Mea Culpa

Robyn Greenspan

Updated · Aug 13, 2001

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

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

  • 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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  • Robyn Greenspan
    Robyn Greenspan

    Robyn Greenspan, an independent researcher and speaker, is interested in innovation, market trends and information technology. She was a participant in the AI Summit and also took part in the IEEE International Conference on Edge Computing, International SOA Symposium series and the International Cloud Symposium series. She graduated from Temple University. She was previously the communications and research manager for the AMS, an internationally recognized professional association that advances knowledge in the IT and business management areas.

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