How To Prevent Consumer Complaints With Rebate Programs

CNBC has published this list of the top 10 consumer complaints from 2012, compiled by the Consumer Federation of America and troubles with rebates land right in the middle at number 5 on the list.  From our perspective, it doesn’t look like many companies understand yet how badly it reflects on their brands if they don’t work to prevent consumer complaints with their rebate programs.

Our CEO, Jason Atkins presented a keynote last week at the Incentive Marketing Association‘s executive summit on technology, the thrust of which touched on this very issue:

How To Calculate Customer Lifetime ValueWith the advent of the social web, built-in breakage is no longer a best practice.

As the reach of individual, private citizens begins to grow (in some exceptional cases even matching or surpassing the reach of professional news outlets), the measurement of customer lifetime value (CLV) becomes an ever-more elusive calculation.

It is simply no longer worth the risk of annoying an otherwise perfectly happy customer and no company wants to direct resources into doing damage control on a PR nightmare that was created by what started out as a sales incentive plan.

Age-Old Complaints:

The common complaints that people still have with consumer rebate programs are the same you have heard before: missing rebate payments, programs which are too complex or even “a tax on the disorganized.”

The fact is, consumer trust is low when it comes to rebate campaigns and with low trust, comes a much lower chance of repeat business.   The average consumer rebate process has as many as six touch points with the consumer, so let’s look at how you, the modern sales incentives leader that you are, can reduce breakage and slippage from your campaign, untangle your terms and conditions and make your consumers into fans, not foes.

Hey, they just might tell all their friends on Facebook (between 140 and 510, depending whose stats you read) about what a great experience they had with your brand!

Stop With The Slippage…

Slippage refers to rebate checks that, for whatever reason, are not cashed.   A common historical practice has been to send out rebate checks in a fashion where they look like junk mail.   The consumer assumes the worst and disposes of the unwanted mail, the check is eventually stale-dated and cancelled and the rebate is never paid out.

Slippage can easily be reduced simply by changing the appearance of the payment in how it looks when it lands in the customer’s mailbox.   It’s easy to make a check look like a check, right?

How about eliminating slippage completely?

It starts with digitizing your rebates: stop with the tree-killing paperwork and get your redemption process online – your consumer should be able to apply for their rebate claim via Internet.  Most consumer rebates are still handled through traditional postal mail; digitizing your program makes you a leader and helps you do a much better job of measuring how your programs are working as well as delivering on your promise to the customer.

Offering digitized payments such as direct deposit and pre-paid/loadable cards (branded with your company logo anyone?) allows everyone to know where the rebate payment is at all times.   This sort of visibility into the process right from claim entry through payout gives the consumer a greater feeling of control; they know what is going on with their payment, they can add any missing info…they can relax and enjoy the product that they actually purchased from you knowing their rebate is on the way.

Bye-Bye To Breakage…

Traditionally, the story behind complex terms and conditions has been that they were necessary to prevent fraudulent claims but it is really no longer acceptable or necessary to make the policing of the few into the burden of the many.   With technologies available right now, auditing and fraud reduction should easily be built into your program right from the outset.   (For more on this, feel free to download our free e-book Fraud: The Most Overlooked Opportunity)

So be honest: is your program focused on building breakage or building advocates?  No brand actually wants to make enemies of its consumers, so let’s have a look at a few simple ways you can provide smoother rebate processes:

How To Build The Best Rebate Programs








Instant Rebates – Keep your end of the deal right there on the spot at point of sale by moving to an instant rebate program.   Rebates are a simple “buy this get that” contract so why not hold up your end of the deal as soon as the consumer has help up theirs.

Express Rebate – If the rebate you are offering is of a significant amount, perhaps it is not viable for your retail partners to offer it right at the point of sale.   Remember, if your programs don’t work well for your retailers, your mutual customers and you then they then really don’t work at all!

Express rebates are a relatively new offering as technology has been built out and express delivery has become more accessible.   Our data has shown that on a rebate of $200 or more, most people are willing to forfeit a reasonable amount of their rebate money in order to receive their payment faster.   When you make this offer, you show that you care about the consumer’s experience and they will appreciate this.

Consider User Experience – This is the principle that simply must drive all of your planning.  Complex terms and conditions are going to frustrate people and frustrated people will not complete their claim.   Their problem, you say?   Perception is reality in sales and marketing and so if they perceive that your program was the problem, then their problem is your problem.   Could your grandparents easily understand your offer and complete your process?   You don’t want to frustrate your grandparents, do you?

Jason King 360 IncentivesJason is the Content and Community guy at Connect with Jason on Twitter @JayKing71LinkedIn or Google+  360 is changing the world of incentives.  To find out how, book a call with us now!