How to Negotiate a Refund (and Win!): Case Studies

by | Negotiation

Money-back guarantees are awesome.

They can be a sign of confidence in a seller’s ability to deliver great value and, even more than that, make the exchange risk-free for you.

Or, at least, they’re supposed to.

What do you do when:

  • The money-back guarantee has impossible-to-live-up-to requirements: such as an “action-backed guarantee” where you have to prove that you took enough action on the program—and you know you didn’t do enough of the work (maybe because you realized halfway through the program wasn’t for you) or you didn’t keep enough proof to share.
  • The seller decides they don’t want to honor the money-back guarantee for whatever reason: and you’re now stuck dealing with a competitive seller who refuses to keep their word.
  • There was no money-back guarantee at all: and you still want a refund.

Well, you have a right to request a refund. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll always get one.

Of course, you should let them keep the money if you’re happy with what you received. However, as usual, there will be cases when you’re unsatisfied and want a refund to avoid losing money on top of the time you’ve already spent.

The good news is, in all three cases above the approach is generally the same because the psychology of negotiating is the same. And, that also means that this guide can be applied to negotiating a refund for anything, whether it’s a product or a service.

This article takes the side of the buyer, but if you’re reading this as a seller to learn how buyers strategically request refunds, also check out the complementary article on The Power Moves, “How To Negotiate Unfair Refund Requests: Case Study.”

Now, let’s begin.

Get a Refund: Overview

There are three main elements to playing the negotiation game better than your counterpart:

  • Use an eagle attitude: if the seller is an eagle and you display turkey behavior, you’ll be far less likely to get what you want (we’ll see a specific example of this later).
  • Use collaborative frames: at the very least, to limit their losses (see the social exchange theory).
  • Use power awareness/power mastery: to know when you’re about to get screwed over and the most tactful way to respond for the situation.

Of course, negotiation is a skill, and as with any skill, it requires practice to get better and increase your success rate.

Luckily, you don’t have to read a dozen negotiation books to get there.

By the end of this article, you will learn the best refund negotiation tactics and how to implement them.

What To Avoid

Let’s start with what not to do.

#1. Avoid Turkey Behavior

Here’s an example.

The brief context is that someone bought a course (in this case, Power University) and wanted a refund.

They start by sending a complaint:

Him: As someone who can be considered to spend a lot into courses and coaching (more than 25 grand USD as of now I believe), this is actually one of the few courses that I have refunded, and I can say it is the first time I have decided to refund a course that fast. The reason are as below:

  1. The whole course is just made up of articles. Quizzes are great but seriously? The whole course that costs almost one thousand USD has ONLY ARTICLES? This is very disrespectful for me, especially as a customer. The reason me and my friends buy courses are generally due to the following:
    • You can have video tutorials by the man himself (where the videos you link seem to be directed to others, and those that you actually filmed yourself were short AF)
    • You can ask questions, privately.

Nobody spends a grand on a course just to ask questions on a forum that can be accessible for cheap or even free. I know you are looking to generate a passive income, but this is not how you treat your customer! From the advertisement shown below, it is VERY UNCLEAR that the whole course is in text form, and I would not have gotten it had I knew. It looks like there are analysis but one would typically assume that the course is based on videos.

  1. 2. The articles have a lot of links. You have linked here and there for the forum replies you have written earlier. This is such a bad move! I have yet to see a course so COMPLICATED and LONG. I’m going to be honest with you. If I were to have to read a 30-minute long article for every lesson, where you could have easily shrunk it down to 2-2 minutes by cutting all the BS and just getting to the point, this course is at least bearable.

PEOPLE BUY COURSE BECAUSE IT MAKES THEIR LIFE EASIER. Your life is so long that I would rather go to the internet and search for these resources myself. We both know that everything is online for free now, and the reason a course is valued is because it saves their customer’s time, not WASTING it. I have read your written reviews on other courses and assume you have bought a lot of them. The question is, have you seen a course that is so long as yours? If there are contents then that’s perfect, but from what I have seen so far, they only consists of BS and could have been shorten drastically…

  1. 3. The course quality SUCKS. I mean, using WordPress to make the website already shows how much money you want to save and compromises the quality of the course itself. I have had friends who made websites for their courses and it only costs 10 grand or even less. That is only 10 copies of this course and yet, you go with the cheap option…. Do you realize how laggy it is on Apple Devices? You should try it for yourself. I can’t even go to the next topic without refreshing the webpage…

In addition to that, your YouTube videos’ quality sucks. I mean honestly you could have done a lot better without hiring someone. Even I take better YouTube videos than you. The camera quality is so low and could barely hear your voice, let alone the stupid subtitling you have used for those videos in a foreign language.

Seriously, this is a 1,000 bucks course and I expect GOOD QUALITY. Please. Typing error could also have been avoided simply by using Grammarly or even pasting into MS Word for spelling check, but apparently you are too lazy to focus on the quality of the course… You might be thinking I have a lot of complaints, but that is not all, but I think it’s enough to show you what I really feel for your course. As mentioned earlier, I have taken a lot of courses and this is one of the LOWEST QUALITY courses I have seen and the contents are FULL OF THINGS THAT SHOULDNT EVEN BE THERE.

Now, I demand my refund back. I don’t think you even deserve the nine-dollar administration charge. I think you should even pay me for my wasted time in this course. However, a deal is a deal in contract and you have every right to deduct that nine dollars from me. Good for you. It might even appear to me that you are trying to just earn nine dollar from your customer… If there are any points above you wish to rebut, please let me know. I am willing to hear from your POV as well. Thanks.

Making a Demand with Complaints

First, let’s start off with the approach of fielding your request within a complaint.

By framing the situation as being overall negative, you increase the chances that it will escalate in a confrontational way and lead to the natural pushback you get when people feel attacked.

Had this person instead started positively such as by saying something they did like (even if it’s not about the course, it could be something about the website or any of its free content), they’d avoid that potential pitfall and increase chances of getting their refund because that positivity would give the seller an incentive to keep them happy (because people like to keep customers happy).

Instead, if you start angry, they will feel you’ll be angry anyway and have far less incentive to “accommodate” you.

Do This: Make the Request from a Positive Frame

Second, once you’ve taken that positive approach, you could frame your request by saying:

You: “I feel it’s fair if… “

That way, when you put the two together, you’re framing the situation as a request coming from an overall happy customer who is looking for what’s fair.

That’s much more persuasive than a laundry list of complaints followed by a demand.

*Caveat: When Being Disrespectful Can Work

In this case, the customer still got the full refund.

Indeed, some people will refund you, but it’s almost always just to get rid of you (so they don’t have to deal with you anymore).

Yes, you might win quickly but, you’ll likely have ruined the relationship as well (especially if you went too far) and they may block you from purchasing in the future as well as any lines of communication.

So, simply because it can work sometimes doesn’t mean it’s worth doing. Rather than trying to win the small-time battles (such as with this approach), focus on the bigger picture. Take a warmer approach, and keep a collaborative attitude.

Pulling Judge Power Moves to Get Your Way

In this same example, the course creator (Lucio Buffalmano) exchanged a few messages after receiving that complaint, processed the full refund, and all even seemed great from there, including the person saying he’d share TPM with his other friends.

But, then he says:

Him: I have received a WordPress refund confirmation, but am not sure if I am being charged the administration fee. Though as bad as it might seem, I would be really upset if I was charged without getting any value from the course.

Now, this format can be effective in some cases.

But, they are far more effective with people who are unaware of power dynamics and manipulation. For the people who are more power-aware, it can be annoying (and even disappointing).

So with this approach, you end up pissing off the powerful people of this world.

Plus, the eagles.

The eagle will get annoyed at the power move, cut you off and, if in power, do their best to get as much as they can out of the deal because the eagle prefers to spend that money on those who don’t pull unneeded (judge) power moves.

Do This: Approach It As a Straight-Shooter

This is how an eagle would approach this specific situation mindset-wise:

  • It’s only nine dollars after all, it’s better in my pocket, but if he keeps it, fuck it (I’ve got more important things in my life)
  • The admin fee is for the use of time, maybe I don’t have the right to ask for it back?
  • I’ll leave it up to him, let’s see what he does with it

They’re all very different from each other, but they’re all eagle-like.

And, here’s how an eagle would approach it technically:

  • The “on your honor” approach: “As for the admin fee, it’s up to you and I’m cool either way.”

By saying, “It’s up to you,” you put positive pressure on them to refund the admin fee.

In a way, it’s up to their honor as a fair negotiator and a value-adding human being to approve and process the refund (hence the technique’s name).

So, if they give you nothing, that can be an indirect red strike against them.

And, if they refund you the full fee, that benefits their reputation because it shows good character.

#2. Avoid Panic Language

It’s similar to “crying wolf”, exaggerating the extent of your suffering, desperation and “need for help”.

Granted, that form of communication can make logical, strategic sense depending on the situation (such as if it’s a real emergency) because people will pay more attention.

But, when it’s not actually urgent, you end up sounding like a turkey manipulator and people won’t take you seriously anymore.

See an example here:

Thank you to Lucio Buffalmano for this case study.

Him: …could you refund the extra payments taken…I am extremely worried…

What’s wrong with it?

It’s simply that “extreme worry” is miscalibrated for the situation.

And even if you actually are extremely worried, you may still want to avoid it.

Think about what it says about the person.

You are extremely worried, for what?
For some extra payments you did with a credit card, that a good business will immediately revert, and if not you can still claim through a chargeback?

And if, worst of the worst, it’s still only just money (and certainly not a huge amount for a developed economy citizen as in this case)?

If you’re extremely worried for this, what are you gonna be then for the next possible financial crisis, Covid mutation, war, health concerns, relationship issues, and all the other 90% of life issues that are much bigger than this?

Panic language in non-panic situation sub-communicates that you cannot be relied upon in any challenging situation, and that’s rather low-value (and certainly not very leader-like).

And you’ll hardly gain any respect, status, or become any leader in any group/business, or even relationship.

So, avoid it.
On the opposite, you may want to make it a point to behave even more coolly and level-headedly in the face of risk or potential loss.

#3. Avoid Spamming the Seller

Example:

This person made a couple of missteps:

  • Sending an email with power moves in it: which annoys the eagles (and this seller happens to be one)
  • Opening a thread in the wrong forum category: rather than putting this follow-up in the “Products Q&A” section, he put it in the “Start Here” section for welcoming new members

Still, the seller (Lucio Buffalmano) responds and approves the refund:

And yet, this person continues on to spam the forum, opening multiple threads (all in the wrong category) and creating more work for the seller, to the point where he has to deliver a warning:

At this point, the right response after crossing the seller’s boundaries so many times and refusing to listen is to apologize because of:

  • Apologies power dynamics: withholding apologies is win-lose—it hoards power, but disempowers others (and harms relationships).

Avoiding a fair apology is a form of social scalping and is a potential red flag of an abusive personality (sociopaths stubbornly refuse to apologize when an apology is called for and engage in what’s sometimes referred to as “word salad” to avoid ever admitting fault).

An apology is a particularly telling form of “power hoarding” because it’s easy to do and seems to be a sticking point for many power hungry and win-lose personalities.

And yet, this is the following response of the offending party:

Rather than apologize, they ignore all aspects of where they might’ve been wrong to cross Lucio’s boundaries (saying “it’s all good”) and reiterate their ask (which wasn’t necessary and is now a demand because it’s not in a question format).

And, it does indeed harm the relationship:

Lucio aims to cut off communication without any strict admin action and this person, who still doesn’t seem to get it, hints that they may continue to spam him in the future.

So, of course, his user is then deleted and they no longer have access to any future awesome products The Power Moves may have to offer.

To be clear, your negotiatin skills don’t have to be perfect, they only have to be good enough to win the refund. And, even then, if a mistake or two is made, with a proper apology you can still have a good chance of coming back and rebuilding the relationship.

But, with an attitude like this one, only a short-term win was possible. And, if this were a case with a competitive or dishonest entrepreneur, they probably wouldn’t have gotten the refund at all.

Your main takeaways from this one:

  • Send one message, then give the seller at least two days to respond: to come across less annoying, less panicky, and more emotionally detached.
  • Respect the seller’s boundaries: whether it be forum rules, communication preferences, or even something like keeping your requests regarding the refund stringent to their dedicated email address for discussion of that nature (if they have one).

#4. Avoid Power Over-Protecting

For this case study, we point to an example I share in the first version of The Social Strategist (that was later removed, and you’ll see why soon) from a company who has a no-refund policy:

The Social Strategist: I used to be the co-owner of a professional cleaning company before I stepped down to start my own business.

Back then, we were working with another company that helped us get leads for a fee through their paid service.

They’d send us the leads, we’d pay for the lead, and if we were able to turn that lead into a client, that company who sent us the lead would keep the money we paid for it. If we weren’t able to turn that lead into business, we would get a “credit” so we could try our hand with another lead.

One day, we had a situation where we paid for a lead, went out to give the homeowner a free estimate, and the homeowner told us it was her 70-year-old, mentally ill father who accidentally put out the request for our services. They would not be requiring our services, especially since they were soon moving to a different state.

We checked our business bank account and also noticed that the lead company charged us about $107 to cover the bill for our past leads, even though they weren’t supposed to have our card on file at the time.

My business partner let me know what was going on, and I told him to leave it to me.

I started by calling the lead company, and a customer service agent picked up the phone. They put me through to their supervisor. When their supervisor answered, she pulled up my business and my profile on her computer. She noticed that we’d been working with them for three years.

When she saw that we’d been with them for so long, her voice tonality changed noticeably, and she sounded more open to hearing what I had to say. After reading up to here, try to guess, why the change?

Because working together for so long showed that we had been giving value to her company for quite some time and that we’d been in a win-win relationship for years. We’d been positioned as value-givers in her mind.

So, I let her know the situation and asked for a refund.

Her response was that they actually reached out to that same homeowner after we gave our estimate. That homeowner went with a different company and even left the other company a review. Then, she told me they have a no-refund policy anyway.

So, what is the frame here? What is the implied subcommunication?

The lens that the supervisor seemed to be viewing this situation through was that it was our fault for not securing the business of that lead, so they shouldn’t have to pay us for incompetency on our end.

If I didn’t do something to influence her lens—if I didn’t do something to change the way she saw the situation—I would get denied the refund. One of the most counterproductive ways to negotiate is to contradict the person who holds most of the decision-making power to determine whether or not you get what you want. Saying, “No, you’re wrong,” would’ve only resulted in an escalation or a rejection or both. (Especially, since they get calls looking for refunds all the time.)

So, I said, “Alright, I think I understand. Look, the problem that I see here isn’t really the customer, it’s our relationship. Our businesses are built on providing value in exchange for money. In this case, we gave you money, but received no value, which affects the win-win part of our partnership. And, some money was deducted from our bank account that we weren’t prepared for, because our card isn’t supposed to be on file. So, we love you guys, we’ve been with you for years. But, we can’t really move forward with you with our financials the way it is. So, what can we do to fix this?”

In this case, I adjusted the focus of her lens from focusing on the money she’d be losing (by giving a refund) to the money she’d be gaining in the future by “helping us move forward with them.”

She put me on hold then came back with a good chunk of money for us. However, it was only enough to resolve the issue of the homeowner. There was still the issue of the past few charges they made to the card that they weren’t supposed to have on file. So, I continued the negotiation and asked about the remaining amount.

She said, “Oh, so, were you looking for a refund for that, too?”

I say, “Well, actually, that’s up to you. Like I said, we’ve been with [name of their company] for years now. Pretty much since our business first opened in late 2017, we’ve been with you guys, so you guys have really been with us since day one. We love your services, so we trust you completely to do what’s fair. It’s up to you.”

She puts me on hold again, then came back with more money.

That last line worked because it shifted the focus of her lens again from the money she’d be losing by giving another refund to helping maintain her company’s positive reputation as “someone we’ve been with and trusted for years whose services we love.” She naturally made the call that helped secure the interest of the company while still giving me what I wanted.

She wins because her company gains my future business and maintains a positive reputation with a value-giving customer. And, as we said before, I win because I get my money back. Win-win relationships lead to the most success.

Do you see the issue?

It’s the “up to you”, on your honor gambit.

As we’ve seen before, it can be very effective. But, it can also be overdone, as was the case here.

I needed that refund for the money that they took via the card that wasn’t supposed to be on file. That was an unfair charge. So, a more assertive approach would have been better because it shouldn’t be “up to her” whether she refunds the money or not.

After all, what if she sticks to saying “no”, then what? I allow them to steal from me?

Avoid this mistake of overdoing the power-protecting and go more assertive when it’s necessary.

How To Negotiate a Refund

Now, we can get into some strategies on what you should do to maximize your chances of winning that refund and, ideally, keep the relationship too.

#1. The Assertive Approach

This approach expands on the philosophy and strategy that when a refund denial is clearly unfair, don’t go for an “it’s up to you” approach. Instead, go direct.

Here’s an example. Recently, I ordered a sugar-free cheesecake from a company.

This is what I ordered:

This is what I got:

Needless to say, I was unsatisfied.

So, I sent an email, saying the above and adding:

Ali: It looks like it wasn’t made to fill the whole tray (notice the gap on the side), the tray is damaged, and it seems like the cheesecake wasn’t cut.

However, I’m not looking for a refund because I’ve been looking forward to trying your sugar-free selections for a while.

So, would it be possible to send a replacement?

Best Regards,
Ali

Then, I send a follow-up email:

This second email was a strategic decision to:

  • Let them know I was respecting their boundaries: I read their policy and a replacement is an acceptable request based on their guidelines.
  • Avoid them thinking I damaged the cheesecake myself: by proving it was in this condition before it was opened.

They respond:

They try to offer me 50% off (and don’t say if it’s a refund or a discount/coupon on a future purchase, but it seems like a discount).

However, their policy says I can get a replacement:

Policy: “Your order is guaranteed to arrive in perfect condition at the specified shipping address provided. If you are not completely satisfied with the quality of your order upon arrival, please contact Customer Care within (30) days of receipt, with a detailed description and photograph(s) evidencing your dissatisfaction, for assistance with a replacement or exchange.”

So, I express that:

Three days go by and there’s still no response, so I follow up.

Finally, they come back and say:

Now, I’m growing upset because I clearly didn’t ask for a return, I asked for a replacement. And, I asked with a screenshot of their policy, so there should’ve been no confusion (and I don’t think there was any, it seemed to me like they just didn’t want to approve the request).

So, I spend the following ten days trying to reach this company who has disappeared (again), this time to no avail:

So, I dispute their transaction via PayPal (and, PayPal is usually great with disputes, which is why I try to use them for transactions whenever possible/whenever it makes sense).

However, notice the switch in the approach I take when it’s a discussion over an official dispute resolution channel like PayPal:

  • Accusing the seller of sending a product different from what they described: notice, I send a picture titled “the cheesecake I ordered” and then another titled “the cheesecake they sent”. There’s a chance the cheesecake was actually in perfect condition when they sent it and the delivery process caused the damage. But, here, I’m framing them as sending bad products that are vastly different from the images shown on their website.
  • Framing the seller as trying to “take people’s money and run”: with labeling the emails “first, second, third, fourth, email to seller” showing how hard I had to work to try to resolve the situation and then “fifth, sixth, and seventh email to seller with no response” framing me as having to continuously chase them as they “run from the situation” by ignoring each email. Plus, the description, “So far, the seller has disappeared,” which expands on that frame.

They respond right away this time now that it’s an official dispute:

They ask me to return the cake and notice my approach again:

  • It was you who said I couldn’t: maybe it wasn’t this exact person—their customer service team might be different from their dispute resolution team. But, my frame here is that “the exact person doesn’t matter, each person who works there represents your company, therefore, this is what you/your company said”.
  • You’re asking me to break the law: power-borrowing from the legal system (FDA law) to deny their request.
  • Proof you said this: with emails attached, so now you look suspicious, going back on your own word that this was against the law to try and avoid having to give a refund.
  • You disappeared: the frame being “I might’ve been open to sending you the cake anyway if you’d have asked, but you didn’t. Instead, you said I couldn’t and then disappeared on me.”
  • More: “having heard no response” continues to shift blame to them for disappearing and “the cake has gone bad and been thrown away” adds to that by saying “you’re too late now, and I wasn’t going to keep a bad cake in the hopes that you might randomly reappear and ask me to send it back to you.”

The result:

The customer service rep had “volunteer” in their email signature which is the problem with volunteers sometimes.

You can easily run into people who volunteer just to have it on their college application or for less than purely altruistic reasons and that can lead to poor customer service sometimes.

Note: Also, not a fan of when companies overdo the “we’re a non-profit” promotion. From what I’ve read, it seems that they’re actually a for-profit company and their parent company is a nonprofit, which means that if one wants to do some good, donating to their parent company would probably go further than buying cake from these guys.

To see more feedback on this case study, follow the forum thread here.

#2. The Silver Medal Technique

The silver medal technique is about giving your counterpart the next best option (the silver medal) when you’re unable to give theme the best (the gold medal).

Within this context, the best option for a seller would be if they could keep all of your money. But, since you’re looking for the refund, here are some ways to give them the next best thing:

You: “Look man, from what I’m seeing, I like you and your products, so whether you approve the refund or not, I will come back in the future. But, I expect fairness from the people I deal with, so please be fair, and you’ll gain a long-term customer.”

Here the silver medal is your future business, rather than the gold medal of them keeping your money.

Another example if you’re a good customer of a place:

You: “Hi, I’m a good customer, and I’m always happy to shop from you guys (the silver medal is that you’ll make up for what you’re about to ask), but this time…

Or, if you often use a certain service:

You: Look, you had to cancel my flight and I understand that things are crazy during this pandemic. I’m always flying, so I get it (the implied silver medal is that they can get your business back, if they’re good to you…). However, since I need to rebook a new ticket now, I prefer a refund.

Silver medals are the art of finding a win for others.

However, nothing beats real-life examples, so here’s one that won me a full refund on a Bitcoin course.

The context is that the sales page for that course said that you could get started with only $100, but when I got into the program I realized that wasn’t true. (It seems like something changed between the time of the sales page’s writing and the way the crypto exchanges are functioning now, so it’s not entirely their fault.)

After I realized the course wasn’t a fit for me, I decided to begin the negotiation for a refund.

Here was my first email:

Let’s analyze this message:

Hi Jon,

My name is Ali Scarlett and I’ve been following your blog since 2018, I love your work (give a compliment to give emotional value, you can never go wrong with that)!

Your (starts with “your” to balance the “you” and “I” so it doesn’t come across like a “me, me, me fest”) Bitcoin course was very insightful for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a good fit for me at this time.

So, I joined your Blog Blueprint course (communicates: “I’m being honest when I say I love your work, so much so that I bought another one of your products” + shows that I’m contiuing to give value as a happy customer). And, I’d be very grateful (gratitude signals a willingness to give value in the future) if you could provide a refund for Bitcoin because I’ll be rejoining in the future (silver medal technique).

Is that OK with you (power protecting + closed-ended question format)?

Best Regards,

Ali Scarlett

More explanation on some of the wording:

  • “because”: is a “provide reasoning” technique that increases the chances of compliance.
  • “I’ll be rejoining in the future”: is the silver medal because it offers my future business to make up for his current loss.
  • “Is that OK with you”: gives them the freedom to say “yes” or “no” which is persuasive because it’s a power-protecting form of communication—it avoids making them feel like you’re trying to back them into a corner (which would be power-taking).

Plus, the closed-ended question format makes it easier for the seller to respond since it only requires a “yes” or “no”.

He didn’t respond to that email, so after three days, I followed up with another one. And, there was still no response.

So, I wait three more days before considering that email thread a “burned medium” and then go for another line of communication: his private Discord.

I posted the contents of my email there which had some advantages I saw:

  • He won’t have to sort through a bunch of emails to find mine: which saves him time
  • It would show that I’ve given him value: since the only way to join that private community is to have purchased his course

His response:

Him: Send me an email about the refund man, don’t post it in the entire public chat group (note: I crossed one of his boundaries without realizing it)

Ali: Yea, I sent you a couple (subcommunicates: yes, I respected your boundaries and you didn’t respond), but I know you probably get tons of emails (provides justification to help him save face for not responding to my emails), my inbox is the same way (uses empathy to smooth things over)
So, I’ll bump it to the top in case it got lost (offers to make his part in the process easier)

Him: What’s your email?

Ali: [Shares email]

The blame is really with him for not responding to my email—which left me with far fewer options to get in touch with him—so an apology wasn’t warranted from me here.

But, regardless of the reason, I still crossed one of his boundaries and that can still be harmful for the relationship, so I use empathy to help smooth it over.

He responds:

Him: Ok one sec lemme check (gives a short update to avoid coming across as “rebuffing” me)
I don’t see a single request for a refund (comes across like a negative attitude) are you sure you sent it to the right email?
Also why isn’t BTCM right for you now in your own words (tries to turn the power tables by asking me to provide justification for my refund request)


Ali: Is it “[gives him the email I have for him]”?
The refund request was sent as a reply to your email, “Reminder: Private sale ends in 60 minutes” (gives added information to help him find the email)
And, I’d be happy to send you an email with some detailed feedback (the “detailed feedback” suggests that the reasoning will offer value that may be used to make his product better) on why I think I’ll be a better fit when I join later. But, I’d prefer to take care of the refund process first

Him: Yep that’s the email – didn’t get it for some reason
I need a reason why you don’t think it’s a good fit to give you a refund (manipulation: changes the rules of the money-back guarantee we agreed on)

Ali: That wasn’t part of the money-back guarantee (assertively calls out that he’s going back on the agreement), so I feel uncomfortable doing that before the refund
Is there any way we can process the refund first (power protecting + closed-ended question format)?

The seller starts by giving a quick response that he’ll check. That’s good because:

  • Any exchange is an opportunity to get closer: and any non-reply is an opportunity loss. Generally speaking, the more you engage with those who matter in your life, the closer you get, and the more they’ll want to help you. (And, therefore, replying can signify that you care.)
  • Not replying can be misconstrued as a rebuff: how do you feel when someone doesn’t reply to you? To a lot of people, it’s worse than a negative reply. Maybe some customers don’t care, but… Why take that risk as a seller? Well, the fact he chooses not to take that risk can also be a sign that he cares.

Then, the seller says he “doesn’t see a single request for a refund” which comes across like an insinuation that I might’ve lied about having emailed him before posting my request in the Discord.

Therefore, I lose a little bit of power when my response starts off by helping him find the email (which is proving to him that I complied with his boundaries without addressing the tone of what it felt like he was implying).

But, it was a strategic decision given that expanding on his negative insinuation carried the risk of leading to a negative outcome.

Then, the seller tries to flip the power tables by asking me to justify my refund request. This way, he can take a judge role, assess my justification for whether or not he feels it’s “good enough”, and then approve or reject my request from that power position.

In other words, I’d lose much of my negotiating leverage.

So, I state that I’d prefer to withhold my reasoning until after the refund is processed.

He pushes back with a manipulative attempt at getting me to show my cards, saying he needs that justification to approve the refund.

So, I respond with assertiveness and ask again to have the refund processed first.

Note: ending on a question wasn’t necessary, I could’ve also repeated the statement, “I prefer if we process the refund first” and that would’ve been more assertive (see the broken record technique). But, ending on a question was another strategic decision I chose to make at the time.

Keep in mind, I bought his course under the agreement that there was a 60-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee:

See the “60-Day No Questions Asked Guarantee!” underneath the “Get Instant Access!” button

So, I negotiated under the expectation that he would honor the agreement.

This is what happens:

Him: Did you execute on any trades? Did you take action on the course (continues to question me, still trying to take a judge role position)? I see you watched most of the videos which is good

You: Yes and yes (takes the low-power approach of answering his questions)

And, the videos were great (though, I’m a fan of all of your content 🙂 (gives compliments to give more emotional value), that’s why I’m happy to be a returning customer (repeats the silver medal)

Him: Okay I’ll issue the refund right now man
Would appreciate more detail as to why you didn’t think it was a good fit (covert judge power move)
Refund should be back in your bank account within 5-10 business days (depending on your bank) – hopefully sooner

You: Thank you for processing the refund, [his name]
And, I sent you an email with that detailed feedback (low-power again: complies with his judge power move), you can find it in the same email thread
Cheers!

When he begins questioning me, I could’ve easily used the silver medal technique right there (a simple, “Look man, I like you and your products so far, so I’ll come back, but I expect fairness…”). That way, I could encourage a collaborative attitude and avoid having to answer.

But, instead, I do answer his questions (to give him the small win) and repeat the silver medal, which wins the refund.

Note: I would also withhold the feedback due to his covert judge power move at the end (see “I greatly appreciate your response“). In this case, I chose to anyway because I personally decided that I wanted to, but it doesn’t bode well for gaining or keeping the respect of others.

#3. The Exception-Seeking Frame

The context behind this case study is that I bought a course I wasn’t fully satisfied with and then later remembered that the seller enrolled me in a subscription for two more monthly payments.

The course had some inaccuracies and borrowed many of its lessons from another course I’d already taken, but I still enjoyed it, so my goal for this negotiation was to let them keep the first payment and stop any future ones.

But, switch the goal to getting a refund and the approach will still be the same for this technique.

Here was my first email:

Here’s the breakdown. This email:

  • Gives compliments: by saying”I loved it”, “I really enjoyed it”, and “great content”
  • Frames myself as an exception to their course: by saying was already familiar with much of the content, so much of it was repetitive for me (and the “for me” highlighting that I’m an exception due to my prior knowledge)
  • Frames my request as fair: in the final underlined sentence (and attributes my reasoning behind believing the request is fair to the “uniqueness of this situation where I’m an exception”)

Plus, in that last line of the email, you’ll notice I attached some lesson notes. That way, they could get some feedback on how they might be able to improve their course’s content (which is a form of giving value) as well as (unrequested) proof I did indeed do the work (which can be important sometimes to show you’re not one of those scammers who joins courses to download the content and resell it somewhere).

Note: be careful of taking this approach too far of expressing that you loved what you bought, but still would like a refund because it can come across as sneaky. They might think, “If you loved the product/service so much, why do you want your money back?” and negotiate harder because they feel you’re a game-player.

They don’t respond, so I wait two days and then follow up.

Here’s their email back:

Already a great (favorable) response, so all I had to do was provide that confirmation:

Notice, I start by agreeing with her frame that being unenrolled is fair (and, I believe it is, why should I continue to have access to a course I now hardly paid for?).

She gets the confirmation and complies:

This saved me good money that I was able to put to better use and didn’t take filing a dispute or a long time.

It only took four emails and four days and everything was sorted out in my favor.

Simply swap out “I’d like to stop any future payments” for “I’d be grateful for a refund” and you can apply this technique in your own cases as well.

#4. The WIIFT Frame

This approach is about emphasizing what’s in it for them (WIIFT) in order to get you what you want.

It’s similar to the silver medal technique, but not quite the same in that with a WIIFT mindset, the new option you’re creating and offering can often be better than the original option they wanted.

The context for this example is that I paid for some web design services for one of my websites.

Unluckily, after the seller had already started the work, I received new information that changed how I wanted to move forward with that website, and I no longer needed some of the web design work that I paid for.

He agrees to adjust the order to remove the work I no longer need, so I request a refund to avoid overpaying for services I will now no longer receive:

I start by asking for a small refund, but then indirectly assume that the answer will be “yes” by following up with the question of what price he thinks is fair (which is called the “assume the close” technique).

Granted, assuming the close is power-taking, but this one is more in the green because:

  • The request for the refund is in question format: which still allows some freedom for him to say “yes” or “no”
  • The request is well-justified: the price we agreed upon was for a certain amount of work. So, now that the work has been reduced, the price should be adjusted accordingly if he wants to be fair (in other words, this isn’t a random, outrageous request)

Still, he says a partial refund is impossible on Fiverr and comes up with a silver medal himself to offer me: a discount on a future order that makes up the difference.

But, what I want is a refund, not a coupon.

So, I offer an alternative method for the partial refund to be processed and repeat my earlier question:

Asking him to offer the price he thinks is fair is a strategic decision to:

  • Assess his character: so I can learn if I want to work with him again in the future
  • Avoid giving the first number: which, typically, you want to give the first number in negotiations so you can influence the final number with that anchor, but in this case I wanted to avoid breaking rapport with a number that he might find disrespectful

In response, he completely ignores my message and focuses his response on the tasks he still has left to complete.

Of course, a close family member of his passed away and that’s no small thing. And it’s his right to make that a priority in his life if he chooses to.

However, he also chose to continue running his business while dealing with this matter and, therefore, he has a responsibility to his clients as well.

He can’t simply start neglecting clients due to personal life matters and if he was concerned he couldn’t balance both, the right thing to do is to refund the clients so he can give his full attention to one issue at a time.

Since he didn’t do that, he’s now taking twice as much value:

  1. Holding onto my money for work he’s never going to do
  2. Taking more time than what was agreed upon to complete the project

To make matters worse, I received new information in the business program I was in again that changed my needs for the order a second time.

So, here’s what I said:

I offered my condolences for his loss before this message and then opened this message by expressing my condolences again.

Then, I lead with the bad news so as to end on the positives (which is more persuasive because it leverages the recency effect).

However, where my message could’ve improved is in taking the two bullet points boxed in red and combining them into one bullet point. Especially, since they fall under the same category, it would’ve been more persuasive in making the positive news look more like they outweigh the negative news from a visual design perspective. (And that’s important because the psychology of negotiation involves making sure visual design reinforces conceptual design.

For example, the concept of getting a lot of benefits in a deal should be supported by your counterpart seeing a long list of benefits when they read the deal. After all, people often judge the value of a deal based on a simple rule of thumb: the visual length of benefits. So, you should cultivate a sense of equality in the visual design of your deals and the same applies to your refund negotiations over any visual medium.)

But, where this technique shines in the collaborative frame despite the negative news:

  • Offering to give value now: “I still need your services for the second blog [right now].”
  • Showing future value-giving power: I’m a “blogger” with multiple websites, so I can make you my go-to guy for any web design work I need in the future.

The seller responds with this:

He shares his challenge: Fiverr will penalize his profile if we cancel the order.

I respond:

Ali: OK, I didn’t know that, maybe we can find another way (communicates: “I’m willing to work with you on finding a way to make this work we’re both happy with”).

Thing is, I don’t need any work done on aliscarlett-author.com anymore. But, I’m happy to support your business now and in the future in any way I can (collaborative frame), I’m only looking for a way to move forward that’s fair because I don’t want to pay for a service I don’t need (reiterates the main issue with a moral judge frame).

As far as the second project, I’ll work with you to keep that one, I don’t think we need to cancel it (offers value).

Would you be completely against a refund for this aliscarlett-author.com order (no-oriented question technique)?

The moral judge frame puts pressure on him to “do the right thing” and “be fair” by providing some form of refund.

Sometimes moral judge frames can be manipulative, but the difference between manipulation and persuasion is that manipulation is win-lose while persuasion is win-win.

And, in this case, the seller is gaining a lot from this exchange, so it’s in the green.

Then, the no-oriented question technique is a good persuasion tool because it:

  • Works as a form of power-protecting: the receiver has the freedom to say “yes” or “no” which gives them an “out” of the deal
  • Empowers the receiver to say “no”: whereas they might’ve felt less comfortable saying “yes” and agreeing to something that might bind them to a commitment, now they’re free to say “no” and the ball will still move forward

His response:

He agreed to the refund!

And yet, the WIIFT frame is about thinking of others to give them as much incentive to give you what you want as possible.

So, since anything can change (he said he would do it, but may change his mind later), I give him more value to further solidify his agreement:

I researched and sent him a way to cancel the order without damaging his profile or business — which is valuable to him for this case now and in the future for any similar cases.

And then, I sent him a cancellation request along with the exact script I sent to Fiverr to help him keep his rating.

Needless to say, he approved the cancellation request right away and the refund went through.

#5. The Trojan Horse Question

Heads up: this technique is the Machiavellian approach.

It’s built on preaparing for the worst-case scenario by pre-emptively setting up a negotiation power move that you can use later.

To execute it effectively, you must deliberately ask a question that forces the seller to either deny that first request or disqualify their product or service.

Here’s an example:

At first blush, it seems a neutral, normal question.

But it serves to set up the negotiation power move (read on).

My question puts them in a position to deny it because according to the shipping information I received upon purchase, it should have already arrived (which I said upfront). So, chances are that either something went wrong or the information I received was inaccurate in the first place, so the likelihood that it would suddenly arrive before the end of the day was quite low.

Note: mentioning I’ve been following them since their debut on Republic.co shows loyalty (it communicates I’ve been a long-time follower) and letting them know I followed their instructions to download the Shop app shows that I paid attention to and respected their boundaries.

They say:

In this case, it turns out the order was indeed scheduled to arrive that day which was great news because I was looking forward to it. (Remember, this technique is supposed to be used as a precatuinary measure to cover your ass in case the seller you’re dealing with decides to be dishonest, it’s not meant to be used as a tool of manipulation to get more than your fair share, so it’s good when things work out without you neededing to leverage the negotiation power move you’re setting up.)

So, I waited for the package and, unluckily, it didn’t arrive at the scheduled time.

This presented an opportunity to repeat the trojan horse question:

They respond very tactfully:

They say they’re sorry to hear that I missed the delivery that UPS attempted, framing the issue as being between me and UPS and shifting the blame to UPS’ shoulders that they were the ones who “tried and failed” to deliver the order on time.

Then, still avoiding giving an outright “no” in response to my question, they they just share the updated delivery date. This allows them to soften their denial, and they decrease the disqualification I cornered them into.

But, it’s still a disqualification and now they’re on the back foot, and in a potentially vulnerable position because they had to disqualify the shipping offer they presented (I didn’t pay UPS to deliver the order, I paid them), potentially making me—the customer—unhappy, which sets the customer up for a potential judge role (ie.: “I’m disappointed”).

Here’s how it works in this case:

  • If the seller denies you, they might start feeling they’re being too tough and uncooperative: and that puts psychological pressure on them to be more accommodating toward your next request
  • If the seller denies their ability to follow through on the product or service you paid them for, you have now successfully disqualified the product/service. And you made the seller admit it: that will put pressure on the seller to give you free stuff to make you happy again about the product or service. Or, rather than giving you free stuff, pressures them to give you a refund
  • The customer sets themself up for a potential judge position and guilt-trip power move: i.e. “I’m disappointed, you need to do something to fix this.”

So, it was quite strategic of them to avoid giving a direct “no” which be a clear denial and them admitting to their now disqualified shipping service.

Note: this technique is in itself only borderline fair. It can be annoying to be on the receiving end of, but if you raise a real issue as the buyer, it can still be part of a fair negotiation.

Now, it felt a bit manipulative to shift all blame to UPS given that they are the ones who offered a fast shipping speed, I paid them for that faster shipping through their website, and now they’re the ones I have to contact to sort this out.

So, I address it while raising the issue I’m now faced with:

Now, I cash in my power position from them disqualifying their shipping to field my request for a refund.

And, once again, this checks the boxes of providing reasoning (“it’s because it didn’t arrive by the date I paid for it to”) and using the no-oriented question technique (“would it be impossible?”).

I sent that refund request at 9:02 PM. And, two minutes later got a full refund on the shipping costs:

#6. (BONUS) Avoid Honey Deal Traps

This is an old trick that companies use today to enforce monetary resolutions by holding onto your cash.

Here’s how the trick works:

1.) They Avoid Official Channels and Talk Directly to You

When you escalates a dispute through official channels, they don’t talk to you through those official channels, they try to find a resolution directly with you.

2.) They Offer You Good Terms

They’re usually pliable and nice to you and offer you good terms—or “good enough” if they want to seem more credible.

You both agree on a resolution.

3.) They Invite You to Close the Resolution in the Official Channel

Since you both agreed on a resolution, the company now says “OK, now we’ve got a deal, so you can withdraw your complaint and I’ll send your money right away.”

4.) When You Withdraw the Official Complaint, They Renegotiate the Deal

Once you withdraw the case from the official channels, you often renounces your right to enforce any resolution through that official channel.

And since most of the time you’ll have no other way to impose any sanction on the company, now you’re powerless. And you can be easily screwed (which the company, at this point, is quite likely to do).

Take this example between Lucio Buffalmano and Singapore Airlines, where Lucio opened a controversy through PayPal, and they contact him directly (not through PayPal as one is expected to do).

Here is their first approach:

Thank you to Lucio Buffalmano for this case study as well.

And then one of their following emails sounds a lot like the set up to screw him over later:

Notice this:

  • “…full refund may be accorded to you…”: like you don’t know if a flight you canceled is enough for a refund? Sounds like a great way of covering their asses in case they won’t follow through
  • We will await for your confirmation“: sounds a lot like a “confirm it’s OK for you, and now you can withdraw your official complaint”.

IF this were the case of a honey deal trap, it would be terrible of an international business like Singapore Airlines. BUT, so far, they’re still in green territory. (So, take this as a warning on the technique, not as a strike against the company.)

Do This: Play the Sucker!

When you smell a cheat, you have an advantage.

So, your goal is not to shame them right away, but to play stupid. By playing stupid, you can then play the game one step ahead.

If Singapore Airlines now tries to make Lucio close the dispute in PayPal without offering a real guarantee that they’ll refund him, Lucio will have a proof of their cheating ways, which he can then bring to PayPal, if he wants to.

To put a close on this example, Lucio preferred to stick to PayPal (rather than continue to discuss it with the company over non-official channels) and later won the case with PayPal—albeit we were all very curious to see if it was a trick :).

He wrote Singapore Airlines sometime after anyway, pretending he had no idea, and asking about his refund and they pointed him to the PayPal resolution.

That was a small hint that they probably knew what they were doing and weren’t completely clueless.

But we still can’t be sure, it’s also possible they were going to be honest and refund me without playing any game.

For another, longer example of a honey deal trap where I did indeed close the dispute over official channels and still won a full refund on a three-piece suit, check out this case study.

Summary

When submitting and discussing a refund request, always keep cool and never let the situation get to you.

As Lucio says in his article on refund requests that takes the buyer’s side, use it as a practice to test and improve your negotiation skills.

Thank you for reading and congratulations on getting this new skill in your arsenal…and spread the word that sneakiness doesn’t pay :).

About The Author

About The Author