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Mea Culpa

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Posted August 13, 2001 By Robyn Greenspan     Feedback

With all the thousands of details swirling around an e-commerce site, there are bound to be mistakes -- sometimes at the customers' expense.

With all the thousands of details swirling around an e-commerce site, there are bound to be mistakes — sometimes at the customers' expense. When your e-business inadvertently makes an error that affects customers, don't expect a canned e-mail to suffice. To restore confidence and retain the business, your company should go to extraordinary measures to convey your apologies and maintain customer satisfaction.

With many competitors fighting for the same digital dollars, e-commerce mistakes can sometimes mean the end of the relationship with the customer. However, depending on the severity of the error, it can be also used as an opportunity to establish personal interaction and actually improve the relationship.

The best course of action when a customer brings a mistake to your attention is to correct it immediately and then handle the situation gracefully by admitting culpability rather than shifting the blame. Not only should efforts be made to satisfy the customer but professional integrity should be retained as well.

Here are some common customer-affecting mistakes and possible apologetic actions:

  • Web page technical errors — If you realize that pages aren't accessible or systems aren't working properly, display a notification on the splash page letting customers know that you expect to have the problem resolved shortly. If your site is down for an extended period of time, send e-mail to your customers asking them to be patient and letting them know you will alert them when service is restored.

  • Out-of-stock items still showing — If a customer places an order for an item that is on your Web site but no longer available, you can still save the transaction. You may elect to buy the item elsewhere and fulfill the order, even if you incur additional expenses. Or you can admit the mistake, and issue an apology along with a recommendation for a comparable item at an equal or lesser price or a gift certificate toward the next purchase.

  • Incorrect pricing — This could be a devastating mistake and should be corrected immediately. If it is economically feasible to fulfill the order at the wrong price, do it. But if the mistake represents an incredible financial blow, offer customers gift certificates, coupons, discounts, free shipping — as much as you can afford to retain the business.

  • Mishandled orders — Sometimes an order just falls through the cracks. Whether it's due to technical or human error, try to do anything necessary to appease the customer. Obviously, if the order was a time-sensitive gift that never showed up, you may have to do quite a bit to restore customer confidence.

Try to handle every mistake with a personal touch, such as a phone call or card. Also, don't give away the store to retain a customer that may not offer a positive return on the investment. Even if you lose a customer, try to turn a mistake into a learning experience and vow not to repeat the error.

Reprinted from ECommerce Guide.

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