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If you've ever sent a support email to Tekpub, you know I'm in the habit of asking questions. I think truly serving the Customer sometimes means asking questions, and sometimes even saying "No"...

May I Help You?

I receive a number of support emails during the normal work week. They are mostly technical ones about our streaming player or questions about our content. Occasionally requests for certain topics.

And then there are the requests for refunds. This happens rather rarely, but when they do I tend to take extra time with them. This tends to piss people off and typically I have to wade through a lot of back and forth before we get down to the problem.

The following really happened, and (as you might expect) I'm paraphrasing a bit - not revealing names:

Customer: "I don't find your service worth it and would like my money back."

Me: "Sorry to hear that! What's the problem"

Customer: "As I said I don't find value in your videos - can I have a refund or not? Is this going to be one of those things that I have to fill out some questionnaire or stupid survey. DUDE JUST CANCEL MY SUB"

So at this point I have a problem. Do I continue asking him about the problem or do I just refund him and remember that "The Customer is Always Right". What would you do?

One thing I know is that an unhappy customer, tended to correctly, will rapidly turn into one of your happiest customers. It's a gamble, especially when CAPS are invoked... but I pressed on.

Me: Listen I understand you're not happy but sometimes it comes down to knowing just a bit more about a problem and I can fix it - and often it makes people very happy. If you had the time to explain just a bit - I would really appreciate it. Your refund is on the way, by the way.

This is one of my standard responses. Typically (not always) I will send the refund immediately. Upset people tend to become less upset, and then answer your questions. In this case, it worked out really well:

Customer: Sorry I should be a bit more clear. I love your videos and they're really good, but I can't afford the service and I thought I could but I just lost my job and I need to pull things back in. I didn't mean to be insulting and I guess I'm a bit stressed out. Thanks for the refund and if I get another job soon I'll come back.

Me: No problem at all and thanks for letting me know this - it really does make a difference. XXXXXXXXX - that's a coupon for an Annual Subscription. Educating yourself will help find work and, if you want to pay me back, buy an annual for someone else.

Needless to say, the Customer was ecstatic and we solved the problem - something I would never have known about unless I pushed a little bit - pushed the Customer to let me help them.

I give stuff away constantly - especially to people who need it.

This Backfires

Just today - in fact it's the reason I'm writing this post - someone asked me for a refund. It was the first in 4 months and, as I do, I asked some questions first.

Many businesses adopt a "No Questions Asked" policy and I understand why - it's a blind guarantee and gives the appearance of standing squarely behind your product or service.

I find that this is short-sited but NOT because you shouldn't blindly guarantee your stuff, but it's more likely there's simply a misunderstanding happening, and you can FIX IT.

So anyway the Customer wanted a refund:

Customer: I want a refund for my monthly subscription because Pluralsight has more content than you.

Me: They sure do, but I can't guarantee our stuff against another company's. I do know you'll be happy with what we offer because it's quite good and I notice you've only watched half of a single episode of all of our stuff. Might I recommend you give it some more time?

Customer: I didn't ask you to guarantee Pluralsight - but you should do something to compare your stuff vs. theirs so people know the difference. Your refund policy states "... 'snip' ..." Thus I'd like a refund.

Here I have a problem. They haven't watched any of our stuff and are, essentially, having "Buyer's Remorse" as they saw more stuff at Pluralsight. And Pluralsight has a whole lot of stuff. Buyer's remorse and Pluralsight's catalog are not covered under our refund policy (as you can imagine) so...

If I keep pushing this angle, I'll lose. Pluralsight has an amazing library but there are differences in our content - I need to get that across as well as the main point: Why not have both!. It's $15 + $29 == $45/month. Think of what that means in terms of educating yourself and readying your career! Yet people scrutinize this expense as if it were some kind of luxury!

OK, so back to the matter at hand. How would you respond here? This is what I said:

Me: Our return policy covers what we create and if you don't like it, then yes we'll stand behind that. But you haven't tried it out yet and, forgive me if I'm misunderstanding here, you're asking for a refund because Pluralsight has more stuff.

I don't want unhappy customers and I'm sending your refund now - but when you get to Pluralsight you might not want to look at Lynda.com.

If you use Peepcode don't try CodeSchool or Treehouse. What you see as an advantage (more videos) is hardly a measure of the content (and its relevance to you). Either way, your refund is on its way"

I should have left that last part out. That was my ego, feeling bruised and frustration setting in because I felt that what they were asking for was not entirely fair.

And, as expected, the customer didn't like my response. Things started getting personal and I was told my Customer Service sucks (which wouldn't be the first time). The Customer ended things by saying "I was planning on coming back to Tekpub if I didn't like Pluralsight but... not with this Customer Service experience".

Which means I lose. Actually, we both lost because I don't think he'll have the same option at Pluralsight.

Turning It Around. Or Turning It Off?

I lost that battle because I tried to reason with someone who was unhappy - and that is almost always a bad idea. There are ways of asking questions that don't lead the Customer to believe they're being screwed or messed with - and I was trapped with this one.

They gave me money, and they regretted it even though they didn't even try what they paid for. To me, I was utterly convinced that if they tried our stuff, they'd love it and I kept trying to communicate that... but in the wrong way. I think I understand why many companies simply refuse to do refunds - it forces customers to consider a bit more carefully.

This is not to say that you shouldn't show Customers the door. I've had people (literally) try to extort me by "taking it to Hacker News" unless I refunded them for videos that my logs showed they were clearly sharing (multiple downloads to same IP over the period of a month). I asked them if it's OK to loop in their legal department, then I deleted their account and banned them.

There are some customers you need to cut loose - basically a No Soup For You policy. They exist, it sucks, and it spoils it for customers who aren't Out To Get Your (to-date that's happened 5 times and I'm not happy about it... but it needed to happen).

On the bright side, I've managed to turn unhappy customers into Big Fans about 85% of the time: simply by asking questions and trying to care instead of following some old-school, outdated tome.

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Rob Conery

I am the Co-founder of Tekpub.com, Creator of This Developer's Life, an Author, Speaker, and sometimes a little bit opinionated.


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