An Ecommerce Seller’s Thoughts about Punctuality, Promptness, and Exceptional Performance

Posted on September 15, 2009. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , , |

Punctuality is very important to some people and is usually most important to people who see promptness as a sign of respect.  Personally, I make it my mission in life to always be punctual.  One lesson I have passed along to my kids is that being punctual is always important but it is absolutely critical to be on time when you are asking someone to give you something (like an interview where you want the person to give you a job) or when you are the one asking for a favor (like hitching a ride with someone who is planning on going to the mall on Saturday).

And sometimes people who place great value on being punctual themselves are not distressed when others are not so prompt.  After being an entrepreneur for more than a decade, having two children, and dealing with a partner on a third military tour overseas, there just isn’t too much that gets me upset anymore.  It takes a pretty major event to get me riled up.  So if someone is a little late for a meeting with me, it just isn’t that big of a deal.

So, how do you know when punctuality is important to someone?  Well,  sometimes they will tell you.  I once took a college course from a professor who told us the first day of class that his class started at 9 am sharp.  He informed us that class did not start at 9:01 am or 9:02 am and he ordered us to be on time every time.  The next class period we all sat in our seats and then exactly at 9 am the instructor walked into class and he proceeded to close and lock both doors leading into the lecture hall.  The first 15 minutes we could hear students outside trying to turn the door handle and come in but they could not.  One girl sitting near me was in such shock that she made a comment about not being sure the professor could do that since it was probably a fire hazard.  But the door was locked from the inside so that we could all leave if we wanted or needed to but no one could come in. 

It was rather disturbing in the beginning but I actually came to like the class and the professor very much.  Unlike some college classes where the instructor was very subjective in his or her grading and you were never quite sure what was important in class, this professor was straightforward in his requirements and his grading.  Follow his rules, do the projects he assigned, study what he lectured about and getting an A was not difficult.

I really prefer when people are very clear about their requirements.  I find it much easier to please someone who makes their preferences known.  As an ecommerce seller, unfortunately I usually don’t have the benefit of knowing what each of my customers thinks is most important about their transaction with me.  So, the only solution (for me) is to make everything about their purchase great.

To some online buyers, prompt shipping is critically important.  And other buyers, like myself, take a much more laid-back approach to the timely delivery of an item.  Of course, I remember back when mail order catalogs advertised delivery in “4 to 6 weeks”. 

And, then, there are those ocassions where I really want something to arrive in a specified time.  So, if I buy something from a seller who advertises only standard shipping rates and has a 3 business day handling time then I know to expect the item not to arrive in 2 days so I would never purchase the item hoping it would arrive in 2 days.  That would be unreasonable on my part.  But I may go ahead and include a note with my order saying something like “I purchased this item today Sept 15th for a birthday gift that I’ll be giving on Oct 2nd.  I believe that even with your stated handling time and advertised shipping method that my item will arrive in time.  If, however, you think that might not be possible then please contact me with your expedited shipping rates so that I can make an informed decision.  Thanks.”

I’m really laid-back concerning the time a seller, big or small, takes to get my item to me just as I’m really laid-back if I have an appointment and someone is a few minutes late.  But I hold myself to a different standard.  I am not late for appointments for several reasons but mostly because I never know if the other person places great emphasis on timeliness.  And I am always prompt when shipping online orders because I never know which customers place great emphasis on their order arriving timely.   

Most online buyers aren’t going to tell an ecommerce seller in advance about something that is important to them but they may complain about something after the fact.  As a successful online merchant, you don’t want to get those emails and phone calls from customers who are dissatisfied.  And the best way to avoid customer dissatisfaction is to assume that everthing is important to every customer.    You may have certain expectations as an online buyer but you can never assume that your buyers  have your same expectations.

So, as an ecommerce seller we have to be laid-back with our customers when they are a little late with their payment or a little picky about the transaction.  Stated simply, we have to overlook the small things our customers do and not get irritated easily.  But then we have to hold ourselves to a much higher standard.  We have to ship every package promptly just as if every customer needs the package for a birthday gift in a few day’s time but failed to notify us in advance of the urgency.  To do otherwise is a sign of disrespect at which some customers just simply shrug their shoulders and move on and they’ll be back again to order from you in the future.  But for others, it is an offense so egregious that they will lock the door on you and never enter your e-store again.       

Most of the time I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I get a demanding customer who communicates with me in advance.  I don’t see it as a bother but rather I view it as an opportunity to get it 100% right.  If the buyer tells me explictly in advance what is important to them then I can meet and/or exceed their expectations because those expectations are known to me.  But most online transactions don’t lend themselves to customers communicating their very specific needs and desires about each transaction.  So, in our company, we do not treat our online customers as we ourselves would want to be treated but rather we treat customers better than we would expect to be treated.  And, for more than a decade, that philosophy has served us well.

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