Owning and operating a business can be an extremely fulfilling venture but on that same token it can be riddled with pitfalls if you aren’t careful. Customer satisfaction should always be a main focus; they are what keeps you afloat and pays your bills so it’s always best to make sure they walk out the door with a smile on their face. Word of mouth advertising is more valuable than any print ad, radio spot or television commercial. People are more likely to patronize a store if a friend or family member mentions it but that goes double if someone starts talking negatively.
I consider myself a shopping junkie; be it an outlet store at a casino, one of the rich and posh stores in Los Angeles or my local Wal-Mart; I can spot a bargain a quarter mile away. When online shopping became the norm, I noticed a growing trend of sites like Planet Feedback, Epinions, My3Cents and RateItAll. These sites allowed consumers to vent their frustrations about bad products, poor customer service and merchants that just didn’t give a damn. If you’ve ever been treated poorly in a store or given the run around when you called a toll free number, you aren’t alone but you aren’t out of luck either.
Before You Buy
Before you hand over your cash or key in your credit card number, spend a little bit of time reading the fine print. What is the return policy and how long do you have to make a return? Is there a restocking fee? Can you make an exchange for the same item or something in the same price range? If something is defective, can you return it for an exchange without being charged a restocking fee or incurring a shipping charge? Spending a few minutes reading the fine print can save you a lot of time, aggravation and hassle. The same goes for the item description if you are shopping online. That goes double for online auction sites like eBay.
Get Your Facts Straight
Before you make a call, send an email or go to the customer service desk, have your facts straight. Know your customer order number, if the item was on sale when you purchased it, if you want an exchange or refund, if the item is defective and what the return policy is. If there is a restocking fee involved, make sure you know the loopholes to avoid them. Some stores have an across the board restocking fee of anything that isn’t defective, if that is the case, research their website or posted information to see if that included exchanges as well.
Keep Your Cool
If you are going face-to-face with customer service, don’t blow your top. The people working there are doing their job and if they don’t follow the guidelines, they could get fired. If you are calling a service line and are connected to an outsource location (another country), and are having trouble understanding someone, ask for another operator. For emailing, keep copies of everything that is sent and received and if possible, print them out and save them in case you need to file a claim with your credit card company.
When you interact with anyone regarding your purchase, write down the time, date and their name as well as what was discussed. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have called about things and there was no record of previous calls. If you have that information in a notebook or file, they are less likely to argue with you about it. A few months ago I started writing down the total length of the call as well as the hold time to speak with someone. That comes in handy if you decide to go online and write a review of a site.
Buying With The Right Credit Card
If you are going to make a major purchase like a digital camera, refrigerator or computer use a credit card that is going to stand behind you after the purchase is made. I ordered a camera from a company in New York and received a stripped version of it (a European version with no flash, battery or case) even though the sites said that it was an authentic Sony camera. They refused to refund my money or even deal with me on the phone, emails were unanswered and I was out close to two hundred dollars. I called my credit card company to see if they could help and it took them about a month to deal with it but eventually they forced the merchant to send me an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) number and refund my money.
Buying with a credit card may cost you a little more in the way of interest but it’s better to pay twenty or thirty dollars more than to be left out in the cold for the total amount. Some credit card companies will not authorize purchases to certain stores; they have had too many complaints about them or had too many of their customers ripped off that they simply decline the charge. If that happens, take it as a firm and fair warning and ignore what the merchant has to say.
Take It To The Streets
Getting the word out about awful merchants isn’t hard but you do have to be truthful in about your ordeal. I have been a customer of an online toy store for several years now and was a little baffled when I saw a few reviews posted that they were scamming customers. My original review was written over three years ago but I make purchases from them at least five or six times a year. My review was littered with comments saying that I was an employee of the company or I was clueless as to what I was saying. Their claims and statements were highly exaggerated and borderline slander. If you are the victim of a bait-and-switch scam, poor customer service or paid for an item and never received it and you want to warn others, there are numerous websites that you can visit and post up a review.
If you have exhausted all avenues of resolution then it’s time to contact your Better Business Bureau office and file a claim. This is where all that paperwork is going to come in extremely handy. As I said, there have been numerous times when I called about a purchase and there was no record of previous calls; that could be a smokescreen by customer service or it could be that the previous operator didn’t bother to note it on the account. If you are going to file a claim with the BBB you will need to have the basic information about the merchant, payment method, reason for the claim and total amount you were charged. The more information you can provide, the more help they can be to you and other people who are filing claims or making complaints.
The Bottom Line
Knowing your rights as a consumer is your best weapon against getting ripped off but even the smartest cookie can still get crunched. If you get ripped off don’t sit there and grumble about it, do something about it! Word of mouth advertising can work both ways and if a company really cares about those who patronize them, they will make sure that they go that extra mile to ensure everyone is happy.