Wednesday 16 January 2019

Avoid refund rows by making customers take note of terms

Problem solver

The combination of clear signage and well-informed staff should help to ease the situation. Stock image
The combination of clear signage and well-informed staff should help to ease the situation. Stock image

Feargal Quinn

Q In my retail business, we got loads of customers bringing back unwanted gifts in January looking for a full refund. Legally, we are only entitled to give them a credit note, but some people leave very irate. How can we handle this a bit better?

A There is always a good bit of confusion over this. You are correct when you say the retailer is doing the customer a favour by even offering a credit note, as there is nothing wrong with the goods. However, you do have to think about your relationship with the customers and you don't want people going away annoyed.

One easy thing you could do would be to put up some information signage stating your position. Be very careful how you word it. Talk in a positive sense: "We are happy to exchange unwanted gifts and provide a credit note to be used in our shop for these."

I saw a row on social media recently where the retailer stated that the customer must show proof of purchase. The cashier demanded a receipt, the customer had a copy of their credit card bill and the shop refused to give them a credit note. That is where things can go badly wrong. Staff must be able to use common sense - there will always be slightly 'grey' areas where logic must prevail.

You will also find that it helps to have your staff trained to a very high level on what to say and what not to say.

The combination of clear signage and well-informed staff should help to ease the situation. It would also be a good idea to do a retraining session with staff before the busy times of the year. The challenge is to manage the expectations of customers who might have misunderstood that they could get a cash refund.

Q I am planning to launch a new food product but I am a little uncertain as to how the customer will respond. How can I become more certain?

A This is a great question and an area where errors can simply be made. Very often, a food producer's journey starts at home, where they are producing something for their own family use. Suddenly, extended family or maybe neighbours ask them to make extra and offer to buy it from them. Confidence builds and eventually that person ends up either at a local farmers' market or supplying a local shop.

The danger is that those in your close and immediate family circle are not a good sounding board and tend to overwhelm you with positive comments to try and encourage you on your journey. The answer to your question is that it is important that you conduct simple consumer research with customers who are not connected with you.

A simple way to do this would be to go down to your local supermarket, say you are looking at starting a business and need to do some customer research. Get some customers to taste your product and give you some feedback around the product itself and proposed packaging etc. Don't tell these customers you are the producer, as you might again get a biased answer.

Check the latest consumer trend information. Bord Bia has a fantastic resource in its 'Thinking House' . You should get in touch to see what specific trends in your category are available. There lots of general consumer research on Bord Bia's consumer lifestyle trends site.

The key message is to get the opinion of lots of customers in a structured way before you move forward, so you can strengthen your business case and get live feedback.

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