Rebates are a great promotional strategy, offering your customers a great deal while providing tremendous marketing value at the same time. That’s a win-win equation that instant discounts and coupons just can’t touch.
Yet for all the wonderful, slick advances of today’s rebates—mobile redemption, instant rewards, dynamic surveys, even product reviews—retailers overlook the fundamental value of operational excellence at their peril. Because however enticing the offer, nuts-and-bolts execution is where you make or break the customer relationship.
And it’s not easy. The goal of rebate redemption is to make it quick, communicative and accurate. But rebate processing in many instances is a high-touch, manual experience that necessitates a streamlined supply chain and a vast operational network, with everything working together in harmony to provide an elegant customer experience.
That experience begins with designing your program to appeal to the widest audience possible, and allowing them to choose the participation method that suits them best. For example, our research shows that while 78 percent prefer to submit their rebates electronically (via mobile, online, or text), 14 percent still like to pop their claims in the mailbox.1 By allowing multiple means of access, you meet your customers where they want to be met.
But how does it all work? Let’s look behind the curtain to understand the operational might needed for optimal rebate processing and fulfillment.
Six days to a happy customer
Great news: Your customer has purchased your product or service! They’ve completed their rebate form and it’s on its way. Get ready to start the processing clock.
Step 1. Mail receipt and scanning
All mail needs to be gathered, sorted by campaign, and scanned. At Hawk Incentives, we scan 100 percent of submission contents to ensure a digital audit trail for every claim, and that includes days when we may receive 100,000 pieces of mail. By quickly receiving, sorting and scanning materials—your rebate provider should be processing within 36 hours of receipt—submissions can be moved right along. Naturally, online and mobile submissions can bypass this step and further expedite processing.
- Days from submission receipt: 1
Step 2. Data entry
Next, the digitized submission is electronically and securely passed to highly trained data entry operators. With the campaign ID, the operator pulls up the unique campaign form and begins entering data from the submission. To ensure the lowest data entry error, your rebate provider should be able to double enter or forwards/backwards enter certain data inputs, as well as employ in-line validation for factors like character limit or combination. Your provider should be continuously monitoring data entry accuracy and maintain a 99 percent average or higher. A good provider should also be able to work across multiple form types and languages.
Since data is what creates a valid or invalid response, and thus determines program success and customer delight, data entry is critical. There are a number of great advances in OCR and receipt recognition that have helped enhance data entry. However, due to the need for total channel coverage described above, data entry operators are still an integral part of rebate processing. For all its wonders, technology cannot yet reliably read handwritten, multi-page invoices as well as humans can.
Once a submission is created, communication should be issued to the customer. We recommend sending a tracking email with live updates on status, and confirming timing expectations.
- Days from submission receipt: 2
Step 3. Validation and fraud management
A good rebate processer provides systemic validation. This is where humans give way to machines to make decisions, based on well-defined data and rule sets. This systemic approach ensures reliability, accuracy and speed.
Validation goes well beyond a “yes” or “no.” At this point in the process, extensive fraud management should be implemented, such as cross-checks against known fraud databases, third party data, USPS deliverable databases, household limits, data standardization, etc. A great rebate company will work with you to provide the optimal balance between fraud management and customer satisfaction.
Your customer communications and status websites should reflect validation decisions in real time.
- Days from submission receipt: 3
Step 4. Invoicing and funding
By now, your rebate provider should have accurate data on the number of submissions, valid and invalid. Invoicing and funding for outstanding rebates should be an expedited process. In our experience at Hawk Incentives, one of the biggest delays (and driver of customer service calls) is funding. That’s why we strongly recommend that the accounts be prefunded or operate on a drawdown, thus enabling the quickest fulfillment of your rebate. According to our research referenced above, the vast majority of customers would be very happy to receive their rebates in seven days or less. That’s what your provider should be shooting for.
- Days from submission receipt: 3
Step 5. Reward fulfillment
Finally, the fun part! With the rebate submission received, data entered, everything validated and funded, it’s time to get the reward into your customer’s hands. Today’s reward landscape provides hundreds of reward choices, and companies like Hawk Incentives can give you access to a plethora of options (we offer more than 700 rewards). The most popular rebate rewards are branded prepaid cards from major networks, which can be customized with your brand and spent anywhere cards from those networks are accepted. Other popular rewards are virtual prepaid cards, which can be delivered via email or text and used online. eGift and gift cards are also great options.
How quickly can a reward be fulfilled? At Hawk Incentives, our physical rewards typically hit the mail stream within two business days from funding. Better yet, digital rewards (prepaid and eGift) provide the option for instant reward issuance.
- Days from submission receipt: 4-6
And there you go. Less than a week between submission arrival and reward issuance. That’s how you do successful rebates.
The role of customer service
Automation may rule, but the other half of operational excellence is still customer service. Your rebate provider should deliver outstanding customer service in all the ways customers want it, whether chat, email, live operator or IVR. Your customer service team should be well trained against your specific customer service standards and expectations. A great rebate processer will answer the phone as your company: “Hello, this is ACME rebates. Thank you for being a valued customer. How can I help you?”
Your rebate company should be able to offer you the exact mix of customer service options to meet your program needs and your budget needs, from hours of service, to dedicated or shared teams, to US-only or near-shore reps, to language options.
Operational excellence—processing your rebate accurately and quickly—ensures customer delight and program success, influencing everything from customer sentiment to satisfaction. Make sure you work with a rebate company that can demonstrate it understands that the real work of rebate redemption doesn’t begin until the offer is accepted.
1Source: A Hawk Incentives rebate experience online survey of 2,001 Americans was completed between February 28 and March 12, 2017, using Leger’s online panel, LegerWeb. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.0%, 19 times out of 20.