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What do I need to know about the after-sales process?

What do I need to know about the after-sales process?

Providing your customers with good after-sales service not only enhances long-term relationships and customer loyalty, it also allows you to make sure your goods or services meet or exceed your consumers’ expectations, encourages consumers to visit your website to make more purchases, and to ‘advertise’ positively on your behalf via word of mouth. Recent studies show that 55% of online shoppers are willing to recommend a company due to outstanding service, more than due to product or price. Furthermore, 85% would pay up to 25% more to ensure a superior customer service experience. In order to maintain the whole process in shape and up to date for your customers’ necessities, do not forget to establish a system to ask and collect feedback from all your purchasers. Training for SMEs on consumer law, adapted to the situation in each Member State, is available on ConsumerLawReady.eu.

Provide your customer with information about guarantees

If you are selling goods (e.g. clothing, cars, jewelry), you are legally obliged to give your consumers a free two-year guarantee at least and to replace or repair the product if the product turns out to be faulty or not as advertised. In some EU countries, the legal guarantee period is longer.

During the minimum guarantee period, your consumers have the right, irrespective of where they live in the EU, to ask that at no cost to them you:

•    repair the product,
•    replace the product.

If this turns out not to make sense or to be too complex, you can offer to:

•    reduce the price;
•    cancel the contract and fully reimburse the customer.

Depending on the EU country where you are established, your consumers may be able to choose freely between the different options. Select your country and check national requirements on guarantee periods and obligations.

Remember that the legal guarantee is valid throughout the EU and that it is the vendor who must honour it. This means that you, as the final link in the sales chain, are liable to the consumer. EU law gives you a right of redress against a producer or a distributor if the problem resulted from any action or omission on their part.

If you sell second-hand products, your consumers enjoy the same right to a minimum legal guarantee, but in some EU Member States you may be allowed to offer your customers a shorter period. However, this must be at least one year. Make sure you provide your customers with information on your website about this guarantee period.

Burden of proof

The legal guarantee period starts from the moment your consumer receives the goods. If a problem arises within the first 6 months of them receiving the goods, it is considered that the defect already existed at the time the consumer received the goods. In many EU countries, if the problem occurs after the first 6 months, but within the legal guarantee period, the consumers may have to demonstrate that the problem existed when they received the goods.

In some EU countries, consumers can report a problem with the product at any time within the legal guarantee period; in others, they have two months from the time the problem arose.

Commercial guarantee

You are free to offer an additional commercial guarantee. This which can either be included in the price, or you can charge the consumer extra. This commercial guarantee can never replace the legal guarantee described above.

You must indicate clearly the additional benefits for your customers of any offer of a commercial guarantee for which extra is charged. Your commercial guarantee statement must set out the contents of the guarantee in plain intelligible language. It must also provide the essential particulars necessary for making claims under the guarantee, in particular the duration and territorial scope, as well as the name and address of the guarantor.

EU law gives consumers the right to a guarantee, and efficient handling of their questions and complaints.
Before concluding the contract, you must make your customers aware of the existence of this legal guarantee and inform them of the conditions for any after-sales assistance, after-sales services and commercial guarantees that you offer.
Note that ‘consumer’ refers to the final user of the good, acquired for his own personal needs. Nonetheless, if the good is bought partly for his/her professional activities, not predominantly, that person is also considered as a consumer.

Offer an easy-to-use complaints procedure on your website

The way you handle complaints is very important for your customers.

Provide your customers with a way of asking questions and of lodging complaints if they need to:

•    You can create a section on your website where customers can easily register their complaints and receive an answer efficiently;
•    You can set  up a hotline, allowing your customers to call you in the event of a problem, or

You can as a minimum indicate an e-mail address to which they can send questions or submit claims and provide clear information on your website on how to complain.

You should try to solve customers’ complaints swiftly and directly. However, if you cannot reach an agreement, you could also suggest that you and your customers resort to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body.

ADR bodies use a neutral party (e.g. a conciliator, mediator, arbitrator, ombudsman, complaints board, etc.) who proposes or imposes a solution, or brings the parties together to help them find a solution.

For your customers, ADR is a simple, fast way of resolving disputes. For you as a trader, it is a way to achieve fair outcomes for difficult complaints, while at the same time keeping good customer relations and avoiding litigation costs.

Under the ADR directive, the European Commission maintains a list (see link below) of "notified" ADR bodies that meet particular quality criteria in areas such as transparency, independence and efficiency. As trader, you can use this list to choose an ADR body that suits your needs (certain bodies foe example cover certain types of dispute or business sectors). This way, if a dispute arises with a customer, you will know where to turn to get quality and affordable dispute resolution.   

To help make ADR easier to use for disputes arising from online transactions, since February 15th 2016, there is an EU-wide multilingual ODR platform in operation. This is a platform developed by the European Commission and its objective is to help consumers and traders resolve their contractual disputes about online purchases of goods and services out-of-court at a low cost in a simple and fast way. It allows consumers to submit their disputes online in any of the 23 official languages of the European Union. The ODR platform transmits the disputes only to the quality dispute resolution bodies communicated by Member States (please find them at this page). If you sell online your customers will be able to lodge a complaint against your business on the platform. To ensure that you receive the complaint and can respond appropriately, you should sign up to the platform (you can sign up here).

 

Remember that if you offer telephone hotlines, you may not charge more than the basic call rate for any calls customers make when contacting you about the contract. Make sure you inform your customer of out-of-court schemes available for resolving disputes both at the time of the purchase and when a problem arises.

Be aware of some simplified judicial procedures for cross-border disputes

Jurisdicton if the consumer chooses to go to court:

•    In the Member State where the business is established (the general rule); or
•    In the customer’s Member State for cross-border businesses targeting consumers in other Member States.

The consumer has the right to choose where to go to court. The right applies to specific contracts, to contracts for the sale of goods on instalment credit terms, to contracts for a loan repayable by instalments, or for any other form of credit made to finance the sale of goods,  and depends on whether your activities take place in the Member State where the consumer is resident or are, by any means, directed to that Member State, and the contract falls within the scope of such activities. Several elements can be taken as evidence of your intent to sell across borders. These include targeted advertising, inclusion of telephone numbers with an international code, use of a top-level domain name from a country other than that in which you are established, or the use of a neutral top-level domain name, such as .com, etc.

Useful procedures for disputes in cross-border cases

For cross-border disputes on claims below EUR 5.000, be aware that (you and) your customers can make use of a simplified European procedure – the European Small Claims Procedure (ESCP). (Download the forms).  

This is in principle a written procedure and does not require a lawyer. If you do not respond to the claim within 30 days (by filling in the answer form), a court will make a judgment on the claim.

The European Judicial Network has published information about the European Small Claims Procedure, including a Practice Guide (find out more). Find out which court in the Member State with relevant jurisdiction has the responsibility for deciding on your ESCP case.

Note that the European Order for Payment provides simplified European procedure for cross-border disputes and any claims involving money, e.g. if your customers do not pay. There is no limit to the amount you can claim. This procedure is only suitable when you are sure that your customer will not dispute the claim (find out more).

Both procedures are recognised in all Member States except Denmark and are essentially carried out in writing.

Note: The European Small Claims Procedure and the European Order for Payment procedure are both suitable for claims below EUR 5.000, but it is advisable to use the ESCP if it is likely that your customer will dispute the claim to payment.

If you end up in litigation, you (and your customer) can find useful information on the European Judicial Atlas in Civil Matters website on how to make a claim and to which authority/court.

 

Austria EN / DE
Belgium EN / FR / NL
Bulgaria BG / EN
Croatia CR
Cyprus EN / CY
Czech Republic EN / CZ
Note that, in Czech Republic, you must carry out the repair or replacement within 30 days, otherwise the consumer can demand a refund (source: ECC).
Denmark EN / DK
Estonia EN / ES
Note that, in Estonia, a period of approximately two weeks is deemed to be reasonable for carrying out a repair (source: ECC).
Finland EN / FI
Note that, in Finland, there is no time limit on the duration of the guarantee. The duration depends on the lifespan of the product (source: ECC).
France EN / FR
Germany EN / DE
Note that, it is assumed in Germany after two attempts at repair that the item can no longer be repaired (source: ECC).
Greece Law 2251/1994 «Protection of consumers» (as applicable - coded on the initiative of the General Secretariat of Consumer Affairs) (EL (p 19) / EN (p 23) – Article 5 )
Note that, in Greece, the lifespan of the product is taken into account. You must provide detailed information about the guarantee on paper for products that have a long lifespan, such as electrical apparatus (source: ECC).
Hungary EN / HU
Ireland EN
Italy EN / IT
Latvia EN / LV
Note that, in Latvia, the contract can be cancelled if a fault appears during the first six months after purchase (source: ECC).
Lithuania EN / LT
Luxembourg EN / DE / FR
Note that, in Luxembourg, you must carry out the repair or replacement within 30 days, otherwise the consumer can demand a refund (source: ECC).
Malta MT
Netherlands EN / NL
Note that, in The Netherlands,  the period of two years is not mentioned and can therefore be longer (source: ECC)
Poland EN / PL
Portugal PT
Note that, in Portugal, it is assumed for the entire period of two years that the fault already existed at the time of delivery. The burden of proof is on you, as the final seller, for the entire two years (source: ECC).
Romania EN / RO
Slovakia EN / SK
Slovenia SI
Spain SP / EN
Sweden SE / EN
United Kingdom EN

 

Country specifics

Suggested country specifics to be covered:

Guarantee period

Questions:

•    Do you agree that the above list of country specific elements is relevant to the audience of European Digital Entrepreneurs?
•    Do you have suggestions for other elements that are relevant to the audience of European Digital Entrepreneurs?
•    What sources of information can you provide as an input for describing the country specifics?

 

Sources of information

Requirements on legal guarantees and additional aftersales services

•    Sales of consumer goods and associated guarantees (European Commission, Justice)
•    Your Europe (2014), Consumer guarantees
•    Consumer Right Directive, Article 5

Complaint handlings

•    European Commission (2013) ; A step forward for EU consumers: Questions & answers on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution, MEMO-13-193
•    ADR Directive
•    ODR Directive
•    List of notified quality assured ADR bodies https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/main/?event=main.adr.show2
•    Sign up page for traders to the EU Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/main/?event=main.trader.register
•    Penningtons Manches (2014), Consumer Protection and free trade in the EU, Seller beware, in http://www.penningtons.co.uk/news-publications/latest-news/consumer-protection-and-free
•    COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 44/2001 on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (Dec. 2000), in. This Regulation will be replaced, as of 10 January 2015, by Regulation 1215/2012 on the same subject matter.
•    Council Regulation (EC) No 861/2007 establishing a European small claims procedure
•    Council Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure
•    European Commission Justice (2011), Practice guide for the application of the regulation on the European Order for Payment, available at http://ec.europa.eu/justice/civil/document/index_en.htm
•    European Commission Justice (2013), Practice guide for the application of the European Small Claims Procedure