By Jayaram V
In my experience, I found the most troublesome customers are
those who make mistakes in choosing their products and services
or those who do not pay attention to detail and later complain that
they have been misled. In case of online business, such mistakes
are more common and so also complaints from customers want to pass
on the cost of such mistakes to the sellers. If you are doing online
business, you know how difficult it is to protect your online reputation.
Years ago, Amazon introduced customer reviews and the practice was
picked up later on by several. While the reviews help new customers
to make intelligent purchase decisions, they also make many online
merchants vulnerable to threats, fraudulent claims and bogus
complaints. It is very easy for a customer to threaten an online
merchant with a bad review and get away with it. If you want to
spoil the reputation of an online merchant, you have many avenues
available to you to do it and you can leave behind a trail of destruction
which will be difficult for the merchants to erase. While big companies
may manage to deal with such situations with the help of money and
a team of lawyers, small merchants and fledgling companies have
fewer options to deal with them and survive.
Here are a few instances how online businesses can come under
1. A Customer chooses a wrong product. After the product is shipped,
the customer informs the seller that he or she was shipped a wrong
product. The customer would blame the merchant for providing false
information or wrong information, even though the product information
is showing correctly the product details. For example, in one instance,
a customer ordered an artificial bamboo plant and later complained
that she received an artificial plant instead of a real bamboo plant!
That particular site specializes in selling only artificial plants
and therefore it was not clear why the customer thought she was
buying a natural plant while the product itself was placed in the
category of aritificial plants. Returning the plant back to the
warehouse meant heavy shipment costs, since the plant was about
6 feet and weighed over 15 pounds and the customer demanded that
the merchant should bear the entire two and fro costs, since it
was their fault!
2. Customer provides a wrong billing address. The shippers fail
to deliver the product at the address since the address does not
exist or the place is vacant. The shipper may or may not return
the package back to the merchant or the new occupant at the address
collects the package and does not bother to return. Customer demands
full refund or files a chargeback stating that she did not receive
the product. Since no signature was obtained, which is usually the
case fo small packages, the merchant ends up refunding the customer.
3. Customer complains two or three weeks after delivery that
she did not receive the packagte although the tracking information
clearly shows that the package was delivered at the specified address.
Obviously someone stole the package from the mail box or from the
multistory apartment complex where the customer lives. Merchant
is forced to refund the entire amount, since no signature was obtained
at the time of receipt of the package, whch is again the norm for
most small order items.
4. Customer places an order, but forgets about the order. A month
or two later contacts the bank and raises a chargeback. The merchant
is forced to fax all the documents to the banker to prove that an
order was placed and fulfilled.
5. Customer places an order for an expensive product. On receiving
it she decides to return the item. She reviews the merchant's
return policy and notices that the return costs are to be paid by
the customer. She calls the merchant and demands that the shipping
costs should be paid by the merchant because she received a defective
product or probably a "fake product."
6. Customer chooses a wrong shipping option and then blames the
merchant for over charging him if she has chosen an expensive shipping
method or for delaying the shipment if she has chosen the standard
7. Customer is unfamiliar with the online payment process or
a provides wrong pin number or wrong street address during credit
card processing and blames the merchant for keeping the transaction
on hold or for having a faulty payment gateway. Alternatively, even
though no transaction took place, she would demand that since the
merchant has collected the payment he should ship the order
These are a few instances, where small online businesses and
merchants can come under pressure for no fault of theirs. It is
not that the customer is always wrong or the merchants are always
right. Sometimes, merchants do make mistakes in fulfilling the orders
and cause inconvenience to the customers. Some merchants may also
indulge in unethical business practices or fail to provide correct
product information. These examples are provided to illustrate how
small businesses that manage their businesses ethically can come
into friction with some customers and find themselves in hot spots.
They are relevant to our discussion because in the end they cost
small merchants time, money and reputation. They may also severely
interrupt their normal business operations, as most of the businesses
are run with tight budgets and limited staff.
Online merchants have also to cope with bad reviews. While satisfied
customers rarely bother to leave their positive remarks, disgruntled
customers promptly file a bad review and pour out their anger and
frustration in no uncertain terms. It is tough to manage online
business for this very reason. Say if you have filled a thousand
orders and of them you had problems with ten. you can expect that
those ten will most likely leave negative remarks while the rest
990 may say nothing about their experience. Therefore, when a new
merchant visits your site, he will most likely see the negative
reviews and form a negative opinion about you.
While you cannot complete eliminate problems such as these, you
can minimize them to some extent by improving your communication
with the customers and by specifying your business terms and conditions
clearly on the website. The following suggestions are used by many
merchants to minimize the risks inherent in online business.
1. Lay down your terms and conditions clearly.
2. Make your return policy, shipping policy and taxation policy
as explicit as possible.
3. Make sure that the customer receives a copy of the order as
soon as it is placed with full details.
4. Where customer provides different billing and shipping addresses,
do not fulfill the order unless you contact the customer and verify
the details. If the order amount is high, you should even ask for
a copy of photo ID.
5. Send the customer tracking information as soon as the order
is shipped. If the order amount exceed $250, make sure that you
ask the shipper to collect customer signature.
6. Resolve disputes with customers in a timely fashion. Even
if the customers are at fault, it helps if you show them leniency
and resolve the matter to their satisfaction. Most customers who
make mistakes know that they have made a mistake and they readily
respond to a positive and amicable solution on your part.
7. Learn from your mistakes. Improve product information based
on your experience and minimize the scope for ambiguity and misundestanding.
8. Where you are at fault, accept it gracefully, even if it may
cost you money.
9. Avoid gimmicks and misleading offers.
10. Keep visiting online forums and discussion forums to know
how other businesses and merchants are dealing with similar problems
and what remedies and suggestions they are following.
11. Encourage customers to leave reviews and feedback. Send them
reminder emails a few days after the order has been shipped and
delivered. Follow up with a few more reminders.
Prserver all communication with the customers. You may need it
later in the event of a dispute
12. Make sure that your online systems and E-commerce website
are user friendly, robust, secure and reliable.
Online businesses have many drawbacks. It is very difficult for
them to build customer loyalty even with exceptional service. In
the online world, good service is taken for granted while bad service
is seldom forgiven. Whatever may be the level of your service, know
that customers are attracted primarily to the lowest prices and
reviews from previous customers. Other things being equal, even
pennies matter. So if you are an online merchant, it is natural
on your part to feel frustrated, seeing and knowing that while customers
expect the highest level of service, they do not usually reward
it with a repeat order. On the top of it, you may have to answer
for the mistakes they may make in choosing the products or returning
their orders. You have to be therefore doubly careful of what you
do and say to them in the course of your business through the website,
emails and personally over the phone. In case of transactions, customers
also enjoy many advantages from the credit card companies, government
agencies, customer protection platforms and the various opportunties
and avenues available to them on the internet to vent their feelings
and opinions. Therefore, whatever you do, know that customers matter,
their opinions matters and no matter who is at fault, it is your
duty to resolve the problems. You have to keep in mind that the
environment in which you operate as a business owner, is heavily
pitted against you and least forgiving.