If you haven’t had a chance yet to take a look at all of my previous posts (because I have written so many lately), then you should read this first as well as the comments that follow.
My opinions are my own, as are my experiences and your mileage may vary. Some commenters had similar troubles, some had suggestions for other services, and another commenter had no problems at all with TopCashBack (TCB) and their service.
TopCashBack have responded, and before I expand upon our interaction I should add that since the posting, I have received almost all of the cash back I had been waiting for, some that miraculously appeared after the article posted. Others, I sent yet another nudge and then the credit was added. I will go into that more shortly, but in fairness I wanted to address my interaction with TCB since the posting.
When I filed the post I tweeted the link along with tagging TCB for two reasons. I want to make sure that TCB know that some of their customers are having a bad experience as in my case and at least one commenter, but I also wanted them to know what was being written because I believe everyone should have a fair shake.
I received an email from Natasha in their press center contacted me the same day I posted the article. Here is her email:
My name’s Natasha and I look after TopCashback.com. It’s lovely to meet you, although I realise you’re not our biggest fan right now. I hope, one day, I can make enough changes to improve TopCashback.com to transform your opinion. We are a work-in-progress.
And I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you directly, and being candid in my writing. I found your contact email address on http://thetripsherpa.com/.
I’m very sorry to read that you’ve had, what sounds like, a horrible and frustrating time with us. I’m very sorry to anyone who uses us and feels the same way. It’s absolutely not our intention for members to have anything but a smooth experience.
Unfortunately I/my media team did not receive your media request email (which I realise you sent as a TopCashback member, but it still should have reached me if you used our firstname.lastname@example.org email address). Yet, again, I want users to feel happy communicating to our customer care team, and your blog points out this isn’t the case.
She mentions a transition she is making to a new US office and a colleague that will be assisting her throughout the process.
Additionally all customer inquires, excluding claims, should be responded to within 24 hours – anything longer for a non-claim communication is too long.
Our business model and customer service works extremely well in the UK – we’re the biggest free cashback site – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evolve to reach, if not surpass, America’s customer service expectations. I think, as you direct towards, it’s our cultural difference that has let us down; not our intentions. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot by having a US office.
My deputy, Lindsey, is in (redacted) at the moment but will be back in the office on Wednesday. I would like to ask your permission for a member of my team to post a comment in response to your blog on Thursday? That will give Lindsey 24 hours to investigate the shortcomings you’ve highlighted and explain the reasons behind other points. Alternatively I’d be happy to send it to you via email or speak to you on the phone; whichever’s your preference.
In fairness, I did speak to Natasha and she was lovely to deal with. She was honest in her assessment and wanted to give their team time to respond which seemed reasonable to me. That was Monday, March 11th with the response scheduled for Thursday, March 14th.
The following Monday, March 18th I received a message requesting a phone conversation the following day and we spoke for about 30 minutes. The result of the conversation was that this should have never happened. They have systems in place to track links and currently have a success rate of 9/10 (which is still lower than the competition) – miles away from my own experience.
She also mentioned that though their US site is two years old, they are readying an office in the United States and will aim for a 24 hour turn around on cashback claims being filed. We discussed a lack of support emails available on the site (none outside of their internal message system) and phone numbers for help. I mentioned that Zappo’s, for example, has their 800 number listed on every page of their website, and while it may not be a viable option for them to staff a call center, certainly an email address would be helpful. She understood what I was saying, said she would take the suggestion on board (British for, “fari enough, I’ll think about it”) and left it at that. She clarified some misnomers about their operation as well. The reaosn tha TCB has the highest rates in the business is because they take no commission and pass it all on to the consumer (“member”). They make money instead by selling top ad slots on the site and driving more sales to their advertisers. It was suggested that this practice may be for a limited time in the US, meaning that their offers are likely to decrease in the future, though she never explicitly said so, and gave no timeline for such a change.
At the end of the call, we agreed that I would be happy to post their response in order to be fair to all parties, I had my say, they should get theirs. I received her response on Friday, March 22nd. It should be noted that it is long, and after their response I have some screenshots to show, that the timelines they aim for were not even close to achieved. Here is John from their Customer Service Team:
Thank you very much for allowing me to respond to your blog post.
My name’s John and I work in the customer care team at TopCashback. I’m very sorry to read that you’ve had an unhappy and frustrating time with us. I additionally extend our apologies to anyone who’s used us and may feel the same way. It’s absolutely not our intention for members to have anything but a smooth experience.
While British customer service may not always measure up to that of businesses across the pond, we at TopCashback don’t find anything less than clear, concise, polite and going-the-extra mile customer service acceptable. Additionally all customer inquiries, excluding claims, should be responded to within 24 hours – anything longer for a non-claim communication is too long. Our business model and customer service works extremely well in the UK – we’re the biggest free cashback site – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evolve to reach, if not surpass, America’s customer service expectations. We are a work-in-progress but we believe the end result will be well worth it for American consumers.
You mention that the claims resolution process was very lengthy, which led you to inquire further with our team. No doubt you’re very well versed on cashback sites and how they work, but I thought I’d briefly outline the claims process here so that it may shed some light on why claims can take some time to be resolved.
As mentioned, we have a dedicated customer care team and we endeavor to answer all inquiries within 24 hours. If a TopCashback member has submitted a cashback claim, once seven days have passed after the applicable transaction (to allow time for posting automatically in TopCashback accounts), the claims team will contact the retailer’s affiliate network (the company that looks after all the background technology and communication between rebates sites and retailers) about it within 14 days. We send each affiliate network two batches of claims a month – one bundle every 14 days – so that we, the affiliate network and the retailer can manage the administration of claims as effectively as possible.
This means that someone who files a claim 8+ days after their transaction might be lucky enough for it to coincide with day 14 of the relevant affiliate network’s claims cycle, so their claim will be passed on for investigation that same day. Our member will receive an email from us confirming that their claim has been passed on that day. No other emails about the claim are currently sent until we hear back from the merchant or its affiliate network, though this doesn’t mean we’re not still working on it. We frequently send polite reminders to networks to ask specific retailers whose claims are outstanding by four weeks or more to ‘shake a leg’ and take a look at our data as soon as possible so our members – who are their customers as well – are taken care of promptly.
Unfortunately this also means that someone who files a claim only the day after their transaction has to wait, initially, five days to make sure it doesn’t automatically post in their TopCashback account. Then if the eighth day after their transaction falls on day one of that retailer’s affiliate network’s claims cycle, that adds an extra 14 days to the wait time. This means the affiliate network sees the claim 19 days after our member has notified us of it. On this day – day 19 – this member will receive an email confirming their claim has been passed on. The number of members this occurs to is not the majority but the law of averages means there’s even chances of experiencing both situations, and those in between.
I’m not surprised that someone who falls into that area may be very unhappy to think it’s taken us so long to get the investigation going, though this process is currently the most efficient way to communicate claims to merchants and affiliate networks; they’re not keen on cashback sites contacting them more frequently with claims than that.
This is because once an affiliate network has a batch of TopCashback claims, it has to communicate with each retailer directly to establish whether each transaction genuinely took place (that is, if it didn’t automatically post in an account) or where the rebate was allocated (that is, if it was declined because it was paid to another website – eg a coupon site). If a rebate is declined, we are also told why. If a rebate is awarded to us, we’re told it’s approved yet we still have to wait for the money to be sent to us in the same way as if it had posted automatically. Each network and retailer has its own desired way – and timescales – to resolve claims. This is why it may seem peculiar that some retailers are a lot faster at the process than others.
All these different stages are the reason why claims can be time consuming, but we do our best to get them resolved as quickly as possible. Some claims can be resolved within a matter of weeks. With others, it is quite a few months. We never forget or close a claim. We only stop fighting for it if we’ve reached deadlock with an affiliate network/merchant or the member tells us to stop (for example, they remember they returned the item/cancelled the hotel reservation/simultaneously used a coupon that wasn’t listed on TopCashback).
In the future, for every month or so that the claims resolution process is taking, we’ll send the member an email to confirm that we’re still fighting for it; so our members don’t feel their claims may have disappeared into a black hole.
We’re also finishing up an email, that’ll automatically be sent to our members each week, that contains a list of retailers that were clicked through to via TopCashback in the previous seven days but it doesn’t seem, from our records, that a purchase was made. This is so members are prompted to check their transactions have posted in their TopCashback account and, if not, to prompt them to make claims if they are owed cashback. We hope you think this will be a valuable improvement to our service.
As you have mentioned in your article, we strive to offer the highest cashback rates on US the market. We’re the only cashback site in America that gives its members the full commission rate we’re paid -100%. We don’t keep a share like all the others. One of the fundamental reasons we are able to offer our members 100% cashback is because of the low running cost of our business. An internal messaging system is more cost effective than a customer telephone line and being based in the UK, it’s additionally cheaper for our US members who would have to make an international phone call. We also choose to communicate with members through internal messages for security purposes. By receiving communications from members internally we know they have already passed the necessary security to gain access to the account in question, which is a more time and cost-effective system. It also ensures that we have a record of all messages to refer back to in order to achieve a quicker and better resolution. This is the reason we don’t display a customer service email as, effectively, members can email customer care representatives through the ‘My Account’ facility.
With regards to our links tracking, links always track (provided members use correct cookie settings), however it can sometimes be the case that retailers attribute commissions to other websites in error. Once a member has highlighted a transaction that hasn’t posted, our customer service agents track it down and contact the retailer’s network to re-allocate the commission, so that we can pass it on to the member. We strive to track down and re-allocate all rebates that haven’t tracked. We use the same networks and tracking links as every other US cashback site so our tracking times and reliability should be the same, if not better taking into consideration the work of our full time dedicated team. Our UK success rate at allocating misplaced rebates with our members is 99.9%, a percentage our US team is constantly working towards hitting. We are a very ethical company whose motto is ‘do as you would be done by’ and we always endeavor to fight our members corners to get to a resolution we would be happy with ourselves.
I hope this information has helped to explain the reason behind some of the issues you were experiencing and restore some of your lost confidence in our website.
Additionally you and your readers may be interested to know that we are opening our first US office on the east coast in the next few weeks. We look forward to growing our team in the US and not only offering the best cashback rates in America but the best regarded customer service as well – we promise we’ll do our utmost to do so.
John in the TopCashback Customer Services Team
So while I have to say that the response has been substantial, and overall pleasant from Natasha, Lindsey and John, the timelines he mentions may be their policy but simply are not being met. Further, I noticed an entire paragraph that seems to be part of a script that may be often used, maybe not but interesting all the same that some of the exact same words were used line for line.
Here is a chart of claims filed that still appear on my account on TCB:
Two days after the post went live, the Qantas rebate came through without me even discussing it. This suggests to me that it was there all along but someone failed to update my account with the tracked correction.
Once I got back into the account to take a further look, I “nudged” them (this is the actual term they use, there was no physical cajoling) and the rest came through – all but one. Look at the timeline on this! Literally more than five months since the Qantas claim was filed and over six months since the purchase was made. In the other cases you can see that it was still longer. The second one from top was purchased July 6th, filed a month later (giving more than the 7 days John suggested) and was finally settled (after a number of nudges) on March 14th. That’s a long time. So long, that I thought I would visualize it for you.
That’s right, 252 days! That’s a LOT longer than what John had said above. Then of course there is one still outstanding.
But that’s only been 195 days since the order was placed, and only 178 days since I filed the claim.
I say all that to say this. Their customer service was amazing once I posted the article, their team was polite, and some of the remaining claims were settled as a result of this blog. But most of my readers don’t have their own blog and some readers HAVE had similar experiences to my own. While I believe their intentions may have been good, my experience was not. The fact that one of these claims is still active even after a nudge last week, plus this very public issue, is one reason that despite their pleasantness, good intentions and great rates, I am still not going to recommend TCB for my readers or use it myself. While I am not likely to be their biggest fish, in this experimental stage with them (I long left the site) I spent some $1,997 with their retailers – you’d think they would like more customers like me. I will of course draw down the hard-earned (and I don’t think anyone can take that claim away from me) to my bank account this week.
Once they get the ship turned around, maybe some day I will return. But until then, you should certainly consider:
In full disclosure, I do get $5 for anyone who joins via the above link, though TCB offers $10, I never received that commission either. I am 100% positive that the person joined and that they spent on the site to qualify for the terms and conditions… I should know because afterall it was the Sherpstress.
I guess I could file a claim, but who knows where I will be 252 days from now.