computer-related products.
Content Strategy Consultant Sharon Burton is an authority on consumer behavior. Last February, Ms. Burton presented a webinar entitled, “Product instructions: The missing piece of the customer experience.”
In a poll she conducted, Ms. Burton found that “About 90% are angry or regret the purchase when they can’t use the instructions.”
If They Think It’s Broken, It Might as Well Be
“Only 5 percent of consumer electronics products returned to retailers are malfunctioning – yet many people who return working products think they are broken. The cost of consumer electronics returns in 2007 was $13.8 billion in the United States alone, with return rates ranging from 11 percent to 20 percent, depending on the type of product. Accenture estimates that 68 percent of returns are products that work properly but do not meet customers’ expectations for some reason.”
Why So Many Customer-Produced Videos on YouTube?
Have you ever perused YouTube for product instructions? Customer “how-to” videos abound. They range from homemade, amateur pieces to fairly professional productions. I would venture to say that many of these DIY videographers know more about the product than the company’s marketing team.
It surprises me that there are so many product how-to videos for mainstream products sold by billion-dollar international companies. Some of these videos have thousands of views and dozens of comments from grateful watchers – a fact that reinforces the argument that many companies, even those with deep pockets, fail to address this critical component of the customer experience.
If vendors created professional, useable instructions and delivered them with the product (or made them easily accessible online) there would be less demand for homemade how-to videos and third-party product forums.
Defective How-Tos, Not Defective Products
A quick internet search for poor instruction experiences turned up the following customer comments:
- “The ‘instructions’ were hidden away…”
- “The product came with absolutely no directions at all and I had never heard of this product before, so we had no idea how to use it.”
- “Misplacing product instruction manuals can be such a headache.”
I found the following example at NextAvenue.org from a buyer of a weed trimmer who simply wanted to know how to reload the string:
“Nowhere in the manual does it explain the weight (thickness) of nylon string to use when reloading the trimmer, nor does it explain how to install the string into the double-threaded spool so that it feeds correctly. Reloading string is the third most common function a user will need to do, after starting/stopping and refueling. After multiple hair-tearing sessions with incorrectly feeding string, I finally took the trimmer into the dealer, where I got a free lesson on string replacement.”
QC for Product Instructions
At Steptap, we have created a powerful platform for creating effective product and process how-tos. You can open a basic account for free and create your own how-tos or hire our team of writers. We specialize in creating product instructions that can help reduce your rate of product returns and lighten the load for your customer service department.
Steptap allows you to break down complex processes into steps. These self-contained “steplists” appeal to busy customers who don’t have time to read the entire manual, search YouTube, or trial-and-error it until it’s working.
Here is a steplist for GMetrix, a company that provides a web-based administration system that allows instructors to easily manage the distribution and tracking of their tech certification students.
This steplist allows users to complete the desired task quickly. It can be saved in their own Steptap account or found on the company’s website. It can be easily shared and re-accessed. As a searchable, Google-indexed page, a steplist is an SEO tool. It can be embedded in the company blog or posted to social media sites. It has SEO tags, search engine keywords, and “Buy Now” links to online stores.
See steptap.com to learn more.