The steps you must take depend on what’s gone wrong and how serious it is. But in all cases, you must act promptly.
This doesn’t mean immediately giving a refund, repair or replacement. It means taking the customer seriously and looking into their complaint. There might be something you need to put right — or it might be OK to turn down the complaint.
It’s your right to investigate before deciding what to do when a customer complains, whether in person or online. Find out as much as you can before you decide what — if any — remedy to offer.
Consumer law says customers can get a replacement, repair or refund for:
But if they ask to return something for another reason, eg they accidentally broke it or don’t like the colour, you don’t have to agree.
It is against the law to:
Complaints can be tricky to deal with, particularly if it’s a complicated problem or discussions have become heated.
But it’s important not to stick your head in the sand. Know your rights, and act promptly. If you seem to be fobbing a customer off, or dragging your heels, they may take this as refusing to deal with their complaint.
Lack of action will annoy your customer. It will also count against you if a complaint goes to court or a disputes tribunal.
You do not have to give a refund, repair or replacement if the customer:
You also don’t have to give a remedy if the problem is caused by something beyond your control, eg an earthquake.
If it’s a smaller problem, eg a poorly made coffee or pen that doesn’t work, you must put it right as soon as possible. This means offering a remedy, which is either a:
It’s up to you which to offer. If the customer refuses your choice and asks for a different remedy, you can either agree or politely refuse. It’s your right to offer a replacement, for example, but not a refund.
If you offer to repair minor faults, either:
If the customer only complains after getting a minor fault fixed elsewhere, you do not have to pay the repair bill. Nor do you have to give a refund or replacement. By not coming to you first, the customer has lost their right to a remedy.
Providing remedies for faulty products (external link) — Consumer Protection
Providing remedies for faulty services (external link) — Consumer Protection
Then move the conversation on to a private channel, eg email or phone, to find out more.
When something is seriously wrong with a product or service, you must put it right in the way the customer chooses — after fully investigating, of course. Typically, this means a replacement or full refund. You must also cover any extra costs caused by the problem.
If a customer asks for repairs instead, you could offer a temporary replacement to use in the meantime. Make sure they know the timeframes involved — and the scale of the faults to be fixed. Repairs must be carried out promptly, but a serious fault may take longer to fix than the customer is prepared to wait.
|What went wrong||Potential remedy||Possible other costs to repay|
|Fridge repeatedly breaks down due to previously undetected manufacturer’s fault||Replace with a new fridge OR
Full refund of purchase price
|Poorly installed window lets rain into house||Redo work at no extra cost, including any replacement materials OR
|Fixing any water damage to wall or flooring|
If someone senior isn’t available, workers should take contact details and alert you as soon as possible.
This extra step between seller and buyer increases the risk of a product being damaged. Here are the steps to follow if a customer makes this complaint.
If it is a valid complaint, offer your customer a replacement or refund.
Make your own complaint to the delivery company — or your insurance company — so you’re not left out of pocket. If this proves tricky, you may be able to make a claim against the delivery company under the Contract and Commercial Law Act, which has replaced the Carriage of Goods Act.
Consumer problems caused by suppliers (external link) — Consumer Protection
“In trade” means regularly selling goods or services, or regularly buying to sell on. It doesn’t include people who run one-off garage sales or post occasional Trade Me listings.