Even when you’ve done everything correctly, sometimes a customer will want to return an item. And, inevitably, you will make a mistake from time to time with a listing or an order. Customer service is all about how you handle those concerns and problems. Studies have shown that a customer whose problem is resolved quickly and courteously is much more satisfied and loyal than one who has no problem at all with her purchase.

Some ‘not your fault’ issues:

I ordered this by mistake.
The professor changed the textbook.
It isn’t what I’m looking for.

All of these are covered by the 30 day return policy. Write a brief message and authorize a return. Something like:
“I’m sorry the book isn’t what you need. Any item may be returned within 30 days of receipt. Please wrap it carefully and send to (your name and address). When we receive it we will issue a refund.”

Particularly when dealing with students, I often say something more forceful about the deadline.
“Amazon’s return period is only 30 days, so be sure to return it promptly.”

Each part of that message has a purpose.
The “I’m sorry” establishes a personal connection, reminding the customer that a real person is dealing with his problem; “it isn’t what you need” is a good neutral phrase that assigns responsibility but doesn’t criticize.

“Any item…30 days” is your shield. If a customer asks to return something after that period, I give the cyber equivalent of a graceful shrug, for, alas, it is out of my hands. This week a student wrote asking to return a book used “only for the first week of class”; I’m sure it was in good condition but it had been purchased in January!

“Please wrap it carefully” is important because many people won’t. If the book is damaged in the return mail because of inadequate protection, you can reduce the refund by as much as 50%.

“When we receive…” protects you and tells the customer what to expect. “a refund” is sufficiently vague to allow for any damage deduction that may be warranted.

When it is your mistake:
the text was supposed to be unmarked but there’s underlining
the wrong cd is in the case
pages are missing
it’s not what I ordered

Assuming that the customer contacts you within the 30 day period, you have a range of responses.

When the condition of the item isn’t as good as advertised but it’s still useable, offer the customer the choice of a discount (20% or what seems appropriate) or a return for full refund.

When the item isn’t useable, you can ask for it to be returned for a full refund or just give the refund without a return. Two good reasons to give the refund immediately: the customer appreciates the courtesy and lack of hassle; you save the cost of return postage.

When you’ve sent the wrong book, tell the customer that you will send the correct one today by priority mail. Depending on the value of the “wrong” book, I suggest they keep it or ask them to return it at their convenience; if returned, I reimburse them for the postage by doing a partial refund.

Always apologize for the error and inconvenience.

Who pays for return postage?
Some booksellers advocate paying for all returns, whatever the reason. They suggest it’s just one of those ‘costs of doing business’ and the customer goodwill outweighs the expense. I can understand that, but I follow a ‘whose fault, who pays’ practice instead.

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