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I run a time management app with a monthly subscription model that gives users the freedom to cancel whenever they feel like so. Normally if a customer cancels at the beginning of the month after they get charged, they receive a full refund for that month, no questions asked.

Yesterday I received an angry email from a Michael (Not his real name of course) who claims I didn't refund him. I look up Michael's account information and find out that he has, indeed, received a full refund.

Upon informing Michael of this, he insists he still hasn’t received his money.

Now it's getting really confusing, and of course I don't want to accuse him of anything, or communicate in any way that might sound like I'm saying that he's not being honest with me. Maybe there's a delay from his bank in showing the refund, I really don't know.

So I'm asking what's the best way to communicate with Michael in an email format and if there's anything I can do to help.

closed as off-topic by gnat, DJClayworth, scaaahu, Cronax, Michael Grubey Jun 28 '18 at 5:26

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    How long ago did this happen? As annoying as it can be, not all such transactions happen instantly, even if your logs say they have completed. – user34587 Jun 25 '18 at 15:23
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    @Kozaky borrowing on that question, are the subscriptions by credit cards? I know businesses tend to send bulk transactions to the credit card company in a set interval and from there, it can still take 3-5 days before it shows up. It might take upwards of a week or two before it shows up on the card. So if you don't know, did you check with your manager to see how many days before the customers would see a refund on his card? – Dan Jun 25 '18 at 16:18
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    If you explain the process of refund issuance it will help get wise answers. Do you use the stripe.com dashboard to reverse a particular credit card transaction? Do you use some other technique to do the same? Do you write a check to your customer and send it by post? – O. Jones Jun 26 '18 at 10:10
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    Does the payment processor give you a transaction number, date and time when you do a refund? That would help a lot. If they give you any (vendor-specific) guidance on how many days to allow, that's useful to pass on too: "<Vendor> processed refund request for <Amount> on <Date>. Please allow n days for this, and contact <Vendor> first if there is any issue." If customers consistently tell you that a specific vendor processes slower than their guidance, then modify the guidance you give. – smci Jun 26 '18 at 21:02
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    I just want to thank you for taking the time to get this right. I am less angry now that I see the work you are putting into it. – Michael Jun 27 '18 at 21:18
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First thing to do is double check and make certain that you issued the refund on your end. You say that his account says he has been refunded, but also go and find the actual bank transaction to be sure the money has left your own accounts. At that point you know you have done everything correctly, even if the bank has not.

Second, share with Michael as much information as you are able, in as much detail as possible.

Our records indicate that on June 5, 2018 a refund of $53.42 was issued to the credit card account ending in 1234.

It's quite possible that Michael is looking at the wrong account, or the date of the refund is recent enough that it hasn't arrived yet. Give him the benefit of the doubt by telling him as much as you can so you know you're both on the same page.

If he still believes there is an issue, offer to contact the bank who made the transaction. Verify with them that the money left your account and went to the correct destination account. If you want to be proactive, you could even take this step before your first response to Michael.

Once they have verified that the transaction has been completed correctly, you can go back to Michael to say that the bank (a neutral third party) has verified that the refund was properly issued. At that point there is nothing more you can do, but Michael is welcome to reach out to the bank to determine what has happened, and you can of course offer to supply any information he needs.

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    +1 - Also - if possible, automate the transaction auditing process to generate these kinds of reports. – Wesley Long Jun 25 '18 at 15:41
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    Two very important rules of customer support: 1) stick to the facts and 2) get your facts straight! – corsiKa Jun 25 '18 at 16:25
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    Ask the bank to confirm what transaction ID the refund was processed with & have the bank (not you) share this detail with the customer – user2813274 Jun 25 '18 at 17:10
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    Note there is not "a bank", as onprofessionalism bank is probably a different one than Michael's one, and the money may have been "lost" (er… delayed) moving between them. – Ángel Jun 25 '18 at 23:39
  • It also depends on how the refund is processed, and whether all the parties are forwarding the right data to do a refund. You're not paying their bill, but doing a refund on a specific transaction. Any mismatched number and the credit card company may have to process it manually, if they do not outright reject it. And even if they reject it, then they have to reverse the money transaction... it's actually very very complicated if you get the data wrong. – Nelson Jun 26 '18 at 10:42
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Normally if a customer cancels at the beginning of the month after they get charged, they receive a full refund for that month, no questions asked.

It would help if you were to be more specific about what you mean by "refund".

I look up Michael's account information and find out that he has, indeed, received a full refund.

WRONG! All your account information has is records of payments you have made, not what payments other people have received. If you deposited money in Michael's bank account, you have no idea whether his bank has posted the transaction. One of the most annoying ways for a customer service representative start a sentence is a variation of "Our records indicate". For instance, I had a customer service representative repeatedly say to me "Our records indicate that you cancelled your account", and all requests for them to explain how they came to "record" that were met with just repeating that claim. I don't care what "your records indicate", do you have any documentation of the event? You can "record" a refund to Michael all you want, but how is that supposed to help Michael?

In customer service, and really in life in general, it's important to be precise in your language. Don't tell a customer he has received a refund. Tell him your system has processed the refund, and give all the documentation you have on the transaction. Things like how long the transaction takes to complete is information you should have, and if you don't know it, you should contact whoever you sent the money through to find out. If this takes more than a few hours, you should send Michael an email describing what you're doing to look into it.

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    I don't understand what distinction you are trying to make between a record of a transaction and 'documentation of the event', in a world where most transactions are only recorded electronically. – Pete Kirkham Jun 27 '18 at 14:56
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    @PeteKirkham The OP was treating the fact that their internal records show that the customer received a refund as equivalent to them receiving a refund. "Our database has this transaction flagged 'refunded'" is technically speaking documentation, but it's quite different from "We have this data on an ACH transaction". – Acccumulation Jun 27 '18 at 15:51
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what's the best way to communicate with Michael in an email format

Don't. Pick up the phone. With this sort of thing, the personal touch goes a long way to improving things.

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    "How do I X?" "Don't, do Y instead" is not an answer to "How do I do X." This is independent of whether or not I agree with the suggestion. – corsiKa Jun 25 '18 at 16:25
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    Personally I hate, hate, hate communicating by phone. I can’t explain why but I consistently have trouble understanding the interlocutor, even in my native language (and my hearing is impeccable according to the GP). I never pick up the phone if a business calls me. Please contact me via email exclusively. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 25 '18 at 16:26
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    That's kind of subjective. As the customer, I would much rather conduct this kind of communication via a method that left at least some kind of paper trail, and if the company insisted on speaking to me on the telephone, I'd be at least a little suspicious. Of course, it's fair to offer the customer the choice to either speak directly or carry on via email. – delinear Jun 25 '18 at 16:27
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    @corsiKa We very frequently have questions on The Workplace where "Don't do that!" is the correct response. See this discussion on Meta. – David K Jun 25 '18 at 16:31
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    This is why most companies ask how you could LIKE to be contacted - so that it's not the companies preference on how to contact the customer, but the customers preference. Don't assume the customer thinks like you - because you're wrong. – UKMonkey Jun 25 '18 at 16:42
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The best customer service would be to reissue the refund via Paypal or writing a check to the customer. Your email could say, "sorry your refund did not go through correctly. I will send you a check or a Paypal payment, whichever you prefer. Please let me know how to send it."

For individual subscription products such as yours, this costs you FAR less than investigating the banking system to find out what happened. It also contributes to your reputation as being easy to do business with.

For this customer the principle of the thing is the $20 for his subscription. For you the principle of the thing is (should be) always leaving your users smiling. That's worth the small loss. The accounting category is "uncollectible debt".

If people start abusing your generosity, you can always rethink this. But, experience says they probably won't.

(For what it's worth: At the SaaS place where I work, switching to stripe.com for subscription payment processing gave us really good tools for handling this kind of exception in a traceable way. They even send an official-sounding email to the customer acknowledging the refund transaction. It wasn't worth our trouble to build our own exception handling tools because exceptions are so rare.)

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    This assumes Michael wouldn't mind receiving the money twice. I know a few pathologically honest people who would. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jun 26 '18 at 11:08
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    Indeed @DmitryGrigoryev. Hence the suggestion of sending a check. The recipient can tear it up. – O. Jones Jun 26 '18 at 17:20
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    @O.Jones that doesn’t make any sense to me. What is a check anyway? – Cyonis Jun 27 '18 at 4:11
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    @Belle-Sophie that's a common question from younger folk. A Check is a person from the Czech Republic. – Harper Jun 27 '18 at 5:36
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    @glglgl - agreed. Another European here, I've never seen a cheque in my life. – Davor Jun 27 '18 at 9:33
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I particularly like David K's answer. I suggest you follow his advice. I'd like to add one more thing to it.

Show sympathy. Cooperate. Offer to look into the problem. If there is any chance of the problem being on your side, offer compensation. A happy customer, even a happy ex-customer is most likely going to cost you far less than an angry one leaving bad reviews all over the place.

And most of all do not blame your customer, even if you think they are making the mistake. Remember Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Bottom line: be kind and understanding, even if the fault lies with your customer or with their bank. You have a business, your good name is important.

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