In the Trenches: Our Money Back Guarantee

When I first decided to use the prepaid model for Cranky Concierge, I knew a money back guarantee would be needed to instill confidence in clients. A recent client interaction, however, has made me think hard about it.

We recently had one client who decided to use our guarantee to get extra help with his trip-planning without paying. He had us start working on a trip to redeem award miles. We worked for quite some time to find what ultimately ended up being a very good itinerary for him. The only response we received at first was that the itinerary was “clumsy” despite it actually being quite good. He asked that we keep looking for something better. Our requests for further clarification on what he wanted were ignored. Eventually he told us that he had worked with someone else to get something better. He wanted his money back.

We have a money back guarantee, so of course we refunded the money without question. But I was still pretty angry about it. After all, we had worked hard to find him an itinerary that most people would have been very happy to take. He used us. But I was also angry at myself. Could we have made our money back guarantee clearer to avoid this? Could we have structured it differently?

When people ask about the money back guarantee, we explain to them that they should be going into this assuming that they’re paying for our expertise and for us to do the hard legwork for them when it comes to planning their trip. The idea here is to avoid people asking for their money back just because they don’t like the fare that’s available or because the flight they want doesn’t exist. (If they find a cheaper fare on their own, that’s a different story.)

But not everyone asks about the guarantee, and we don’t really go into detail about it unless they do. That makes me wonder if we should be more explicit about things. It’s not an issue of changing the rules, because we’ll still refund money without any questions asked either way, but it’s an issue of trying to set expectations in advance.

On the other hand, it seems somewhat unprofessional to me if we really try to push this piece of our business. For most people, it’s really not an issue, so maybe our pushing on it just helps put doubt into their minds about our service.

In the end, I decided to put this into perspective. I can count the number of people who have invoked the money back guarantee on one hand since we started more than two years ago. That tells me that we are setting expectations appropriately but it doesn’t mean some won’t take advantage. I suppose that’s just the cost of doing business.

About Brett Snyder

Brett is the Founder and President of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. He also writes the consumer air travel blog, The Cranky Flier.
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22 comments
judyserienagy
judyserienagy

Yup, it's the cost of doing business.  There aren't that many dispicable crooks out there, but they do exist.  Important not to alter your business plan based on the behaviour of a small percentage of the population.  What you might want to do is farm your guarantee language out to a few law students around the country and offer a prize to whomever comes up with the best changes to avoid this kind of thing in the future.  Or to help avoid it, it's impossible to eradicate these kinds of clients.

MeanMeosh
MeanMeosh

You hit the nail on the head.  If you have a money back guarantee, you will, unfortunately, have a few bad apples who take advantage of the situation.  You're never going to be able to completely eliminate cheating, unless you develop a Rube Goldberg-type system that ends up being confusing for both you and your customers (and probably isn't worth the time you'll have to invest to come up with).  Just chalk it up to the cost of doing business, and don't do repeat business with those who take advantage of your generosity.

Cedarglen
Cedarglen

I'm always sorry to read notes like this, posted by agents who are doing thier very best to offer a valualbe, quality service.  It must be doubly difficult for you employee, the one who did the leg work.  Still, I believe that a reasonable MBG is necessary in a business like yours.  The rare thug will open an encounter intending to screw you, but y ou should be able to weed-out most of them.  For very busy folks or an inexperienced traveller, your services are worth far more than their cost.  In the end, you last sentence got it exactly right: "...just the cost of doing business."  Hold your head high, march with pride and attend to that next client's needs. 

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

Brett writes: "After all, we had worked hard to find him an itinerary that most people would have been very happy to take. He used us. But I was also angry at myself. Could we have made our money back guarantee clearer to avoid this? Could we have structured it differently?"

 

Uh, you gave all your confidential information away before getting a commitment.  This why you have bad customers, http://www.franchise-info.ca/supply_chain/2012/03/why-you-have-bad-customers-what-do-to-about-it.html

Cedarglen
Cedarglen

 @AXXel Knutson

 Oh, not so.  Some, even most recognize an excellent service when they see it and a re quite happy to pay a fair price for same.  I don't currently need Cranky's services, but if I did, perhaps flying a very unusual itinerary or during a period of known bad weather, I'd pony up the bucks in a flash.  My expectation is that his troops would use all of their contacts and resources to keep me moving, but not perfection.  Short of some gross screw up - like repeatedly not answering the phone or sending me to the wrong destination, I **cannot imagine** asking for a refund.  Relationships like what this small business offers are built on trust - and that is a two-way street.  Their responsibility is noted above.  Mine is to pay their fee and to not play them against other similar services, for whatever purpose.  (If I had time to play one against another, then I'd have time to do all of the detail work myself.)  All customers are NOT nuts.  The vast majority are honest folks, seeking a product or service and *very happy* to pay for same. -C.

Nick Barnard
Nick Barnard

 @Michael Webster Umm. I don't think you have an idea of how Cranky Concierge works..  How would you structure his business to not give away confidential information before getting a commitment? 

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

Nick, have you read my article?  I am in the business of designing business models that don't give away confidential information to customers who cannot demonstrate commitment.

 

Aren't you asking me to give away confidential information to Cranky before he is committed as customer of mine?

 

Why would I do that?  (On the other hand, I can send you the training exercise for free and you can try your hand at designing your own changes, test, and revise.  My compliments.)

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

 @nbarnard Yes, and this training exercise was designed for a two person interaction.  Could it be changed to telephone exercise?  Sure, I don't see any problem.  Could it be reduced to a decision tree and an exercise in optimization?  Very much doubt it.

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @Michael Webster Going back to my original comment on this "Umm. I don't think you have an idea of how Cranky Concierge works.. " I'd gander that much if not all of CF's interaction with this and many of his customers is solely online.  

 

I'm sure he does have some telephone interactions with clients.

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

 @nbarnard There is no suggestion that it can be done by a "purely online interaction". I am not sure how you got that idea.  Perhaps you could point to something I wrote? 

 

The idea is that there is an exercise which will train staff to spot or identify bad customers.  The training exercise was based upon facts from an aftermarket automotive franchise system.  (And the training exercise is free to anyone who asks for it - as soon as I can that plugin to work. ) 

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @Michael Webster To your last question, yes I think it would be a good idea to identify these folks. However trying to screen those folks out via a purely online interaction will generate more false positives than true positives, thus costing the company revenue.

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

 @nbarnard Thanks, but I was already aware of the MT Notifier plugin. 

 

But, what if you had actually diagnosed and solved the plugin problem?  Would you have intended it as a gift, or would you have wanted money?  

 

Most  people would have shared the information, but they don't expect to run a business that way.  However, there is a group of people who prey on the natural reaction to share.  Do you think it is a good idea to identify these people?

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @Michael Webster See, giving away information and being classy can work just fine.  That being said I'm going to send you my consulting bill. 

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @Michael Webster Ah, the ubiquitous "[I'm] Sorry you feel that way..." The quintessential non-apology. 

 

I was going to engage in an an ad hominem attack, but it isn't worth my time for a web link email troller who can't even get their own site working properly.. 

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

 @nbarnard Sorry you feel that way.  Pretty sure you missed the point of the training exercise, however.

 

But you demonstrate exactly the type of person who I would never give any more information to: you will never be committed as a negotiation training customer.  The exercise would be wasted on you, at this time.

nbarnard
nbarnard

 @Michael Webster Honestly I just reread your article.  It is filled with lots of words that in the end mean nothing, as it doesn't come to any actionable conclusion.  

 

I don't see any practical way to implement a service that Cranky provides in a way that does not give away confidential information before getting a commitment. 

 

I'm pretty sure that your article is a bunch of engineerish bs thinking that you can out engineer the world. This presupposes that people are perfectly rational, and don't see around being manipulated in ways such as this.

 

 

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