Digital Assets: Choosing Between Customer Satisfaction And Sales Integrity

Recently I purchased two digital products that did not meet my satisfaction. The way each company handled the situation brought to light how complicated business can be when your product has zero production costs.

Digital assets follow the rule: the first instance costs thousands/millions to create. The cost of creating the 2nd and subsequent instances is effectively zero. So how do you protect that asset if there is no way to return the product with certainty it was not used, duplicated or sold?

Experience #1


Last month I bought an audiobook from iTunes: Trust Agents. It’s a great book, highly recommended and well worth the read. I knew that before I bought it and I still believe it. However the audio version needs a lot of work. The two authors, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, actually narrated the audiobook. I’m not sure why some people want to do that. And if they do there should be some gatekeeper auditioning the authors as narrators. One of the two authors would consistently drop the volume of each sentence towards the end so that the last word was whispered. I listen to 3-4 audiobooks a month on my drive to/from work. It was in my Top 3 “A Pain To Listen To”. I stopped listening after chapter 3.

Having spent $20 for the audiobook I was a little upset. Years ago I would have chalked it up as a loss and just fumed. But not in today’s world. I decided an email to iTunes would only take 2 minutes of my life. So I explained my dissatisfaction and sent it away. After an immediate auto-reply I received an email from John within 4 hours.

Dear Mark,

I’m sorry to learn that this item did not meet the standard of quality you have come to expect from the iTunes Store.

I have reversed the charge for “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust”. In three to five business days, a credit of $20.95 should be posted to a combination of the credit card that appears on the receipt for that purchase and your store credit.

I have also submitted this item for investigation. Apple takes the quality of the items offered on the iTunes Store seriously and will investigate the issue with this item, but I can’t say when or if the issue will be resolved. Please try again in a few weeks.

Thank you for your understanding. I hope that you continue to enjoy using the iTunes Store.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue, please feel free to reply to this email and I will do my best to assist you.

Sincerely,
John
iTunes Store Customer Support

Of course the credit was applied within 24 hours not 3-5 business days. This was handled so professionally I felt guilty for even asking for the refund.

Experience #2

Next up was a Joomla-WordPress integration tool from CorePHP. I had been pining away for this tool to use here on this site to integrate this blog (WordPress) into the look-and-feel of the website (Joomla). When I finally forked over the $80 I realized (or so I thought) that it was meant for another purpose. It would not work for me. I was bummed. Certain I could not use the tool I emailed their support team explaining what I really needed and asking for a refund given my misunderstanding. Yes, you would think that since it was not an impulse buy that I wouldn’t have made this mistake. And you’d be right, read on.

No auto-reply to my email was received, but I did receive a less than satisfying response from CorePHP within an hour:

Mark,

‘corePHP’ does not offer a cash refund or any exchanges once they have been downloaded. Unlike physical goods, electronically distributed software and software licenses can be easily duplicated. Accordingly, it is our policy that once we have distributed a release version to a customer, the sale is final and the software can not be returned for a refund or credit. Please refer to our Return policy as stated on our site: http://www.xxxxxx.com/subscription-plans.html#TOS

The WordPress is a product that sets inside of the Joomla, so the Joomla site is still in it’s normal state. The demo site shows how the site works. If you have any issues that you wish the developer to assist you with feel free to ask, and they can help you.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Kindest Regards,

********
‘corePHP’

Here’s my problem with this response.

  1. He didn’t address the true cause of my refund request. I actually explained what I thought it would do and that it didn’t meet my needs. Had he tried to solve that problem he would have shown me that the product actually does do what I need it to do. I had pulled the refund trigger too quickly. Of course I didn’t find this out until I was told I had no recourse for refunding my money. It was then I that I spent the time to look at the tool more closely and realize it does do what I need.
  2. Having a policy that penalizes the legitimate refund requests to protect the company against the scammers is wrong. You should not build your business model protecting yourself against all forms of attack. Just the most likely ones, which this is not. Any scammer who wants this product is going to find it for free or pay $80 and share it liberally. Their policy does not stop that, but it does penalize me unnecessarily.

I don’t have a problem with CorePHP. I’ve intentionally not linked to their site because I’m not interested in bashing them. I only use them as an example. They have a good product that I am still working on deploying. My issue was with the blanket “no” response that was obviously a canned response since the sale could have been saved and this post never have been written.

Results

In the end I have consumed both of the products that I asked for refund. The book was eventually bought in hardcover because I really did want to read it. And the tool is slowly being deployed on this website.

I don’t envy companies that sell a digital product. However I do believe that the online world again mirrors the offline world when it comes to customer satisfaction. You must do what’s right for the customer. My loyalty to iTunes only grew from my experience. CorePHP will need to do a little more to earn that level of loyalty.

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