Customer service is more than just asking how your customers are and if you can help them with anything. It also involves the protocols and processes you will put in place to make sure your customers are satisfied when using your business.
Developing a customer service policy will help you pull these aspects together in a consistent service approach and will alleviate confusion about what your business provides and what your customers can expect.
Developing a Customer Service Policy
A customer service policy should cover a number of key points including your return or exchange policy, lay-by conditions and product guarantees. If you make it clear from the outset what your return/exchange policy is then there can be no double standards or confusion.
It is highly likely that at some stage a customer will want to exchange or return a product you sell. This is the nature of the beast when you are in business. It is also an important aspect which should be considered when it comes to providing quality customer service. Being prepared for such an eventuality will help to allay customer concerns, anger or confusion.
Customers also have certain rights when it comes to returning goods. By clearly stating what your return or exchange policy is your customers will know exactly where they stand when it comes to your products and your level of service.
Repairs, refunds or replacements
According to the NSW Ministry of Fair Trading customers have a right to a refund if the goods:
Have a fault that they could not have known about
Do not do the job that they were led to believe they would do
Do not match a sample they were shown
Are not as they were described.
Remember, customers cannot ask for a cash refund if they did not pay cash. They may also only be entitled to a part refund if the goods have been used or the goods were bought on terms.
Signs in shops which make statements like “No Refunds” or “No Refunds on Sale Items” are misleading and illegal, according to the Ministry of Fair Trading.
If a customer buys a faulty product and was not aware of the fault at the time of sale, they should be able to return it to the store and expect either:
A replacement, or
However, you do not have to provide a refund if:
No proof of purchase is offered
Customers simply changed their minds
The goods have been damaged after purchase
Customers knew, or should have known about any faults when they bought the goods, for example as seconds. However, if a second has a fault that the customer was not aware of, or could not have discovered upon a reasonable inspection when the item was bought, they would be entitled to a refund, repair or exchange.
However, giving customers some leeway when it comes to exchanging/returning products will help to foster good customer relations. Many businesses still decide to make refunds available on their goods despite not being obliged to do so.
Depending on your individual circumstances, you will also need to decide on a policy regarding the supply of your goods. For instance, if you plan to deliver or post your product to customers you will need a policy which covers postal returns as well.
In this instance, you will need to decide if you will pay for any additional postage and handling costs the customer may incur when returning your products.
Whatever approach you decide to take when developing your customer service policy make sure your refund/exchange policy is in clear view where customers will see it.
This will help make sure your customers are well informed about your product guarantees, return/exchange and delivery policies.
Parts of a customer service policy
A typical customer service policy should include:
A return statement. This should detail the circumstances in which the business will refund money on a particular item.
An exchange offer. Many businesses opt for an exchange policy. This enables customers to exchange what they have bought for something else in your store. These kinds of offers rely on presentation of a sale receipt. Some also come with a time-frame attached whereby customers only have a certain amount of time to make the exchange once the product has been purchased. However, as mentioned, if the products are faulty, a customer legally has a right to a refund rather than an exchange.
Product Guarantee. Depending on your particular business circumstances, some of the products you sell will carry a manufacturers’ guarantee. This guarantee may include the ability for customers to have a faulty product replaced. Depending on the arrangement you have with the manufacturer, you as the business owner, may have to replace the goods and send the faulty item back to the manufacturer to be replaced.
Postal returns statement. If you plan to deliver or post your goods to customers you will have to plan for postal returns. Make sure your customer service policy makes allowances for this. Most businesses will pay for the postage or handling customers may incur when sending the goods back to you. You are not obliged, however, to pay, but it is wise to make it clear from the outset what your responsibilities are when it comes to handling returned postal items.
Lay-by Policy. Some customers may not be able to pay by cash or use a credit card, so you may want to consider offering a lay-by option. Customer lay-by requirements and entitlements should be outlined in your customer service policy.
A lay-by is a contract between you and the customer where the business owner agrees to hold goods while the customer pays them off in instalments. Consider the following when developing a lay-by policy:
The amount of deposit required
The duration of the lay-by
When instalments are due
What happens if the contract is cancelled
Maintaining good customer relations.
Your Responsibility To Provide Due Skill And Care
According to the NSW Ministry of Fair Trading (www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au) services supplied by a business must be carried out with due skill and care. This means they should be of a certain standard and quality that could be reasonably expected from a competent person in that particular service industry.
However, the service provider cannot be held responsible if the customer insisted a particular job was carried out in a particular way using particular materials against the service provider’s advice.
The NSW Ministry of Fair Trading states that if a service provider fails to meet its obligations, customers can claim compensation for expenses incurred as a result of loss or damage.
Signs in shops which make statements like “No responsibility for loss or damage” or “Goods left for repair at your own risk” are also misleading, according to the Ministry of Fair Trading.
A consumer must generally be compensated for repairs or services that are not carried out with appropriate care and skill. For example, carpet cleaners are responsible for making sure that their cleaning method doesn’t result in carpet shrinkage.