Company Policy Is Bad Business

Last month, while sifting through my inbox, I discovered that I got charged for another year of about.me — a service that I didn’t intend to continue paying for, but forgot to cancel. Sure enough, as it is a common procedure for me, I e-mailed the support to tell that I didn’t intend to continue with their service as I didn’t find a way to get enough value from it and I asked them if they can refund my charge and be square.

Unfortunately, the company’s response was that, ultimately, if I fail to ask them to make a refund within 3 business days from the charge, they won’t do it.

It is a company policy, after all. Can’t do!

So, alright, they’ve got my $48. Sure, I could have spent it on something more exciting than a service that I don’t use, but it’s them holding the money, not me! Anyway, it’s not a huge amount of money.

(and, I am to blame as well, why did I sign up for it in the first place?)

This is not the first time I encounter this approach. So, what’s common between all these cases?

I looked at what I did every time that happened to me. At the very least, I never became their client again. I never recommended these companies to others, or recommended with a note about their blind “company policies” approach. Sometimes I actively advocated against.

Contrast this to one of the positive stories I kept sharing for nearly a decade now:

Long, long time ago I was visiting a friend of mine in California, and we’ve been enjoying some delicious sugary liquor… and I’ve got some spilled on my MacBook Air!

Ouch!

It soon stopped working. Being in an expected state of mind after what happened, I went to an Apple Store to accept the fate. I told the guy behind the counter what happened and he grabbed my laptop to check it. He came back with bad news: it’s dead.

But! He said that he can mail the laptop out for a replacement and it’ll be back in a few days or so. Free of charge.

WHOA!

But I really wanted (and needed) my laptop now. So I told him that I am, being a traveller, keep moving and I can’t receive the laptop back. He thought a little and asked me to wait while he talks to the manager.

A few minutes later, the guy comes back with a brand new sealed box and a big smile! I first thought he grabbed it for somebody else…. but no, it was for me and still free of charge!..

I’ve told this story to a lot of people, because I genuinely felt that this had to be shared. I still remember my excitement and gratitude (even though I am slowly weaning off Apple products now, but that’s a subject for a different story).

Now, that wasn’t a $48 non-tangible item. It was a roughly $1,000, very tangible laptop. Did Apple got enough word of mouth advertisement from me to compensate for their expense and a very non-”company policy” resolution? I’d seriously love to believe so.

I am writing this for myself as a reminder of how things that may seem “fair” to a vendor, will be perceived differently by customers. I’ve been previously guilty of not seeing the issue through the eyes of the customer before. More times than I am willing to admit.

So, should customer support be empowered within certain limits to ensure customers (including those who are leaving!) are happy? I suppose it really depends on the business model, but it is always important to not underestimate the ultimate power of personal references and word of mouth. In such an interconnected and (most importantly) noisy world, this is gold.

Tech entrepreneur, open source developer. Amateur cyclist.