A forms and data processing project that was all ‘play’ (Case Study)

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Case Study


Play.com, which was originally a Jersey based online retailer, became part of the Rakuten brand (the Japanese ecommerce giant) in 2014 and is recognised as one of the UK’s leading online retailers.

Back in 2011 (pre Rakuten) Play.com identified issues with the handling processes of customers’ missing items - the assumed non delivery of goods via the Post Office- that then drove internal Refund and Replacement procedures. Specifically, the time to handle both email and postal based claims and the accuracy of action taken, was seen as a business critical issue.

Whilst the company’s primary concern was to improve the service in relation to these missing items, to ensure prompt customer service that would in turn benefit customer loyalty, there were other business issues, related to stock and billing. A proportion of claims fell into the category where the original order items had been delivered later than the refund / replacement action requested by the client. The company was therefore keen to charge customers for the original goods if they decided to retain them as well as receiving a replacement order / refund. Lastly a small percentage of claims were identified where customers claimed despite having received the original order, which was potential fraud.

With the busy Christmas trading period looming and not having the in house capacity to achieve the improvements required, Play.com looked for a possible outsource solution. They were recommended to The IPC Group by the Sutherland Group. After a number of meetings IPC came up with a full proposal to design a suitable process to improve the speed and accuracy of handling the customer claims which included the re-design of the current claims forms and correspondence with customers. Play.com approved the new procedures and appointed IPC as a supplier for customer forms and data processing services, to cater for both postal forms and emailed forms. IPC also took on the ongoing storage of forms, and the subsequent confidential shredding once approved, thereby giving Play.com a complete service.

As part of the process IPC had tabled suggested amendments to the Missing Item Confirmation Form which Play.Com adopted for the IPC service start. The form reduced to a single page and was laid out to be optimised for forms processing software recognition.

The volumes anticipated for IPC handling started in July with increasing weekly numbers rising from 1,500-2,000 to 8,000 per week in the key trading period of October- February. The volume split was anticipated as 60% email form returns and 40% postal. Client set up a new PO Box for the delivery of postal forms via the Post Office and the current Play.com email address for the forms return would be re-directed to an IPC email in box for the processing of emails.

IPC employed specific separate processes for both email and post.
For email, automated processing of forms in the re- directed mail box was initially carried out by an OCR engine looking at specific fields for pre determined items / responses. To assist the accuracy the form processing system used a daily CSV file of customer activity, provided by the client, as a ‘look up ‘ file.

Post was delivered by the Post Office at a pre defined time each day. This had to be manually opened and sorted into 3 categories - Replacement / Refund / Fail (questions not answered / no validating signature) - before being scanned and processed via the OCR form recognition engine. In some cases manual indexing was required.

The daily SLA was to process, QA and release both the postal receipts and emails received to a secure directory on an IPC web server. The output was in 2 formats – an Excel spreadsheet and associated images of the customer documentation. Ray Biggs, the then head of Head of Customer Experience at play.com said ‘As a highly customer focussed organisation, we need to process customer claims for replacement or refunds as quickly as possible, and IPC was able to show that not only could it provide an improved SLA over the previous performance, but has already demonstrated its understanding of our business. As we come into the pre Xmas season having a reliable supplier to cater for this important part of our processes is key; having checked IPC out, and met them a number of times, we were delighted to appoint IPC to handle this key data handling project’.

Graham Light (IPC’s Director) commented ‘This was a very interesting project to be involved in bringing together the 20 years of practical Bureau Scanning experience we have, and the latest Form recognition software developments, twinned with our form design capabilities.
And all this provided to a very tight SLA, to meet client’s requirements.
It has to be said that it wasn’t without its issues, which were down to the variances the public bring to bear, despite the best efforts to control their responses! Bearing in mind we were dealing with customers from all over the world, and in different time zones, some of the items we were sent to process were certainly challenging - everything from forms photographed on mobiles and submitted, to expanding single page forms to multi page forms !’

IPC can offer a business fit, outsource scanning and form processing solution for any client.


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