A thoughtful and fully developed Terms & Conditions will improve your business, your customer experience, and your bottom line. It is something you should implement right away and not having them in place can cost you.
Understanding what a Terms & Conditions agreement really is and how it can improve your business should be all the motivation you need to drive a desire to implement a terms agreement. Below are the steps required to get your terms agreements not only developed but implemented in day-to-day business as well.
Terms & conditions defined
These agreements should cover all major points of your customer dealings. From the moment you collect their information until well after the goods have been delivered, your terms agreement will be a key document outlining your customers and your legal requirements.
Terms & Conditions agreements should be thorough but easy to understand. Generalizing your agreement to fit every aspect of your business often isn’t possible, and one agreement is often not enough for many businesses. An example of a business that would need more than one agreement might look like an apparel decorator that sells both to a wholesale B2B market as well as a direct-to-consumer e-commerce store.
Why you should care
Terms & Conditions agreements can be a terrific pre-sales tool as well as an essential tool in resolving disputes after the fact. Well-thought-out agreements allow you and your team to address your customer’s concerns in a more timely, consistent, and efficient manner.
You can reduce the number of times you and your team inadvertently contradict each other or previous decisions, improving your relationships with your customers. Dealing with customers means something will inevitably go wrong, and these agreements help ensure that both you and your customer know exactly what to expect when something does go wrong.
Being on the same page with your customer about expectations is a key component involved in salvaging your customer relationship when things go awry. If things do go awry, your company may find itself facing a legal dispute, and if there isn’t already a terms agreement in place, the cost to your company could be enormous.
How to get started
Creating a basic Terms & Conditions agreement is simple, but perfecting it requires a good deal of time and thinking. A quick online search will bring forth a good deal of sites that can generate the terms for using a guided question approach.
If you are only selling products without customization, these services are the quickest and easiest way to get up and going, but they lack the critical component of developing terms more specific to the customization businesses.
You will need to come up with your own terms to add to the basic terms, but you don’t need to start from scratch. Many of your competitors will publish their terms for the public, and while you don’t want to copy verbatim your competitor’s terms, you will become familiar with how other companies in your industry operate.
After analyzing your competitors’ agreements and comparing them with your own experiences and expectations, you will be able to better generate your own. The more you can include in your agreement the better, but a few major points to consider should include artwork royalties & ownership, returns, warranties, spoilage, and liabilities.
If you have employees, be sure they understand your Terms & Conditions agreement before you publish it. These agreements dictate how your customer and you as the supplier or service provider operate.
It is a good idea to limit the number of places you physically post your terms as any changes are more difficult to keep organized and increase the risk of having conflicting agreements in the public domain. This allows for the amendment and editing process to be more straightforward.
As your business changes and goes through new experiences, you will likely need to make amendments to your Terms & Conditions. When making amendments, it is critical you keep dated archives of each version. To be transparent, consider leaving a link in your updated terms agreement to an archive of previous versions. Having your terms agreement posted allows you to easily link to assorted documents and communications.
Most terms agreements require some level of documented assent to be both effective and valid, but what that means legally is complicated. To be an effective tool, your agreement should not only be easy to find, but also presented in a manner that highlights them early on in your customer’s experience.
If you are gathering new customer information electronically, that is a perfect time to collect your customer’s assent stating to your Terms & Conditions. A customer should be presented with either your full Terms & Conditions agreement or a link to those terms and conditions with some type of button, check box, or click that requires a physical input to mark it or check it.
In most cases you can require a customer to assent to your terms to complete your form, clearly stating that they have read, understood, and consented to your terms and conditions. This is not the time to try to hide information or confuse your customers. Doing so can make for a bad customer experience as well as potentially cause your terms agreement to be void, so do not use automatically checked boxes, tricky words, light-colored fonts, or try to confuse your customer into agreeing to your terms.
In addition to gaining assent through new customer forms, you can post a link to your terms agreement in plain text. To make your link even more user-friendly, consider adding a QR code link to specific customer documents, but you should include the plain text link as well if you do add a QR code for people that aren’t familiar with this type of technology.
To help enforce your terms agreement use very clear wording that produces assent. An example of this could be, “By submitting a purchase order to company X, you are agreeing that you have read, understood, and consented to our Terms & Conditions.” When properly executed, this type of language is a form of assent.
Consider adding links back to your terms on key documents like quotes, order approvals, design requests, and pricelists. As was previously mentioned, the agreements are not one size fits all, and neither is the implementation of them, so evaluate your business and how to make them work for you and your business processes.
Wrap it up
It is easy to see a Terms & Conditions agreement as a long list of legalese to be clicked or checked away never to be seen again, but it is much more than that.
Making your Terms & Conditions an active part of your business can improve the direction of your business while driving a better customer and employee experience. The process to get started is simple, and while a fully developed and well-executed agreement is ideal, getting out even the most basic terms is far better than not having an agreement at all.
In the spirit of transparency and clarity, I am stipulating that, for the most part, Terms & Conditions agreements are not legally required to operate a business in the United States; however, they are a legal contract, and it is recommended you consult an attorney to confirm all terms and the implementation of those terms is following all legal codes and best practices in your governing body. Both your customers and your business are important to you; protect them both before it is too late.