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We Do Not Negotiate with Terrorists

Posted in The Story by Nathan

We at Virtuous Giant, makers of IgnitionDeck, have benefitted greatly from what we believe to be one of the best customer bases in the WordPress community. Early on, as we released version after version of our beta product, our supporters stood by our side, offering vocal support, vociferous bug reporting, and of course, monetary contributions that have enabled us to work full-time on the project.

Needless to say, we would not be here without your support, and we are eternally grateful for it.

We hope you agree with us when we say that we’ve worked very hard to return that support in the form of new features and updates. As your support ramped up, so too has our ability to iterate and do so quickly.

From time to time we do receive complaints, both on the forums and via email, and in those cases, we do our very best to support our product and your campaigns so that you can have an excellent crowdfunding experience. We can say with certainty that in almost every case a complaint has been issued, we’ve been able to resolve the issue quickly and amicably. After all, like you, we want your IgnitionDeck experience to be not just good, but great.

But there are times when issues cannot be solved, either because we have not been given enough information to solve them, or because a customer simply doesn’t give us the opportunity to do so. Often times, this relates to our refund policy, which we’ve tried to make clear, and I’ll explain further today.

The reason we do not offer refunds is because our products are digital in nature, and digital products can easily be copied and reproduced. Once a digital product has been downloaded, it cannot be recalled.

Additionally, refunds can be costly, as fees convert positive transactions into negative ones. In other words, we lose money every time we refund a product.

Lastly, we want to discourage the process of ‘shopping,’ that is, someone testing many products in order to try them hoping to return the ones they do not like. Big retailers can afford this because they  generate enough sales volume to offset the short-term loss. However, the sales volatility that results from this can be very costly for small retailers, like us, that make important decisions based on sales projections.

In the crowdfunding industry, this is especially important, as a culture of refund minded customers could completely derail a campaign. This is especially true in our case, as our early customers supported our product despite the bugs, and we feel that if anyone deserved a refund, it would be them. Since not a single one requested a return, we feel it would be improper to do so now.

Because of this policy, which is stated on both our FAQ and terms of service, we do our very best to offer extensive sales copy and support. It is not uncommon for us to trade 5-10 emails with a customer before they choose to purchase. And we’re OK with that, because we want our customers to know what type of service and support they’d receive once they purchase our product.

Generally speaking, most of our customers understand and acknowledge this, and aside from a single instance, we have managed this policy without issue.

Unfortunately, that changed recently when we were threatened by a customer that sought to blackmail us in order to receive a refund.

Like many of our IgnitionDeck customers, this one asked multiple questions before the sales process, seeking to know as much about the product as they could before they purchased it. In this case, the product was IgnitionDeck Enterprise, which we offered as a pre-purchase item before the beta was released.

The final statement from this customer prior to purchase was quite positive:

“love it.   I’m a believer.  Thanks for everything.  I will get with my team and most likely pre-register an account tomorrow.”

Followed with:

“I just wanted to thank you two again for everything. I’ve done some investigation and I’m convinced this is our solution.

Thx for the prompt and thorough replies.”

Like the original IgnitionDeck product, the Enterprise version has been much anticipated and highly supported. As many of you know, we’ve been working very hard to create an excellent white label crowdfunding portal, and we’ve tried to be very communicative as it relates to the release cycle.

Despite these efforts, we were disappointed to receive the following correspondence from the same customer:

“Hi Nathan. We have not had any luck using your platform.  Unfortunately, we need to pursue other options.  Please refund the $299 onto the same card used and discontinue our serial numbers.”

We of course tried to respond* in an effort to fix their issue, citing our refund policy, and explaining that we want to help them be successful**. We also scoured our inboxes and support forums, hoping to find a bug report so that we could better understand their complaints, but alas, none had been submitted.

When the customer responded to tell us that they were not interested and had already moved to another product, we answered their objections with the fact that the product was on a weekly release cycle and would be our priority for the winter months***. Of course, if someone chooses not to use the product at all, that is a fact we must accept. Who hasn’t purchased something they did not use in the end?

Sadly, the situation quickly escalated at this point, and the customer began to threaten legal action paired with a litany of bad reviews:

“You can keep $100 as I want to support your campaign, but please refund the rest.  I think what you are doing is great.   Thanks for understanding. I’d like to keep it civil, but I will rope in our administrator and legal team if we can’t come to a fair conclusion.  We are not going to pay $300 for a plugin that we are not going to use. It’s a principal thing. We supported you early and catered to your uncertainty and late deadlines, you owe us that much.  Thx for understanding.”
“If we can’t agree, however, I will have to ask our SEO staffers to hit the forums and ratings hubs with poor customer service and ethics reviews.  I will also be forced to dial my legal and administrative colleagues into the conversation until we reach a settlement, and they are not as accommodating as I am.  I’m sure they will come for the full amount..”

If you’re able to remember back to the days when Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, he issues a warning that the United States would not negotiate with terrorists, a policy that has been maintained to this day.

We state this reminder only to explain that we treat our policies in the same manner. Exceptions to policy are a contradiction in nature, and we feel it unfair to offer them for a single customer when we have not offered the same exceptions for others. In essence, we believe it to be immoral to violate our own policies in order to prevent bad product reviews and/or legal action.

Without the ability to offer an exception, but because IgnitionDeck Enterprise is not yet out of beta, we offered to downgrade their account from IDE to IgnitionDeck + Membership****, which is the package they pre-purchased so that they could test it and decide whether or not they wanted to use the product. We felt this was a fair solution given the fact that they were already willing to leave $100 on the table.

They declined the offer, and after a bit more back and forth, the situation deteriorated. We were issued a final demand:

“But if you choose not to refund us, and to hold us ransom with our preorder, we will have our SEO staffers aggressively hit the forums and ratings hubs to let them know about this ethical quandary, as well as the reasons we chose to go another direction.”

“We will give you until 5:30PM central standard time to agree to refund the full amount, or we will move forward as discussed.”

We’ve decided to write this post as an answer to that demand because we want to make it clear that our stance does not change as a result of threats, and beyond that, we do not hide behind any policies. We’re making this public, not to shame this customer, but to make public our stance on this issue.

Even though this customer is a bully, and they have made threats against our business, we are disappointed that we’ve been unable to provide a better experience for them. That said, we are undeterred by threats of negative publicity. The majority of customers are satisfied with the product, and the scores of positive reviews attest to that.

Finally, we would feel ashamed in paying hush money to a bully. Instead, we’ve decided to stand up to them and others like them.

For what it’s worth, we realize that our refund policy does not suit everyone, and we hope that this post reaches everyone that is cautious in regards to such policies.

We will always strive to provide the best possible support, and in the instances where we cannot agree with a customer, we do our best to wish them well in their future endeavors. However, to those that cannot remain civil, we offer the following statement:

“We do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Thanks so much to those of you that have supported IgnitionDeck to this point. We are honored that you grant us the honor of continuing to serve you.

Footnotes

* Could you explain what you mean by not having any luck? What issues are you having? I don’t recall seeing any tickets, but if you’d like, I can login and take a look for you. Unfortunately, we don’t offer refunds on digital products. IgnitionDeck Enterprise is still in beta, but we wanted to get something out so our pre-order customers could start working with it. Perhaps if you tell me what issues you’re having, I can help you rectify them.
** Just searched our forums to make sure I didn’t miss any tickets. Is this your profile? [redacted] Would love to help you get sorted so you can get your site working properly. Just need to know how 🙂
*** …I’m sorry to hear about your dissatisfaction with our communication. To be honest, we’ve heard the opposite from the majority of our customers. We will take that to heart and do our best to improve going forward. As for what we owe you: we will continue to iterate on the products as planned using a weekly release cycle until we reach 1.0. Delivering a production-ready product within our stated timeline of late fall/early winter is very important to us.
**** …The best I can offer now is we downgrade your account to the IgnitionDeck + Membership level and return the difference of $150. It is not a full refund, nor is it a refund of ($299 – $100), but it is a compromise that allows both parties to meet in the middle.

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