Years ago, I got an email from a client that said something to the effect of, “I feel like the sales letter kind of hyped this up and it wasn’t what you said it was. I went back and read the sales letter and there was nothing inaccurate but . . . it just felt like it wasn’t what was promised. I need a refund.”
Those aren’t the kinds of words I’d wanted to wake up to in my email that morning for my newly launched ebook on niching. It was a slim 30 pager, nowhere near as large or comprehensive as it would eventually become in the form of my book The Niching Nest, and she just wasn’t impressed with it.
And I had to wonder if I should refund her or not.
Once you’ve been in business for a while, eventually, someone is going to ask you for a refund.
And how you respond to that moment has everything to do with the growth of your business.
On one hand, you may have been on the receiving end of a stingy refund policy and felt terrible about it or had the refund freely given and felt incredible relief and gratitude. On the other hand, does it make sense to have no boundaries on when and where refunds will be given? Probably not.
But it’s an important thing to figure out because word of mouth is the dominant force in the marketing word. And enough upset customers venting about the terrible experience they had with you because you refused to give them your money and that you’re a big, unfair meanie can do serious damage to your marketing.
But it’s also true that developing a reputation of being a push-over who they can use and then disregard once they’ve received the benefit is also unfair.
So, what you say in the moment (and I promise I will give you some words) is actually the least important part of the conversation.
The first thing is to make sure you’ve got a clear and fair refund policy spelled out and that the customer knows this policy when they buy. This is crucial.
It’s a similar dynamic to the “no shows” I wrote about in my blog post Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl in that it’s crucial to have standards that protect yourself as a business.
Simply having a clear policy will handle 90% of the upset. You’ll never handle the remaining 10% because there’s no policy to handle crazy.
The second thing is to understand why they’re even asking for a refund in the first place.
It might be that they’re in crisis or sudden financial desperation. They had the money when they signed up but they don’t now.
It could be that they’ve had a change in what matters. They signed up for a workshop on dating and then met the woman of their dreams. They no longer need it. They signed up to learn how to make money from Donald Trump but then became an anarchist.
But, often, it’s that what they bought isn’t giving them the benefits they’d hoped it would (or they don’t trust that it will).
This is the one I want to focus on.
Back to the woman wanting a refund on the niching ebook.
I immediately refunded her money (as I think we should if there’s any chance that the fault was in a lack of clarity in our marketing).
I sat with her words for a while. I felt awful. Here I am, teaching authentic marketing and she felt mislead. Ugh. Worst.
So, I went to look at the sales page to see just how wrong she was and to be able to point out that she hadn’t really read the sales letter. I mean, sure she had. But not really really.
But, as I read it, I began to see what she was saying. It was a bit hyped up. I could see that I’d given the impression that it did more than it could actually do and was for a broader group than it actually was. It was humbling to see it. I’d put a list of “This ebook could be for you if . . .” but I’d not made a similar list of, “This ebook might not be for you if . . .”
I realized that this ebook was actually not for people who already knew niching was crucial and the ebook was making the case for it. It also wasn’t for people who wanted a nuts and bolts how-to guide on niching. It was a primer for people who were considering niching but feeling hesitant about it.
I took an hour, rewrote the sales page so it felt more true to what it was and sent her an email asking what she thought.
“This is great!” she replied. “I wouldn’t have bought it!”
If we see the role of marketing as being about getting people to say “yes” then the result of someone saying, “perfect! I wouldn’t have bought!” is a failure. This is how so many people view marketing. Even in writing emails they try to write a sexy subject line that gets people to open an email that might not even be of any use to them.
But if we know that one of the main roles of marketing is about filtering people so that only the right people buy, it’s a huge success. We can actually tone down the hype in our sales copy and get more sales to the right people.
But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, they’re asking for a refund because it wasn’t what they thought it would be?
But, what exactly do you say?
I suggest the first thing you say is, “I’ll absolutely refund your order.”
If there’s any chance that your marketing was to blame for them buying something that wasn’t a fit, refund the money and consider it a business expenses in market research. Because it is.
The second thing you say is something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me know my marketing wasn’t as clear as I would like it to be.”
Honestly, when people tell us this, we should be getting down on the ground and bowing to them in gratitude.
The second thing we should say is something like, “Would you be willing to let me know what I could change on the sales page so that you would have known for sure it wasn’t a fit for you?”
That question might seem simple, but it’s actually huge, it will, over time help you hone and refine your sales copy until no one who isn’t a fit buys at all. That’s the goal. And, often, the feedback won’t even be that big. Just a little change here and there but a small change in wording or emphasis or order can make a huge difference.
If the refund request is for some other reason, I don’t have much advice other than to have clear policies, sit with it, do what feels right to you and always err on the side of generosity, not stinginess. And, regardless of the reason, see if there’s something you can learn, some business system that would make it less likely that it would ever happen again.
Years ago, a woman attended a pay what you can, weekend workshop I was running. She paid a $100 deposit to attend and then she paid $500 at the end of the workshop based on the value she’d received. A month or so later she sent me an email saying she’d received no value at all and demanding her money back. She was also someone I’d give two hours of free coaching to because she’d gotten locked out of the building by accident. There’s more to the story, but the whole thing felt off. I didn’t feel like I wanted to refund her money but eventually gave back half just to get her out of my hair. If I’d had more money at the time, I might have just given it all back. Who needs the drama?
Refunds can also help you hone your niche . . .
One of the beautiful benefits of people asking for refunds is that you start to see who is a fit for you and who isn’t. Your sense of who your ideal client is comes into clearer relief. Your sense of what you want to do and how becomes more focused. If you will choose to over-respond (vs. over-reacting) to each request for a refund and use it as a chance to narrow in on your role in the community and the niche you want to fill you might be amazed at how much faster your business becomes what it wanted to become all along.
Bonus Thought: Check Boxes
If there are certain catches and conditions of buying from you, it can also be good to list them as boxes to check in the order form. For example, for a weekend, pay what you want, marketing course I might have one for:
DEPOSIT: I understand that my space is not confirmed until I’ve paid my non-refundable $100 deposit.
PYWY: I understand that the deposit is just to hold my space and, at the very end of the workshop, I’ll be given a chance to contribute more based on a mix of what the workshop was worth and what I can afford.
Having these as boxes they have to check off help to ensure that important conditions are not accidentally missed by someone skimming over your sales letter (which 95% of people will).