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Retailers have an expression they use right after Christmas, when they’re flooded with customers looking to do returns. They tell their salespeople to “save the sale.”
They’re to suggest alternatives to customers returning their item for a refund. “Did you want to try another size?” “Would you like to exchange your item for something else?” “Can I give you merchandise credit you can use on a future purchase?” Returning the customer’s cash is to be a last resort.
In copywriting, those situations occur too. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a client doesn’t like what you’ve written. Whether their complaint is legitimate or a misguided perception, your good name is on the line and so is the fee for your work, so it behooves you to find an amiable solution.
Here’s a recent situation in which I was faced with giving the client a full refund or coming up with a way to save the sale.
I received the following inquiry.
I found you via Google. My company sells powdered mushroom supplements. I need a web page written that describes each of our products – its history, benefits, ingredients, etc. I’m looking for approximately 800 words, and I can provide you with source material so you’ll have the facts pertaining to each product.
Because I was booked solid with work from my existing clients when Sam’s note came in, I decided to pass on the job but offered Sam the option of a quality referral.
I have several freelance copywriters with whom I’ve worked for years, and I often send them my overload. They are experienced professionals every bit as capable as I am. Once I make a referral, the copywriter interacts directly with the client and my involvement ends.
In the above situation, Sam was open to accepting a referral. I sent him to Annie, who I know has written copy for nutritional supplements in the past and is familiar with marketing in that industry.
Annie spoke with Sam by phone and did the work. She was expecting the client to either approve the copy or tell her if any revisions were needed. Instead, she and I received a scathing email.
Even though the client was at that point working directly with Annie, he chose to copy me on the email to ensure I assumed some measure of responsibility for the situation.
Susan and Annie,
I’d like a refund for the copywriting services I requested. Both pieces of copy that you supplied contained egregious grammatical errors (run on sentences, misspellings, incomplete sentences, etc.) and statements that were inaccurate (i.e., mushrooms had been used in Asia to treat infections – I’m not sure where this came from, as I had supplied the source material).
Susan, given your high Google rank and your claims of being a full-time copywriter for 20+ years, this work quality is completely unacceptable.
I would like a full refund.
That email was immediately followed by one from Annie.
I will give Ian a refund per his request. However, I am not sure what he is referring to by misspellings, incomplete sentences, grammatical errors, etc. I followed his directions to a tee and believe I provided quality work.
I apologize if he was disappointed but I do not think I delivered poor quality work. I used SEO keywords and his research to write this piece. I also looked at competitor sites and my copy is in line with what they have if not better.
I’m attaching the copy so you can judge for yourself. Let me know your honest opinion of it please.
I read Annie’s copy and thought it was well done. I couldn’t see any of the problems that Ian had referenced and told Annie to hold off on making the refund. I then composed the following email to Ian.
Thank you for contacting regarding this situation. I never want a client to be dissatisfied or unhappy with the copy they get, whether I write it myself or it’s written by someone I referred.
Annie sent me the copy so I could judge for myself whether the quality was lacking.
Sam, I read the copy through start to finish three times. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with your assessment. I think it reads well. I actually feel like I learned a lot!
I don’t see the errors you mentioned — misspellings, incomplete sentences, grammatical errors. Yes, some of the sentences are short and therefore technically could be considered incomplete sentences, but you’re not writing a term paper for English class. Short sentences are perfectly acceptable for marketing copy.
By varying sentence length and structure, the copy is more interesting. One of the things I like about the copy Annie wrote is that despite having lots of big, unfamiliar words (such as the lists of active compounds), the tone is conversational. It’s very readable!
Listen, neither Annie nor I want you to be unhappy with the copy. If short sentences aren’t to your taste, we can change them. If Annie got a fact or two wrong, such as mushrooms used to treat infections in Asia, then let us know and we can remedy those items. If there are misspellings, by all means, let’s correct them.
The bottom line is you need copy, and we want you to have content that is effective for you. Annie invested a ton of time in getting up to speed on your products and understanding your needs. I think you have to expect that first drafts almost always require some revisions, as no one can know your business as well as you do.
Annie and I would very much like to make this right for you. Is there a way we can go through the copy and discuss revisions? Either Annie or I will make ourselves available to talk with you at any time.
This does not mean that we are saying no to a refund. In fact, the first thing Annie said to me when she told me about this situation was that she was willing to give you a refund. I’m the one who feels like that might not be fair. Won’t you work with us to try to find a solution that gives you what you need and results in the best possible outcome?
We appreciate your understanding in this matter and are standing by to assist.
Annie thanked me for “having her back” and again said she was willing to give the client a refund if I thought she should. I told her we should wait for Sam’s response.
Several days went by. Annie and I began to secretly hope the client had perhaps reread the copy and realized it was perfectly fine. I even told Annie that in my opinion Sam had displayed typical bully behavior – came on all strong and demanding, and then, when met with resistance, shriveled up and disappeared into the dirt like an old mushroom.
Alas, I spoke too soon. On that Friday, just before 5:00 p.m., Sam reappeared asking again for a full refund. That drained the happy right out of happy hour.
I appreciate your prompt response. The first copy Annie wrote contained the full extent of the errors I cited. At this point, we’ve already invested our own time to rewrite the copy and we’d appreciate a refund.
Thanks and Regards,
I wasn’t ready to give up and wrote back to Sam, blind-copying Annie.
Let me be candid in telling you my thinking, and this is just between us.
My #1 priority is in making sure you do not feel wronged.
However, I also feel a sense of responsibility to Annie, since I referred you as a client. I have been referring clients to Anna for about 18 months. In that time, she has written copy for probably 100+ clients. I have not had one single complaint until yours. Not one!
She is smart, hard-working and genuinely cares about her clients. I’ve read the copy she’s written for my referrals. It’s good. The clients are happy. Most feel they got tremendous value. And they’re seeing success using the copy she provided.
I am sorry that things didn’t work out between you and Annie. She is upset about the situation. She put in a lot of hours to do your work, and as I told you when I read the copy, I think she did a good job. I understand you feel differently.
I would like to see the revised copy you did. And here’s what I’m proposing. I want to see how much of Annie’s copy you had to rewrite. Is it 100%? Is it 50%? Is it 10%? Then, I will ask Annie to refund the correct percentage.
Sam, if I ask her to, she will refund the full amount. But I don’t feel that’s right knowing how much work she did. You seem like an astute, fair-minded businessman. I’m asking you to help me arrive at a solution that you can live with and doesn’t leave Annie with many hours of work unpaid. Please let me know your thoughts.
After sending that email, nothing but the sound of crickets. Thankfully, we never heard from Sam again. Annie and I both believe that the copy was well written but that Sam may have had buyer’s remorse.
To contact us on a Friday at 5pm suggested one of two things: 1) He knew he didn’t deserve a full refund and therefore was uncomfortable asking for one, putting off the task until the very final moments of the week, or 2) With the weekend coming on, Sam needed some cash and figured he’d try to rattle us into giving him a refund.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? While most clients are nice, respectable business people who appreciate your copywriting services and are happy to pay their bill, you will run into the occasional jerk who will try to take advantage of you.
My advice is to always be as professional as possible but not to be a pushover. It’s okay to stand up for yourself. Offer to make revisions and work with the client until he or she is satisfied. Look for creative solutions to resolve the situation. Be like the salesperson after Christmas faced with all the holiday returns and try to save the sale.
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