If a customer disputes a credit card charge, the process can prove both frustrating and costly for a business. Credit card companies can hit them with processing fees and withhold the money until after the dispute is settled. Also, if a company isn't diligent with paperwork the money could be permanently forfeited all before the business can give its side of the story, said Glen Bolofsky, founder of disputemycharge.com. To help companies avoid fees and lost time, Bolofsky points to strategies meant to head off the problems before they occur.

"Companies right now don't have the clout to change the process with the credit card companies. They have no negotiation power. They do have the power to change their own process. They do have the ability to work harder to make sure to go the extra step to settle the dispute with the customer. If you settle with the customer first then you're way ahead of the game.

"One way to increase the chances that customers will bring problems to the store is to enhance the customer service opportunities. Make (customer service) as user-friendly as possible. Don't bounce your customers around from phone call to phone call. Take care of it on the first call. Be as aggressive about settling things right away as you are about generating sales for your business.

"Make sure your Web site has a dispute resolution process. In clear, big letters, just like it says on the window '25 Percent Off Today.' Also, make sure at the checkout there's a big sign saying, 'For questions, concerns call us toll free, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.' Retail stores don't operate 24 hours a day but people do and (stores) have to have a way for the customer to deal with them 24 hours a day. What they'd really like is for the store to send someone out to pick up the blouse, for example, or send a prepaid empty box to ship back the merchandise, no questions asked.

"Instill in all employees the idea that the boss doesn't write the checks. It's the customer that's actually paying (the employees) so they want everyone who comes into the store to walk out happy. Even if not everyone makes a purchase they should leave happy. That's the goal. But of course you can't always please everyone so you need to have a plan in place for those customers that you can never please and who might file a dispute."
Kim Holmes

*Case Study is a new feature in which experts offer advice on the various challenges that small-business owners often encounter. If you face an issue or challenge you think applies to others as well, please contact the Business Journal at casestudy@labusinessjournal.com .

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