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iRobot – Elite CRM, stupid returns system


This review in destinationCRM of iRobot’s automated customer service system – in which the system was given a 2008 Elite award – reminded me of an experience with a different iRobot system. iRobot’s return system is less award-worthy. Let me take you back a few months…

At Christmas I took advantage of an iRobot offer to buy two robots (Scooba mop and Roomba vacuum) and get one free (DirtDog vacuum). These duly arrived and we used them for some time, rapidly concluding that the DirtDog was fantastic and that the Roomba worked as advertised. They were keepers. The Scooba, however, could not cope with the uneven floor in our kitchen (large tiles, deep grout).   I called the returns folks to return the Scooba.

Clearly, I thought, a company like iRobot will be able to calculate the difference in value between what I keep and what I paid and refund me the difference. After all this is not a hard calculation (only a very few pricing rules need to be applied) and iRobot is too new to be burdened with lots of legacy applications…

Sadly, as you can probably guess, this was not the case. No, I was told, this won’t work. To get any refund you must return exactly what you bought. I explained that this would mean me packing up and returning 3 robots and then immediately buying 2 new ones. Nevertheless, I was told, the system will only allow us a refund if the complete purchase is returned. So, reluctantly, I sent back all three and re-ordered the two I wanted. Net cost to iRobot – 2 additional robots that have to be refurbished and sold as used plus additional free shipping on the new ones. Presumeably this was all charged to the returns policy.

Yet there was no need for this. Calling out a hidden decision – “Calculate refund for return” – and using some simple business rules to calculate the value, at time of ordering, of what was kept compared to what was paid, would have allowed me to send back just the one robot I actually did not want. The trouble was that iRobot had hidden this decision, simply forcing it to the amount paid and imposing tight constraints on what had to be returned.

Besides solving my problem, and saving iRobot money, this would also have increased their flexibility. They could calculate returns differently for different channels or products, offer discounted returns after 30 days   and much more. They could use this decision point to generate competitive advantage. Sadly, they do not.

I am sure the automated system for which they received an award is wonderful – I have not had to use it yet – but clearly they could do with making their return system a little smarter.


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