Most wedding businesses, at some point, will be faced with owing a refund to a client. Maybe the client asked for (or demanded!) the refund; maybe the business owner feels that issuing a refund is the right thing to do. Either way, how you handle the refund is very important in mitigating the damage of what invariably began as disappointment on the part of the client.
I have worked with some business owners who really nickel-and-dime their client refunds. Literally, with calculator in hand, they determine the exact difference between what a client paid and what he or she received. “Let’s see…the roses, at X amount per stem, were slightly wilted in two centerpieces, totalling 26 roses…” Or, “The band was 14 minutes late in getting set up. The total paid was X, divided by 240 minutes at the reception, for a grand total of Y per minute, times 14 minutes…”
I think this is a mistake, and here’s why.
As wedding business owners, we’re selling more than just our product or service. We’re selling a specific kind of client experience. We’re selling peace of mind. We’re selling enjoyment on the client’s wedding day. And that, needless to say, is priceless.
So, when something goes terribly wrong, I personally believe that a grander gesture on the part of the business owner is in order. Depending on the circumstances, that might be a full refund.
Believe me, I understand that a lot of wedding business categories — catering and floral design, for example — have very real “hard costs” that make large-scale refunds very difficult. Still, I also know that every business has markup and has some costs that are more flexible, even if they do require sacrifice on the part of the business owner.
I’m not saying that one-size-fits-all when it comes to wedding refunds. Let it be known, also, that in no way am I saying “the customer is always right.” (I personally think that statement is ridiculous and has done way more harm than good to the client/business dynamic.) Rather, my point is that handling refunds in a way that doesn’t come across as nickel-and-diming can go a long way in rebuilding the goodwill between client and vendor. Showing the client that the stress they endured was really worth something is important when you’re trying to make things right.
(On a personal note: Some years back, in the very last wedding I worked in a planner capacity, I used a DJ agency for ceremony and reception music. The DJ was pretty bad all around, but the real clincher was that he never got the ceremony sound to work. We had paid extra for this service, and after the wedding I spoke with the agency owner, who flatly refused to refund the amount my client had paid for the ceremony. “I stand by my DJs,” he told me. “I never give refunds, ever.” It wasn’t a huge amount, and my clients got over it. Still, that was six years ago, and every single time I see this agency owner at an event, the first thing that pops into my mind is that conversation. How stingy does he look? How jaded must he be that every single complaint must surely be an attempt by the client — or their planner — to scam him out of money? My own DJ business is fortunate to have way more inquiries than we could ever handle in-house, so we refer these people to other companies all the time — and, unfortunately, I could never in good conscience refer anyone even to the best DJ from that particular agency. Not when I know that the client will be ignored if something goes wrong. I wonder: is the negative image that agency owner created really worth the <$200 it would have taken to do the right thing?)