Let’s start off with the obvious. As a coach who runs an actual business, you need a refund policy. If you don’t have one in place yet, put that on your list of immediate actions to take.
You’ll be glad you did, my friend!
The best refund policies are clearly defined in your contracts and on your online order forms. And they’re something that your clients and students sign off on before diving into any coaching or programs. I recently discovered Hello Sign, which is a great online tool for creating and storing your contracts.
Once you have your contracts in place, you need to be impeccable with your word. This means that you’ve actually gotta stick to your stated refund policies. I don’t know that it serves your tribe to back pedal on the rules that you’ve clearly outlined. It doesn’t set a good example of what integrity looks like.
(Full confession: I haven’t always been good about this, and even though we have refund policies in place, I have been known to make exceptions. So keep that in consideration; there will always be times when you feel compelled to bend your own rules.)
So yes, you need a refund policy, and yes, you need to stick to it, but obviously that’s easier said than done.
Here are four examples of common refund requests I’ve received in my business to help you navigate those sometimes uncomfortable waters.
1. The Person Who Bought It and Didn’t Use It.
I received an e-mail from a student who purchased an online program, who now was requesting a refund because he never logged in and used the training. Trouble was, he purchased the program a year before.
For me, this is an easy one. I would never call my gym and say, “I didn’t work out all month. Can I you refund those membership fees?” We don’t expect Verizon to send you a check for your unused minutes every month either, right? Thanks to my very clear (and generous) refund policy, I could ethically and comfortably deny this student’s refund request.
Now I know that as a coach, you probably have a ton of empathy for others, or you wouldn’t be doing what you do for a living. But you have to ignore those knots in your stomach and deliver a firm but compassionate “no” when denying refunds.
Here’s a little e-mail script to help you out.
Hi Fred. Thanks for reaching out.
I’m sorry to hear you haven’t used the program yet, but the good news is that’s it’s not to late to dive in. You still have full access to this awesome training.
I have a strict 10-day cancellation policy, and you purchased this program on (date), which is past the grace period.
And it wouldn’t be fair to the other people in the program to give you a refund at this time. I do hope you’ll dive into the course though because it’s designed to give you clarity around your goals and simple tools for time management.
Whew! Done and done.
2. The Person Who Felt the Program Wasn’t Valuable To Them.
This one’s a little trickier… During the sale of one of my programs for actors, a student reached out to discover whether or not this course would apply to his particular goals. The truth was that neither one of us knew the answer to that question with 100% certainty.
Luckily, I had a 30-day refund policy in place. This policy invited everyone to participate fully in the program for a full month. If at the end of that time, you completed all the training and found that it wasn’t applicable to your goals or business model, you could request a refund.
So, I simply encouraged this student to try the course out and see, which he did.
Over the next 30 days, he watched all the videos and completed all the homework. And at the end of the grace period, he came to me and said that the program did not apply to his business model. He did everything my policy required of him, and I was happy to process a refund. No sweat. No questions. No bad vibes.
You’re probably thinking, “Great, Dallas. But this is an ideal example. What about those clients who just want to quit before they even start?”
I had another person in that very same program reach out to cancel because he was feeling overwhelmed with a lot of family distractions. I simply explained that the refund policy was very clear: if within 30 days, you do all the work and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you can have a refund.
Well, in a matter of about a week, he blazed through all that training and turned in every completed (albeit rushed) worksheet. Even though I knew there was more to this story, because he did what I asked, I honored that refund request as well.
Thank goodness for clear refund policies, right?
3. The Person With Their Own Expectations of Results.
Speaking of expectations not being met, as a coach, you’re bound to encounter clients who have their own expectations of the results they want to accomplish while working with you. And even though you are not promising outcomes (an increase in revenue, finding a life partner or losing 50 pounds), clients will naturally have expectations along those lines. Sometimes, they may even unconsciously believe that you’ve made those kind of promises.
So, it is very possible that you could have client who, because they didn’t lose weight or find a mate, feels entitled to a refund.
Man, this is a tough spot, but in circumstances like this, I feel that as a coach, you are not serving your client at all by giving them a refund. You are a guide, a facilitator for their goals. Your responsibility is to meet the expectations outlined in your contract, such as coaching from an open heart, providing expertise and creatively problem solving with them. You’re responsible for doing everything you can to create an environment for them to succeed, but ultimately, the results are on them.
If you’re taking responsibility for their outcomes, you’re actually taking away their power. And that is not what your practice is supposed to do.
And thanks to your super clear contract, you can gracefully navigate declining this particular refund request.
4. The Person Who Had a Major Emergency.
Now, I mentioned earlier that there are always exceptions. And for my business, those exceptions are usually connected to an unexpected personal tragedy that occurred for a client. Situations like major surgery, a car accident or a death in the family, which for me warrant a bending of the refund rules.
For example, I had a student who was supposed to start a program the same week she’d been in an auto accident. Though she would likely make a full recovery, she needed to take months off to focus on physical therapy. So, the service-based, simple and feel-good thing to do was to let her out of her contract.
At the end of the day, just remember to be clear straight out of the gate about what you’re delivering, what you’re not promising, and what the specific parameters are for payments and refund.
So set yourself up for success ahead of time by thinking through what seems fair to you before you and your tribe start working together. This way everyone starts out on the same page, and you also have a guideline for handling future sticky situations as they come up. The clearer you are in the beginning, the more gracefully you’ll be able to handle refund requests (when and if they arise).
Have you been a little wishy-washy with your refund policy? What is one thing you can commit to this week to help create a clear refund policy that feels good to you? Post your to-do in the comments below to keep me in the loop.