Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to complain effectively

You bought something - maybe from me, maybe from someone else - and you're not happy with it. How do you get satisfaction?

Conversely: sellers, how do you know when a customer is doing their best to be fair about a transaction they're unhappy with?

And how do you avoid being the Unruly Customer in a seller's blog? This guy made it all but impossible for the seller to help him!

The really short version

1. Check the seller's profile, find out whether they prefer to be contacted by IM, by notecard, by email, or by some other means.

2. Check your mute list. If you've muted the seller (deliberately or by accident), they are completely unable to deliver. The SL server code forbids them from giving you things, or even contacting you to let you know!
If this has happened, send an apology to the seller and ask them if they'd mind re-sending. And correct the mute! The seller can't even reply if you don't.

3. Check your transaction history (, log in, select 'My Account', select 'Transaction History'). Find the transaction number and date of the sale.
If you bought from a third party site like OnRez or SLExchange, check their records as well and get the transaction number and date there.

4. Contact the seller by their preferred method. Give them:

* The transaction number and date.
* Your chief complaint in two sentences or less. (EG: "my package didn't get delivered", or "the demo fit my leg but the sale boot doesn't".)
* The correction you would like. (EG: "I would like a redelivery of the package, please", or "I'd like a pair of boots the same size as the demo, please.")

In this contact, be polite. Presume the problem is an accident, or is the fault of a third party. Expect them to be willing to solve the problem.

5. Expect them to do some basic checking to be sure you're not a scammer. Sellers - especially busy sellers - see more scams than buyers do. It's just common sense for them to check the transaction log: and it also gives them information like which vendor the product was supposed to come from, and at what time. They can use that sort of information to try to fix the problem long-term.

6. Expect to do some problem-solving with them. They'll want to figure out what happened, so their other customers don't face the same problem.

6a. If you purchased through a third-party site, such as OnRez or SLExchange, or through a vendor system, the seller may ask you to coordinate with a representative from them to do the problem-solving. This is a quite legitimate step for them to take, though I acknowledge that it can be annoying to have to contact yet another person.

7. A good seller will appreciate the time you've taken, and will attempt to correct your problem.
A really good seller will listen even if it turns out that you misread the sales information, will offer a refund (where a refund is possible: copy/no-trans products are difficult to refund), and will try to figure out a better way to express the sales information. Sure, the improved sales information is no help to you right now, but it's evidence that the seller is constantly trying to improve his or her service.

7a. However, the seller's obligation is to provide you with the product as stated in the sales information. If you failed to read the available before-sale information, or if you simply changed your mind about the purchase, they are under no obligation to do anything. If they do, it's them being generous. Be grateful!

8. If the seller is rude, fails to provide the product as advertised, or takes longer than a few days to get back to you despite you trying IM, Notecard, and any other contact methods in their profile, read the long version.

The really long version

Know your legal rights
First, you need to figure out what your rights are. Linden Lab stays out of inter-resident disputes for the most part, but you have basic legal rights regardless of whether the world you're in is based on binary data or atoms.

Your basic right is to have a product which functions according to the claims made of it by its advertising. If you don't receive the product, or the product doesn't work as advertised, or a piece of clothing doesn't look like the photograph, you have a good reason to complain.

Read the advertising carefully - if you want a product to sort and organise megaprims, but you buy a product designed to organise textures, it's not the seller's fault if it doesn't organise megaprims.

Also, check the local conditions. I bought a gorgeous scripted moving kitten, but it didn't work in the place where I first took it out. However, it wasn't the seller's fault! I was in a location where scripts had been disabled. I moved, and the kitten worked beautifully. (And is still gorgeous.)
The seller's responsibility is to produce a product which can work. The environment is out of the seller's control.

Finally, be sure to read all the documentation available, both before and after sale. Most scripted systems are sold at a price the ordinary Second Life resident is willing to afford - and therefore, you get to configure them yourself. This is perfectly okay, because it's part of the deal that's offered to you before you pay the seller.
On the other hand, if the manual is written in Klingon, or unintelligible gobbledygook, you do have a right to complain about that!

Further Reading
Check the following sites, the sites of member nations or states, or the equivalent site where you are.
Note that international deals are not well handled by the current world legal system. The seller is governed by the laws in the seller's atomic-world location. The purchaser is governed by the laws in the purchaser's atomic-world location. The only binary-world laws that govern the transaction are those of the terms of service of the involved ISPs and Second Life.

Terms of Service
Community Standards

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs
The European Union's Consumer Affairs commission
The United States' Federal Trade Commission

Know your moral rights

Legally, you have no recourse if you are offered a plywood box for L$10000, you buy it, and you get a plywood box that's identical to one you could have rezzed yourself for free. You were offered a product, you accepted, you paid, you got the product you were offered.

Morally, of course, that's a rather ridiculous sale.

Talk to your friends about what's morally right, but be aware that your friends will be biased in your favour.

Decide what you want

Think about your legal and moral rights, and decide what correction is satisfactory, and what correction is the absolute best you would ever get. (Try to keep the latter within the bounds of reason!)

Decide what's about halfway between the two. That's what you're going to ask for.

Decide how much effort to go to

It's very easy to get carried away, thinking about 'the principle of the thing', or 'it's only right'. Remember that L$250 to L$280 represents US$1. There's no point in fighting for a whole day over US$1.

Conversely, if you've spent thousands on Linden on a custom product, there's no point in giving up after less than an hour.

Collect supporting information

Store copies of the supporting information not just in-world, but in a document on your hard drive at home.

Record the transaction number and date of each relevant transaction in the Second Life (or OnRez or SLExchange) transaction history.

Keep any notecards that were available before the sale. Photograph the product advertisements, or save image files from web-based stores. This is your record of what you were promised.

If the job is a custom job, keep a record of the specifications, the history of the job as it progressed, and the unsatisfactory delivered product.

Keep a record of the complaint history as it progresses, as well.

Start complaining

Use the process listed at the top of this blog entry (if you haven't already), to make your initial complaint. If referred to another person, repeat your initial complaint to that person - the chances are good that your first contact didn't pass all the information on.

Your initial complaint should be to the seller. If the seller is not the creator, the seller may refer you to them - that's perfectly okay. Go to the creator, then.

If the sale was through a third-party site, the seller or creator may refer you to them. Again, that's perfectly okay, and go to them.

If anyone takes something from you, request a receipt. The receipt (if in-world) should be a copy-okay, trans-okay, no-mod notecard created by that person, containing the date, the item taken, and the purpose for which they took it.
90% of the time you won't need the receipt. But if you do need it and don't have it, it could be difficult proving that you're not trying to scam.
The transaction history will help - but only you, the person who took it, and the Lindens can see that transaction. Third parties can see a copy of a no-mod, copy/trans notecard.

At all times, keep your tone calm and polite. It's fine to be firm, it's fine to say something like 'I'm really frustrated'. It's not okay to insult the other person, or to yell or scream or swear at them.

If you're offered an unsatisfactory solution, let them know it's unsatisfactory and why. Say something like 'according to the terms of service/according to law in my part of the world, I'm entitled to X'; or 'what you are offering is not the same as what you advertised'.

If your first contacts don't resolve things

If the seller was the creator and the transaction was with them directly, go to the next section.

If you have more than one person involved, and the one you were directed to is unable or unwilling to help you, let the others know. Show them the record you've been keeping of your interactions and attempts to solve the problem, and reiterate your request for your desired solution.

If no representative of the seller's side will provide a satisfactory solution

... it's time to consider Abuse Reports, support tickets, or real-world legal action.

Think again about how far you planned to take this. An Abuse Report or support ticket is probably worth doing, if the seller is breaching the Terms of Service or the Community Standards.

Real-world legal action is going to be harder - contact the consumer affairs bureau you researched back in the 'Know your legal rights' section. Discuss it with them, and take their advice.

I'm not a lawyer, so beyond this point, I defer to them.

1 comment:

Louise said...

What a concise and complete overview! Wow! OliveEue Sholokhov of VIO (Virtual Innovative Opportunities) is an in-world conflict negotiator whom I can highly recommend. Thanks, Seshat, for your dedication to making SL better for everyone!