After a hard week of work and school, Friday night is takeaway night at our house. My son is in his mid-teens and approaching his mock exams.  My wife works in recruitment and the constant merry-go-round of interviews and candidate search for demanding clients can leave her frazzled by Friday.  So in common, I imagine, with many families, we order a tasty selection from our local Chinese takeaway and enjoy it as a family – it’s our effort-free Friday Feast.

On this particular Friday evening, my wife and I arrived home to find our son sitting at the table with a large selection of hot Chinese food, still in its plastic containers. He swore he hadn’t ordered it; it had just arrived from our favourite restaurant. He was asked to pay £28.00, which he did, thinking I must have phoned the order in advance. When we checked the food, it was far removed from what we usually order and contained exotic delicacies like squid (loved by many, but we never order it).

So we called the Chinese restaurant to complain, get a refund or exchange the food – which seemed perfectly reasonable under the circumstances.  Except that we were met not with apologies, but with a barrage of denial and the insistence that our son had actually placed this order!

It’s easy to ruin a good customer relationship.  It costs good money to win new customers but having won their business, keeping them shopping with you loyally over years can deliver considerable lifetime value.  What a waste then, to trash any customer relationship.

I confess I have a particular dislike of systems that don’t work in the way in which they’re intended to, and processes which frustrate you when they fall over – especially when no one seems to care.

Take as an example the process of ordering goods from overseas. If you’re new to buying on the internet from suppliers based overseas, you can easily fall into the ‘bargain basement’ trap.  This is where you get suckered in by an unbelievably low price for that jacket or bag you’ve always fancied only to be hammered with duty and vat costs you hadn’t anticipated when you placed your order.  These can easily add 25% to the cost, turning that ‘bargain basement’ price into something altogether less appealing.

Similar experiences have been documented in an excellent article by You can read it here.

Many large retailers are guilty of ignoring the issue of vat and import duties because they feel (mistakenly in my opinion) that if they were to draw attention to the fact that a particular purchase will attract extra costs, it would lead the buyer to abandon their shopping cart and with it, any intention to buy. But once a customer has been hit with unexpected extra costs after buying goods from your website, what do you think? Are they likely to return and shop again with you, or not?  Do you think they’ll recommend your site to their Facebook friends, or not? Most likely, they’ll take to social media to vent their frustration at being ‘mislead’ into thinking they were getting a bargain in the first place.

I take the opposite view to those large retailers. I believe that by reminding the prospective buyer that their purchase will attract tax and duty as it crosses international borders, they enhance their reputation as a trusted supplier.

Take this one step further for an even more comprehensive level of service quality and trust.  The supplier alerts the buyer to the fees and duty and then offers them a means by which to pay those duties up-front (that would be CC Collect), thus avoiding delivery delays and complications.  The supplier, having worked hard to attract the customer in the first place, is now providing a structured, informative and easy-to-use process, making them the kind of business to which the buyer can return again and again, in confidence.

In the case of our Chinese restaurant, by not adhering to a simple system of checks and falling into complacency, it became all too easy to make a mistake.  The mistake was compounded by their refusal to take responsibility and instead blaming our son and by their failure to make amends. The net result to them is the loss of a valued customer, one who had placed orders on a regular basis over many months, and would doubtless have placed many more.

In the case of large retailers, the damage can be many times worse.  With aggrieved customers ever more prepared to take to social media to amplify their dissatisfactions, there is no limit to the reputational and brand damage. The internet is full of such stories if you ever doubt the power of social media.

The lesson, as always, is to put the customer first.  If you help your customers to avoid nasty surprises and unexpected costs and make it easy for them to meet their financial and tax obligations on their purchases, they will return time and again, confident in the ease with which they can do business with you.