Should You Trust Your Customers?

The holidays and Christmas are always a difficult time for an online store because you have to deal with the flood of orders that come in. You have to deal with customers wanting to make returns. You have to interact with frustrated people trying to make last minute purchases for their friends and loved ones. For most retail businesses, the holidays are an absolute nightmare.

Even if you sell quality products and run a robust operation, the sheer number of orders and customers will create a variety of problems that are beyond your control. For example, every online store relies on 3rd party shippers in order to deliver their products to the end customer. What happens when there’s a breakdown with your shipper? When something doesn’t get delivered, is it the shippers’ fault or yours? What can you do about it? When a customer makes a complaint, do you trust that they are telling the truth?

ingodwetrust

Photo By Kevin Dooley

Here are 3 situations that we had to deal with during the last 3 weeks of the holiday season. Would you place your trust with these customers?

Customer A: Package not delivered yet

This particular customer ordered some linens from us well over 3 weeks before Christmas. Under normal circumstances, her order should have been delivered within 2-5 business days through the United States Postal Service. However due to the holidays, her package was delayed in transit.

Erratic delivery times are not an uncommon occurrence with USPS and is the main drawback of using the United States Postal Service as your primary shipping carrier. Packages are usually delivered on time but all forms of delivery except express mail offer no guarantees as to the exact arrival time. We use USPS for small orders because it is the least expensive way to ship.

In any case, this customer called us inquiring what was taking so long for her order to be delivered. Checking the tracking number, her order appeared to be in transit but 3 weeks had already elapsed. Based on the delivery confirmation, she had not received her order yet and it was starting to look like her order was either lost in the mail or severely delayed.

Seeing as Christmas was rapidly approaching, we had a hard decision to make. Do we ask her to wait and jeopardize her not getting her order in time for Christmas? Do we send her another package and have her mail the extra package back to us? Do we not respond and wait it out?

We opted to send her another package. Because this particular customer ordered well in advance, we didn’t want to risk her not receiving her order in time for Christmas. While it wasn’t our fault her package was delayed, we felt the need to at least make an effort to rectify the situation.

So we shipped out another package to her with an extra shipping label so she could ship the extra package back to us if she ever received it. There was really nothing obligating her to send anything back to us except for mutual trust.

It still remains to be seen whether she’ll send the extra package back to us. Did we make the right decision?

Customer B: Package Marked As Delivered But Not Received

This particular customer contacted us 4 days before Christmas inquiring about an order she placed way back during Thanksgiving. When we checked her tracking number, it indicated that her package was successfully delivered well over 3 weeks ago. However, even though the package was marked as delivered, the customer claimed that she never received it.

This was a tough one. How would we know whether the customer was lying or not? The package was marked as ‘delivered’ but do we trust the customer or the United States Postal Service?

There was no correct answer here so we simply went with our gut. The customer’s order was for a very small dollar amount. If she was trying to scam us, she probably would have ordered something more expensive. Furthermore, she was extremely polite in her emails. The tone of her emails gave the impression that she was telling the truth.

The upshot is that we sent her another package and took a loss on this transaction. We really didn’t have to do this. After all, even if she decided to dispute the charge, we had the delivery confirmation number as proof that she had received her order. But the bottom line was that my wife and I felt that this small loss was worth it to keep the customer happy.

Customer C: Personal Checks

Some of our customers still don’t feel comfortable paying for items with their credit cards. As a result, their only recourse is to send a cashier’s check or money order to make a purchase.

This particular customer placed an order with us online and opted to pay by cashier’s check. The problem though was that she sent us a personal check instead. The other problem was that she needed her order delivered as soon as possible.

Normally, we don’t accept personal checks at all. But this lady came across as really sweet over the phone so we decided to let it slide this one time. The only issue was that she wanted her items to be shipped immediately even though we hadn’t yet deposited her check.

Because it was a personal check, we wanted to wait a full 5 days for her check to completely clear prior to sending out her order. So did we send it?

We ended up canceling this order because of the risks. In the back of my mind, this lady seemed trustworthy, but we didn’t want to risk the penalty of accepting a bad check. For the sake of anyone who has never received a bad check before, the fees involved are pretty egregious. The sad part is that you have to pay the bounced check fee just for attempting to make the deposit even though you are not at fault.

In any case, this transaction was a tough call especially since it was a very large order and the transaction amount was several hundred dollars. But in the end, we decided to stick with our policies. I must say though, the extra money would have been nice. I could have gotten my wife that Ferragamo purse! Oh well, too bad.

Should You Trust Your Customers?

It’s a fine line in determining whether or not your customer is worthy of your trust. The situations described above are tough calls to make especially since your store has a reputation to uphold and money to make.

My general philosophy is that if the customer is placing their trust in your store to deliver the goods that you have advertised, that you should return their trust as well. But sometimes it can be a hard call to make. Would any of you have made different decisions? If so, how would you have handled the situation differently?

Ready To Get Serious About Starting An Online Business?


If you are really considering starting your own online business, then you have to check out my free mini course on How To Create A Niche Online Store In 5 Easy Steps.

In this 6 day mini course, I reveal the steps that my wife and I took to earn 100 thousand dollars in the span of just a year. Best of all, it's absolutely free!

Give Me Access To The Free Course!
Enter Your Email Address:

Similar Posts

Have you read these?

20 thoughts on “Should You Trust Your Customers?”

  1. In general I’ve found that stores who trust their customers get better return business and word of mouth. I recently bought a refurbished computer. In opening the box it appeared that a piece of the power cord setup was missing. I called the company and without question they sent me an entire power unit which retails for about $60 or so. This tells me this is a company that stands behind it’s product and makes me feel better about my purchase and makes me more inclined to deal with them later on.

    Yeah, you will probably get some fraud, but the general good will you create will be worth much more than the product itself. Word of mouth advertising is priceless!

  2. You shouldn’t trust anybody, because basically underneath it all, we are all human, which means we are all inclined to be evil. It takes a lot of work to not be evil. Most people, actually embrace it, and go to the dark side. Beware of the wolf in sheeps clothing. That is the most deadly, kinda like that Madoff guy.

    1. Hey Shea,

      Are we feeling a little cynical today?:)

  3. I agree with FFB above completely, I got side tracked, I meant the human race in general, philosophy, I guess, different from business principals

  4. I think you handled these situations correctly, or at leas the way I would. When you’re in customer service-and let’s face not matter what business you’re in, you’re in customer service-you have to treat your customers with respect and that means giving them the benefit of the doubt. Now, if you start to see a pattern with a particular customer, well you have to take a stronger line. With so much competition out there, the quickest way you can lose a customer is by showing them you don’t care about whether or not they are satisfied with your service.

    1. Hey Scott,

      That was the conclusion that my wife and I came to when we decided to take losses on these transactions. I hope that this all pays off in the long run for our store.

  5. I think you made the right choice in all your examples. That lady with the check should know better. I’m going out on a limb and guessing she was older. I wouldn’t expect a company to take my check… let alone ship me my order without letting the check clear.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      I actually didn’t get the age of that woman, but she definitely sounded at least in her 50′s if not older. Maybe it’s the nature of what we sell, but we do get a fair percentage of people who aren’t comfortable with credit card transactions online.

  6. I would never expect most business to accept checks anymore – especially online (its not a print Sears and Robuck catalog).

    I did have an experience where I ordered a dress from Saks.com during Cyber Monday. When I checked the tracking number though FedEx a few days later, they said it was delivered to our mailbox service. Well, it wasn’t. The tracking information even said that they left it at a “back door” which is virtually impossible because there is no accessible “backdoor” to the building.

    I called and Saks sent another package right away. We got the original package the next day. It turns out that the FedEx driver in our area sometimes lie and say a package was delivered when it wasn’t to keep from getting in trouble for missing deadlines.

    1. Hi Carla,

      That’s interesting. I wonder if Saks complained to FedEx and got their money back. I tried to contact USPS on the phone, online and in person to no avail. They just don’t seem to care. Marking the package as delivered is totally wrong. It just sucks that there’s no way to track things and hold the delivery guy accountable for his actions. Once we sell enough volume to negotiate with UPS or FedEx, USPS will be a thing of the past. I hate USPS. They are the most unreliable carrier of them all.

  7. @Steve

    This is interesting because USPS has been more reliable than FedEx in my recent experience.

    I don’t know if Saks got their money back, but they did end up crediting me for the cost of shipping (even though it wasn’t their fault). The difference is, large companies can afford to do that, we cant!

  8. Well, I had a computer shop for 13 years. I always try to see the good in people, so I would believe the customer unless I know some that tells me different.

    Thank You,
    Giovanna Garcia

    1. Hi Giovanna,

      It’s interesting. I used to sell computer parts as well and I found that tech buyers tend to less trustworthy in general. I had several people try to return equipment that was “fried” that they denied they broke themselves. I also had people try and return different items than they purchased. In any case, I agree with you. Trust first unless there’s a reason not to.

  9. Steve,

    Congratulations on having your article picked as one of the Month’s Top Ten blogposts for the Carnival of Trust.

    You can see the Carnival of Trust this month at Diane Levin’s MediationChannel, at
    http://mediationchannel.com/2009/01/12/january-2009-carnival-of-trust/

    The Carnival of Trust is the brainchild of Charles H. Green at TrustedAdvisor.com. You can read more about the Carnival (past carnivals, how to submit) at
    http://trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters.carnivalofTrust/

    Congratulations. And I really enjoyed the article. (For what it’s worth, I would have trusted all three. But that’s just me. Good food for thought, thanks).

    Charles H. Green

    1. Thanks Charles,

      I just took a look at both websites and your credentials are impressive. Glad you enjoyed the article. I’m sure that I’ll have more material to submit in future posts. Thanks for the opportunity.

  10. I would say yes we should trust the customer as trust will help not only retain existing customers but also attract new customers

  11. I don’t have much to say direct from my end. But may i just ask if “HOW DO YOU DO NOW?”

    Thanks

    john

  12. Ken says:

    “The holidays and Christmas are always a difficult time for an online store because you have to deal with the flood of orders that come in.”

    What a great problem to have!

    No, I would not have made different decisions. The check purchase might have panned out, but sooner or later, without your policy you would be caught out. Also, I think the check-purchase lady likely knew she had put you in a financially awkward position, and technically by not paying up-front she did not put her trust in you, so she did not deserve your trust. Also, I think fraud is more likely with large orders.

    The first two cases were fairly easy decisions I think, but what would you do if they were large orders? I don’t know the answer to this, but I’m wondering if the customer would have to sign for delivery, or if insurance is required on orders over a certain amount.

    Ultimately, as a consumer, I think it is a merchant responsibility to deliver my package (or refund) once I have paid for it. If the carrier can’t get it right, it shouldn’t be my problem, as I have already paid for the goods.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>