Columnists Features

Refunding customers for lack of supply is vital

HOW do you feel, as a customer, when you buy a product or hire one and when you attempt to use it, it fails to work?  My immediate reaction would be to demand a replacement or refund.
The same applies to services. If a customer has paid for a service but he or she is unable to use that service, he or she should be refunded, especially if the failure is not the fault of the customer.
I had two experiences a fortnight ago where I paid for items that I never used.  From one supplier, I ordered a cake and paid a deposit but did not receive any feedback from the supplier and decided to cancel the order.  The supplier was very courteous and said that they would refund me in full and although the refund took about four days, it was eventually made and in full.
From another supplier, I hired a generator but failed to use it due to a technical problem.  When I called the company that hires out the generators and explained that I did not use the generator, I was told that I would get a refund when delivering the generator back.
When I got there, the story changed – I was told that they were waiting for another customer to pay them for the hire of a generator and then they would refund me.
I patiently waited for another five days or so and when I called, I was told that they could not refund me but would allow me to get the generator again for one day without paying for it a second time.
Of course I was not happy with the resolution because I am not in the business of hiring generators but, in the circumstances, I thought that it was better than nothing.
Other places that amaze me on their refund policies are airlines and hotels.  When you cancel an air ticket or postpone your trip, you are surcharged.
I can understand a cancellation made after the flight (when you are a no-show passenger) or after the day that you should have checked into the hotel, but cancellations made prior to the event surely should not attract any surcharge.
It is quite likely in the case of hotels that two customers can pay for the same room for the same night.  Imagine a customer who cancels a reservation on the day that he or she is supposed to check in, after having paid in advance and is not refunded because the hotel claims that they already turned down other customers because they thought the room was taken.
If a customer comes later, on the same day or night, the hotel still allocates the room to a different customer and makes that customer pay in full too.
The exploitation gets worse when it comes to conferences, workshops and seminars – the hotel will usually charge you for the number of participants you have booked for even if only a handful turn up.
I have been to a workshop where we had booked the venue for 100 delegates but only had 40 on the material day. Before 09:00 hours on that day, I asked the hotel to reduce the number of delegates for lunch but hotel staff claimed that they had already cooked the food.
Now we all know that no leftover food in hotels gets thrown away as it is refrozen and recycled but the hotel staff adamantly said they had to bill us for all the 100 heads.
I ended up inviting relatives and friends for lunch and later requested the hotel to pack the remaining food which we later took to an orphanage in the vicinity of the hotel.
The lesson I learnt from that experience is to always book for a smaller number and then adjust upwards should the number of participants increase.
The solution to all this, however, is a mind-set change and the practice of confirming ahead, on the part of participants.

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