An Important Piece Of Customer Service Advice That I Learned The Hard Way

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These last few weeks haven’t exactly been the smoothest in small business land for my wife and I. For starters, our business computer died a horrible death which caused all sorts of mayhem.

Ironically, I wasn’t that upset about the computer itself. After all, we bought it a good 4 years ago for a few hundred bucks off of Craigslist and it had served us well.

The big pain was in reinstalling all of the software that was on the old computer. Now with regular programs like Windows and Microsoft Office, reinstalling the software is not that big of a deal because I keep all of my original install CDs.

Most programs don’t require you to jump through hoops during installation. But our business relies on several “sewing” programs that are sold by companies who are terrified of piracy.

So I get it. These sewing programs that we use can cost upwards of a thousand dollars and these companies want to protect their investment. While I can understand the fear of other people copying their software, they’ve taken copy protection to a whole other level of pain.

The median age of people who sew and embroider are older ladies in their mid 50’s. I doubt that they’d be tech savvy enough to pirate software. But that’s beside the point. These sewing software companies are punishing honest people who are actually paying customers.

Getting Punished For Being Honest

Here’s just a sampling of what I had to go through in order to install one piece of software that we use everyday for our business.

Without this software, we can not sell personalized items in our store. So get this. Even though I completely reinstalled the program using my original and authentic installation disk, the software would not run because I needed to reactivate it!

With programs like Microsoft Windows, reactivation can be done completely online. However, this company required me to contact them directly to get a new activation code.

Not only was this a major hassle but I also had to wait until Monday morning before I could contact support which meant that the weekend’s orders could not be processed.

So finally Monday rolls around, I get a hold of support and they inform me that my software was registered using a different address, email address and phone number than before and that they couldn’t reactivate my software unless I used the original information. But the kicker was that they also couldn’t tell me what info I had used in the past.

After arguing with the sales rep for about 20 minutes, she finally relented and gave me a new activation code. But the damage was already done. This ordeal wasted several days of my valuable time and caused numerous delays with our order fulfillment.

The worst part? I paid good money for this software, so why was I getting punished and hassled just because someone else decided to copy it illegally?

More Ridiculous Copy Protection Shenanigans

Getting a new computer also meant that I was forced to upgrade my operating system to Windows 7 from Windows XP. And it just so happens that one of my software CDs only has the XP version which won’t run on Windows 7.

So I contact support and they provide me with a download link to the Windows 7 version of the program. Cool! Everything is all good until I try and run the software.

The program requires the CD to be in the actual CD drive in order to run!!! Since I didn’t have the Windows 7 version of the CD, I had to contact support and have them send me another one. Another week lost and once again I was getting punished for paying for my software!

More Chaos And A Lesson Learned

In the midst of all the chaos, we also had to deal with one very annoying customer issue. The other day we received a surprise return in our mailbox.

But it was not just any ordinary return. This particular lady had the gall to ask for a refund for goods that she had already used. Actually, the word “used” is a mild way of putting it. To be specific, she purchased a set of napkins and returned them to us completely filthy and then demanded a refund.

When we told her that we didn’t accept returns that are not in resell-able condition (not to mention nasty used napkins), she claimed that the napkins were this dirty when she received them. Yeah right…

Your return policy says 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. I’m not satisfied.

Since it wasn’t worth having her throw a fit and getting all upset over 35 bucks, we begrudgingly gave her a refund.

The funny thing though is that this one isolated incident made my wife and I completely reevaluate our return policy. Currently, we offer a 30 day money back guarantee but this lady pissed us off so much that we seriously considered making all sales final. No returns period.

But once we calmed down, we thought about our ordeal with the sewing software companies and realized that we were probably feeling exactly how they felt whenever someone copied their software. And here we were considering some drastic anti-return measures to prevent future customers from cheating us out of money.

After a while, we realized that canceling our return policy just because of this one crazy lady was ridiculous. But man was it tempting.

As a business owner and a human being, it’s really easy to overreact especially when you feel completely ripped off and taken advantage of. But it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture and focus on your main customer base, the customers that you care about.

Is your business making important decisions based on a few vocal customers? Are you making your business worse for the majority of customers because of a few bad seeds that are abusing the system?

Now I don’t want to discount the importance of protecting your business profits, but I just hate it when a small group of people spoil things for the rest of us. Let’s try to not to let that happen with our small businesses shall we?

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26 thoughts on “An Important Piece Of Customer Service Advice That I Learned The Hard Way”

  1. Charles says:

    I would never have given that lady a refund and I think you were being too nice. But I’m with you. I hate copy protection

    1. @Charles @Carissa
      After running our business for several years now, we’ve learned that some battles just aren’t worth it. Sure, we could have denied her the refund but who knows what she would have done next. The mental anguish simply isn’t worth it. In reality, our store is lucky in that the products we sell are relatively inexpensive so we just mark these situations off as a marketing expense and take the hit.

      1. Jim says:

        Hopefully you have a Return Materials Authorization (RMA) database in place. This would allow you to send a clear signal that you are tracking quality and workmanship issues with your product, how you resolved those issues (refund, replacement, substitution), and how timely your response was. I can understand not wanting a large staff to service your customer return policy, but a simple spreadsheet or database can help tremendously and give credible documentation.

  2. Carissa says:

    No chance in hell did that woman deserve a refund. Some people just have no conscience. I would kept her money and given her a piece of my mind. No department store would have taken that return and neither should you.

  3. Larry | JDB Systems says:

    As someone who works in the software industry, there’s a fine line between too much copy protection and not enough. Too much and you anger your customers. Too little and your business loses money. But it’s a necessary evil.

    1. @Larry
      I have some experience with software myself but I always wonder how much money copy protection really saves. If someone is going to copy software, they are not going to buy it anyways. Do you have any statistics as to how much money copy protection really saves? In my case, the hoops I had to jump through were ridiculous.

  4. Did you ask the disgruntled customer why she was not satisfied, and if so, what was her response? We accept returns for any reason for up to 30 days, including for used items. So far, this policy has not been abused. I agree that you should consider your wider customer base when setting your return policy, and not focus on this one bad egg.

    1. @Keith
      The customer just said that she didn’t like the quality of the napkins but then went ahead and used them anyways. I think she was just flat out abusing our return policy.

  5. This article is so timely for me. Overall we have been blessed with such wonderful customers. We provide a 100% guarantee too, because we figured it was pointless for someone to own one of our designs if they don’t 100% treasure it. Every once in a great while there is an encounter with a customer who is obviously trying to “game” us in a not so scrupulous way. It is really stressful since we give our very best to have great products that we make with our own hands and to have a very caring customer service policy. It seems so unfair at those times, and sometimes we struggle to not change our policies. But you are so right, the customer service business decisions we make are ultimately for all of our awesome customers who deserve the best service possible, and not driven by a few bad seeds. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad it finally worked out for you!

    1. @Dawn
      Having this bad customer experience just made me understand why companies are often quick to implement new policies for the bad seeds. Emotions really play a big part in the equation but when it comes down to it, I doubt very much money gets lost in the end.

  6. Mark says:

    Tough situation whenever this comes up. We’ve had customers that were outright deranged, and generally we always try to make it right with someone, at least the first time. Granted most of our sales are like this one where it’s not much money, and that’s bearable, but we also make a note of that customer in our database, and pretty much state that no one is to ship any future orders to that particular person or address.

    One might say, well why give any money back in the first place? Well you never know if this particular nutball will post all kinds of bad stuff about your website around the net. Most don’t but some will and it’s not worth the long term cost over a small charge, and the short term feeling of being taken advantage of.

    In general though, I’ve found it’s best to simply try and treat everyone the way you would want to be treated. Meet or exceed that and you’re doing pretty well I think.

    1. @Mark
      I agree. With Facebook and Twitter, all it takes is one bad comment and soon your store name is plastered all over the internet. The best we can do is treat our customers right and hope that the favor is returned. Great idea about the database. I’ll have to implement one of own to flag these types of customers.

  7. Interesting article. Good lesson too…I just experienced a simular situation. We offer free estimates, which require a lot of time and gas! We really dont mind, but once in awhile we get the jerks that use us. They call us out for a free estimate and try to fish info out of us about our procedure and process. We get so upset with this minor group of scammers purposely wasting our time and gas and using us, that we almost considered doing away with our free estimates. The small few do ruin it for others.

    1. @Kara
      It’s especially tough if you have to physically drive somewhere to provide a service because it wastes both money and time. Is there a way to do an estimate virtually somehow?

  8. Ah! I can so relate, Steve – but glad it all worked out. I had a program called MYOB (Mind Your Own Business), a QuickBooks competitor from Australia I think – cost around $1000-$1500 at the time I had my franchise.

    Any sort of problem like you describe could have easily resulted in instant headaches…A friend of mine has programmed another such program for business management and he charges $12k a copy, with full support: but imagine the hassles in any such PC crashes, etc…

    Crazy. Reminds me too of the book “Raving Fans” and how important a customer is for the life of a business – and if not the customer, your business’s reputation amongst customers…

    When I was in remodeling I had a funky customer complain to Angie’s List how upset she was: the issue however was a breakdown of communication between the husband who hired me and the wife who fired me. :)

    That was not the best way to get my attention, but she was irate at me for problems caused by her husband’s decision-making: I paid the price.

    It’s all good though. They’re still married. 😀

    1. @James
      I’ve been there with the husband and wife thing. We’ve had problems on numerous occasions where the wife made the husband order some linens for their wedding only to have them returned because the wife did not approve of them. We all know that men have no taste or power when it comes to weddings and apparently remodeling:)

  9. Oh man, what a trying month for both of you! I hope the software companies you’ve bought from read this post so that they know the pain they’ve been causing and hopefully, make it easier for their paying customers.

    As for the refund, yes, there will always be people who will try to take advantage. But if we react because of them, and take some drastic anti-return measures, we could potentially lose even more business. So, it’s a good thing you kept your cool.

    BTW, you may want to consider doing regular full back-up of your system from time to time. They may not save you entirely, but should the unfortunate happen, they may save you quite a bit of hassle as well as time. Good luck!

    1. @WP
      Thanks for the advice regarding backups. Currently I’m running a NAS with RAID 1 that stores all of our important data. I also have drive images made for our main computers. THe problem this time around was that the computer motherboard went bad which made the drive image backups useless for the new computer.

  10. I definitely understand the frustration with the looney customer, but I think there’s a big point missing from the end of the story: that awesome 100% money back guarantee is certainly a big factor for some of your customers, especially wives-to-be that need the perfect custom linen for their wedding.

    So, if that guarantee increases your sales by just 1%, it’s added thousands of dollars to your revenue. Assuming that there’s also a small percentage of customers who add additional items they are on-the-fence about thinking they will return them if they don’t like them, then you’re also adding revenue in that regard as well.

    I’ll take a handful of $35 returns in exchange for a few extra grand in revenue any day! (assuming you’re not getting these all the time)

    1. @Hood
      Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s hard to quantify the effect of a 100% money back guarantee but at least on a qualitative level I believe that the guarantee outweighs the cost of fraudulent returns.

  11. What a hassle! As far as the return goes, I used to work for Forever 21. The return policy clearly says store credit with receipt and tags attached and we were required to say it to each customer at check out. I had a few disgruntled moms who brought their teenager’s stuff back without either and things got pretty ugly when they realized they couldn’t get a refund. But at least you can make an executive decision when an exception calls for it. People like that one customer are few and far between though so I’m glad you didn’t change the policy.

    1. @LaTisha
      I’m sure that Forever 21 has to deal with all sorts of crazy customers. We occasionally shop at Kohl’s for kid’s stuff which carries an unconditional money back guarantee. Deep down, we keep going back because of this (and their free $10 coupons) even though we’ve actually never made a return.

  12. Well, don’t be surprised if she comes back to order more items and be willing to pay higher price. Oh, without returning them. This might be your test.

    You will recoup your loss because you made the proper business decision. I’m proud of you and your wife.

  13. Ahhhh computers. Love them and hate them at the same time!

    I wish everything just worked and business service was so straightforward and easy!

    1. @Financial Samurai
      Hey Sam. It’s been a while now so it’s good to hear from you. Glad to see that Yakezie continues to grow and thrive.

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