Today I want to share with you something that is a bit out of the scope of what I am usually posting.
My passion is helping entrepreneurs with the technical aspects of running an online business.
As an online entrepreneur, you’ve got ton’s of stuff to do. Getting out of the 9-5 trap seems to be a good motivation to start an online business. But the truth is, in the beginning, you will work way more hours than you could between 9am and 5pm. Your To-Do lists get epic, you spend hours searching the internet for how-to’s, best practice tips, tutorials and little hacks that get your business running. You will have lots of lows and hopefully peaks, too. But the first weeks and months (and maybe even years) are hard for most of us.
If you stick to it, if you manage to motivate yourself, again and again, you may eventually make it. But there’s no guarantee, though.
When you finally find your sweet spot, that unique offering you want to give to the world, you will know it. And you know what? You will intensify the hours you work on it.
You’ll constantly think about it. Inspiration hits you in the most unpredictable moments and you will squeeze in the last 30 minutes of the day (you actually should be already in bed, because you need that sleep). Because you know you are in the flow. Tomorrow is a new day, and it could be entirely different what is awaiting you then. You just need to get things done today. And you give all for it.
And then, after all these hours of dedicated work, you put your work out into the world. You are proud because your product has value. You know that. You invested your precious time. You invested your brain power. You did the best you can.
People begin to notice you. They begin to buy what you have to offer. And you get the feedback that confirms it is good stuff. Maybe you have to tweak it here or there. But you have created something that has value for others.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that someone comes along and tries to take your product down. Or takes you down. Or both.
Here is the story I want to share with you.
I recently had someone buying one of my Workflow Kits for Trello Workflows. Those of you, who don’t know what that is, Workflow Kits are a set of commands that create various workflows in a Trello board, alleviating Trello users from thousands of manual clicks, drags, drops, etc.
In my eyes, embedding workflows into a Trello board is non-negotiable if you heavily rely on Trello to organize your work, ideas, or resources for your business. It is an easy system, it is flexible and the high number of people that use Trello, do know why I am so appreciative about it.
Long story short, I had someone buying one of my Workflow Kits. And three days after the purchase, I was contacted by his co-worker, asking for a refund because it was the incorrect product.
First, I thought that was strange. I wondered about the strange highlighting in the text.
And I also was confused about the reason: “this product is not the correct one”.
I replied to this person, explaining that digital products due to their nature of being digital, cannot just be returned like a jacket that is too small. When a digital product has arrived in your inbox, it is yours. There is no way one can control the use of it, neither of making copies and sending it to whomever. That’s the risk we live with as creators in the Digital Age.
He replied back stating that he wanted a refund and referred to my Terms of Conditions. In there, I said that refunds will not be given unless otherwise specified in writing. And further down below, I stated “We are happy to work with each customer until they are fully satisfied. We allow returns for product refunds you contact us about within 15 days or less of purchase, with a note including the reason you’d like to receive a refund.”
In the Terms of Conditions, I stated I would do a refund if there is a reason.
Is ‘an Incorrect Product’ a Reason to Return a Digital Product?
Here comes a moment where you have to take a deep breath.
Nobody is perfect, and mistakes happen. Sometimes, we get it all wrong.
We buy a thing, and it turns out to be not as good as we thought it was.
In my eyes, it is okay to approach the creator of such a product and begin to have a conversation.
Something like, “Look, I was intending I could do this or that with your product, but now that I can’t see how to get that achieved. Is there something we can do about it? Do you have an idea, or a solution for that? Or, in the worst case, can I get a refund?”
That would be an example of a mature, appreciative communication style. Something on eye’s height.
I became aware of the fact, that my Terms of Conditions do not display how I actually feel about returning a digital product.
I hold a master in Economics and I have had to take a decent amount of law lectures at the university. So, I am not totally unknowing in this subject.
The way this person approached me and how he tried to get a refund for basically no reason, motivated me to clarify the rules for refunds in my Terms of Conditions of my business. Not only did I add that I wouldn’t do refunds, in general. I also stated clearly, I would like to know a coherent reason for a possible refund – just in case.
And I consciously choose to be transparent about it and adjusted the date for when the page was last updated on the top.
To be clear about it, I am not a jackass. If someone comes across as true and tells me why the purchased product really is a no-go for him/her, I would do a refund out of goodwill.
A good, trustworthy relationship means more to me than being right.
Long story short, I adjusted my Terms of Conditions, well knowing that this wouldn’t apply to this person anyway, as he purchased the product before I did the adjustments.
What came next, was a bunch of short emails, still refusing any explanations, just saying “it doesn’t meet our needs”. And blaming me for being “not so cool” because I had changed the rules for refunds.
I had to sleep over this for a night.
When I woke up in the morning, I knew how I wanted to deal with it.
For the sake of customer satisfaction, I would have done this refund. It wasn’t a fortune. Indeed, I believe my Workflow Kits are very reasonably priced. The time one will save with all these workflows included in a Workflow Kit, one will easily save 2-5 hours each week of maintaining and organizing Trello boards.
However, the communication style has taken me aback. A little.
So, in the morning, I first opened the Google oracle and did a bit of research. Because I wanted to know a bit more about the person I was dealing with.
And I found a few things that confirmed by strange gut feeling.
I then wrote an email with 3 major points:
1 – Confirming that I have adjusted the Terms of Conditions and that it is my right to do so as a business owner.
2 – Confronting the person with the findings of my research. And,
3 – Reasoning why I think that giving a refund is not appropriate in this situation.
Here’s what I wrote:
What I received in return was a threat.
Did it come as a surprise? No. Not really. But I admit, my heart was beating a little faster than it normally does.
This is something we have to live with in the Digital Age. People have the power to ruin your existence just because they feel they are entitled to it.
This is the reason why I am going on full transparency here.
This person has used my words “your accountant assistant from the Philippines” as a racial lapse.
He was not responding to any of the 3 main points I stated in my email. He was picking out that one thing, that could be twisted and wants to use this now as a reason to discredit me and my work on the web.
“I should pay you for the material you gave to me for a post.”
And then in another one-liner, just one minute after:
“p.s. I set your email to auto archive, meaning I won’t get your racist rant. You’re just giving me more material. Just an FYI before you press send.”
What I Am Taking Away From This
First of all, I admit I have made a mistake with my Terms of Conditions. They did not precisely state how I actually think refunds for digital products should be handled.
I wanted to be kind to people. I trusted, people would appreciate the awesome work behind my products, and wouldn’t play this kind of games with me. I was wrong.
I am still a kind person, even though I am now crystal clear that I do not do refunds out of the box. As I said above, I might do it because of goodwill. But that will require some communicative foreplay.
Secondly, I know my products are good. I will not let someone take me down or discredit my work just because it is such an easy thing to do.
Thirdly, if now a public rant is going to happen, I will play with open cards. And I am doing this already. None of us should have to hide just because someone is trying to enforce some dark game upon us.
There are people out there, who are trying to abuse other people’s work by pretending they are interested in their products, and then requesting a refund – for a product that cannot physically be returned.
Don’t Let Them Take You Down
We all need to set boundaries.
I could have said, “You know what, here’s your money back. Enjoy my Workflow Kit anyway!”
I did not say that. I choose to set boundaries.
I do not allow this person to twist my communication. Stating “your accountant assistant from the Philippines” served as an evidence that I did do a bit of research on my side. (Side note: the person itself is located in North America.) Mentioning someone’s country of origin is not an act of racism. If so, wouldn’t every American then be offended, because I call him/her an American? That is b.s.
And I will defend my work and the benefits people gain from it. Because it is honest work. I have spent hours creating it. I put my heart and brain power into it. And I simply know, it is good stuff.
There are things we have no control over in life.
At the time of writing, I do not know how this episode will turn out for me.
It is totally possible, that this could ruin my business and destroy what I have built up, so far.
I hope not.
But I do know, that setting boundaries is a necessary thing to do as an entrepreneur.
There will be people who test you.
There will be people who tell you all kinds of stories.
There will be people who try to betray you – just because they can.
There will be people luring you into their dramas.
Speak with an open heart.
And know your self-worth.
And don’t let them take you down!