Imagine you had my day this past weekend. Imagine that your wife likes to shop for clothes online, and really loves both Nordstrom and HauteLook, but since it’s difficult to gauge how something will fit, she likes to order multiple sizes and have her husband return the extras to the store.

So you get up in the morning, gather up the goods, load them into the car, and head off to the mall. You wait in line at the customer service counter where returns are handled, and feel that brief moment of triumph when you finally reach the front of the line and hear the cashier say that wonderful phrase, “Next customer, please.”

But after stepping up and explaining that you’re there to return 11 items, she gives you a disconcerting look. Their in-store app can only return five items at a time, she explains. So at the very least, you’re going to have to go through this process three times from start to finish.

And so the process begins. Items are being scanned and registered on a smartphone via a mobile app, but then she stops scanning and is just staring at the screen. It seems that the HauteLook app has started to slow down. This tends to happen on Saturdays, she explains, because that’s their busiest day not just at this location, but all of the store branches around the country.

It continues like this for half an hour. Despite there being six cashiers to handle the customers, your returns and the app’s shortcomings have slowed the process to a slow grind, and you can feel the eyes of the people in line behind you boring a hole in the back of your head.

Oh, and did we mention that your crying infant is with you as well?

We obviously talk a lot about web performance and slow websites being a hindrance to a company’s bottom line, but online systems and performance monitoring goes well beyond just consumer-facing websites.

My wife adores both Nordstrom and HauteLook, and particularly loves the customer-friendly policy of accepting online returns at the store. But as Nordstrom learned, a policy is only as good as the tools that are used to carry it out. Internal applications used by employees require vigilant monitoring strategies, particularly when there are multiple branch locations that all operate on the same servers. Otherwise, you might as well tell your customers to just do all their shopping online and rely on the Postal Service to handle their returns for them.

Ensuring optimal performance of internal applications and systems can be just as important to customer service as external webpages. And with employee productivity often relying on those systems, they can have a marked effect on your bottom line regardless of whether or not customers are aware of their performance.

 

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