Darren Taylor

Credit companies: Can you trust your flexible friend?

The Searle and Taylor managing director, Darren Taylor, learns the hard way that when it comes to refunds, credit card companies tend to shoot first and ask questions later

We learn something new every day, right? I was sorry to read about the misfortune of certain fellow retailers who had been ‘caught’ by the latest phishing scam whereby nasty people take over your computer, intercept e-mails and encourage your clients to place money into their accounts instead of yours.

Thankfully, I have been able to spot these scams so far, but for how long I don’t know, as the kitchen-loving fraudsters are becoming ever so clever.

However, would you expect to be scammed out of your own money by your credit card provider?

I am sure many of you will have a credit card machine sat in the office ready to take a deposit either over the phone or after a presentation that has gone particularly well. Hearing the machine sing out its little hum-de-hum as it spews out a thin, curly piece of paper in recognition of typing in a lovely amount is a most satisfying way to remove the client from the reach of our competitors. It is great for the client too, as they are automatically insured against you going bust – God forbid.

What I didn’t realise is that if said client decided they wanted their money back for any reason, they can simply call up their credit card company and say that you have wrongfully taken money from them and they will refund said client without hearing the other side of the story.

This happened to me earlier this year. I sold a kitchen to a ‘Mr Rottweiler’ – I will use this pseudonym so as to keep the real Mr Rottweiler anonymous. We took a 40% deposit on our card machine. Hurrah! We duly released all our drawings, booked and carried out the survey and started processing the order. During the next few weeks, he sadly turned from a delightful individual into an aggressive, fussy, demanding and awkward human being who kept barking impossible orders. He was the type of client we all dread and from time to time have the misfortune of dealing with.

I must admit now that while I never shy away from problems, I knew that this client would go out of his way to make me want to give up and never sell another kitchen again. So, because he threatened to cancel his order even though we were going the extra mile, and working in our usual professional manner, I decided that we had reached a stalemate and I beat him to it. I then returned his deposit by refunding it back on to his credit card.

What a complete waste of time that had been, but I kept reminding myself of the misery this client would have given me if I had carried on working with him as he had made our task almost impossible to deliver.

But wait… I mentioned earlier that we handed out our designs, visited the property and undertook a full survey and then tweaked the drawings to fit. So, although I refunded the bulk of the deposit, which I am sure a lot of companies would not have done, I held back £500 to go towards covering the cost of supplying our drawings and the survey we undertook. This also included the countless redraws in an attempt to satisfy Mr Rottweiler’s ridiculous OCD and all his unhelpful design feedback that we were constantly facing.

Well, Mr Rottweiler was not happy about this. Even though he had a lovely design ‘order-ready’, he thought that all my time was worthless and demanded all his money back. He threatened me again, saying he would call his credit card company and tell them that I had wrongfully taken money from him.

So, worried, I called the card company to check procedure. “Do not worry, Mr Retailer,” they told me, “we can’t and will not just take money without hearing all sides of the story and there is a claim-back procedure to follow.”

This is where I would apparently be notified and given the chance to respond should Mr Rottweiler actually go down this route. I briefly explained what had happened and the card company allayed all my fears. I was a happy Mr Retailer.

Reassured by this, I confidently told my soon-to-be ex-client, in a slightly more professional tone than is written here, that he was lucky to have received any of his deposit back and the £500 was indeed excellent value for the design work and drawings. Because I know a fair few people in this lovely business, I have since found out Mr Rottweiler went to another company armed with my drawings, which he handed over with no changes at all, and the dirty dog was able to order all his units with utter confidence in their design and layout. Good for him and I pity that retailer.

Three months after all this had passed and was long forgotten, I was routinely checking my bank account online and I noticed that £500 had been mysteriously removed from my account by the credit card company. Surely not Mr Rottweiler? I had heard nothing from him since I had waved him goodbye with my designs. I guessed right. Mr Rottweiler had run howling to the card company and had accused me of taking his money. Whatever he had told them resulted in his card company making an automatic charge-back without even notifying me. I won’t bore you with all the calls and e-mails I had to make to explain what had actually happened in order to successfully argue my side of the story.

Thankfully, I have since won my £500 back, but more importantly I have learnt that credit card companies can, without further investigating the disagreement, take back the money you receive if the client is dissatisfied in any way.

With average orders for kitchens and bathrooms increasing, and our clients choosing to pay by credit card to rack up the air miles, maybe this is not such a safe way to do business and we are all unwittingly at risk.

I have since spoken about this situation to other KBB specialists and one highly-regarded and reputable retailer had a similar story, but for a lot more money. He has since decided not to offer card payments, choosing to accept BACS payments only. This is a brave move. I have always considered my card machine as part of the sales team.

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