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Return Policy or Policy of Exclusion?

by February 26, 2007

Here at Audioholics (and really all over the Internet) we often hear horror stories of customer service. Few companies are immune to such complaints though a bit a research will quickly bring to light those with better or worse track records. Obviously, you can’t make everyone happy – it just isn’t possible. But you can take care of the vast majority of problems usually with a simple fix or by having someone at tech support with half a brain. How many of us have spent hours trying to trouble shoot a problem, tearing our hair out until the wee hours of the morning, just to figure out it was some silly setting that got switched or a cable that was inadvertently unplugged? More than I’m guessing would be willing to admit.

Some companies put in restrictions to their repair/replace policy to protect themselves, others do it to insulate. Companies need protection from people that would, maliciously or otherwise, do them harm. For example, I've heard that some companies will take your word for it that a driver in speaker is bad and just send you a new one. Rather than pay the return shipping, they let you keep the driver. A malicious person might do this one or more times just to get free drivers to Ebay. On the other hand, a non-malicious, uninformed person might claim that a perfectly working component is defective multiple times simply because they can't figure out how to connect it correctly (this happens more than you think). Policies like "authorized dealers only" (which forces you to work with the dealer) or "manufacturer defects only" (which gives them an out if someone claims a problem over and over) protect companies. And honestly, they do need some protection other than “we reserve the right to refuse service.” If for no other reason than when the disgruntled person starts spraying on the forums about their “mistreatment,” the more thoughtful forum members will realize that the company more than fulfilled their obligations.

Those same policies can also be used to insulate companies by giving them reasons to deny each and every claim or to make you pay an exorbitant amount for any/all repairs. These sorts of companies are only interested in making sure they NEVER have to make a repair they don't want to. In this case, the only thing you can really do is to either find someone within the company that is sympathetic to your cause (calling the support line multiple times until you find a friendly ear along with presenting your case in the right way) or complaining to the right person (a rep with a contact, someone higher up the food chain, etc) may be your only options. With companies like this, you are likely to have to jump through a lot of hoops to get anything done – and even then, it may be expensive.

So, what are the consequence and benefits of these different policies? Obviously, people want to be helped. Companies don’t want to be responsible for fixing all the problems that Tom, Dick, and Jane call about. Plus there is the issue of liability. If Company A gives advice about Company B’s product, they could be liable for any damage that occurs. But most of the time, it is just a listening issue. For example, I was having a problem getting a new router integrated into my office. I have done this plenty of times and have never had a problem but this time I did. I ended up calling Comcast who told me to call the router manufacturer. Called the manufacturer and they said since it was a refurb unit (didn’t read the fine print on that purchase) they couldn’t help me beyond a certain point (which was VERY basic tech support). They suggested I call Comcast. Well, in frustration I called Comcast again, explaining the problem. The woman on the line listened, explained that she wasn’t supposed to help me, and then did anyways. It took her all of two seconds. Turns out there was a reset button on the new modem that was different from the power button on the front that I need to hit. That was it. And for her two seconds of time, Comcast gets a good write-up that will be viewed by over a million readers a month.

How much does a driver cost when you buy in bulk as these manufacturers do? Couple bucks? $20? $30? How much does it cost to tell your tech support to help anyone as much as they can and if they feel too much is being asked that they send the call up the line rather than shut the caller down? How many of you have rethought a purchase because of bad customer service reputation or given a company more consideration because of good customer service rep? How many of us have or do work for people that only see the inventory cost and think nothing of all the “intangibles” that go into making a product or business successful? Customer service may not add an easily counted amount to the bottom line but I’d bet dollars to donuts that it affects that bottom line much more than many companies realize.

Not everyone does the research they should for purchases. Heck, I don’t do the research I should for every purchase. But when I’m looking at something over $150, you better bet I’m doing something. And while there may be people out there that impulse buy $5000 speaker systems, those same people will NEVER buy your product again if they have a problem and you don’t help them. You may stay viable and even grow by preying on people that don’t know your customer service policies, but in the end, you’re only hurting yourself.


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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