Negotiation, Negotiation, Negotiation

UK Property Investment news and comments from Mark Harrison of

Oops – broken process

Posted by markharrison on May 19, 2008

The following is a true story, but before I tell it, I should make clear that I’ve already written to the customer apologising for what I’m about to relate (and, obviously, I’m not going to say who it is.)

However, I think the story below demonstrates something very important about small businesses – namely that processes are important, and that while it’s relatively easy to rely on “employing good people”, that even with the best people in the world, there’s a need for some basic processes that need to be followed (and checked.)

Let’s roll back the clock a few years. In 2004, I put together a CD set called “The UK Property Millionaire” for / with Nightingale Conant. The first 3 CDs are “timeless stuff” about property investment – the fourth was a “for the now”, and the idea was/is that it would be updated every 2-3 years.

In addition to Nightingale Conant offering them, I can buy them at cost and sell them directly (which I do.)

Sure enough, come 2006, I recorded a new version of the final CD, which meant selling off the old stock, and releasing the new version. At the time, I added a page with a “buy now” button to my website.

What this does is takes the customer to PayPal, where they can, obviously, pay. PayPal charge fees for doing this, but handle things like the credit card processing, and generally make it easy.

When PayPal take the money, they send me an email to let me know they’ve done so. One of us then checks the email, sees whether any physical product needs to be shipped (most of our sales are ebooks which our site ships automatically), and all is well.

Then, once a month, we take the PayPal summaries, and update our own accounts with them… sorting out the VAT on the way.

What used to happen was that we would have an additional step … which was at about 2pm each day, we would double-check PayPal to make sure that there weren’t any unshipped orders. To be brutally honest, this didn’t happen every day, but certainly happened 3-4 times each week.

You can guess what happened – we moved to just working off the emails, and on the 3rd of May, I missed one 😦

Even worse, on the 11th, the customer emailed to chase the order… and sent the email to the address PayPal had registered for order queries on that particular product… problem is, since our email server upgrade last year, this address hasn’t worked, and we hadn’t even noticed! We only get queries on about 5% of orders, and it seems that most people hit “reply” to the mail THEY get from PayPal… which sends off stuff to a different address (which does work.)

Anyway, on the 18th (Sunday), the customer tried THAT address… by this time, of course, he has been waiting over 2 weeks, AND has been waiting a week for a reply to the initial email query…. so the demand is for a refund.

Obviously, we had to do several things:

  • Give the refund
  • Give the customer a full apology
  • Offer the customer the product at half price in the unlikely event they still want to go ahead 😦
  • Work out how things had gone so badly wrong 😦

And, having just completed the fourth step, I am kicking myself – a chain of errors, a process that was 95% efficient coupled with a complaints procedure that was only 90% efficient leads to a “double-whammy” and a broken customer experience for one person who, even if they go ahead with the discounted purchase, is unlikely to ever become a “fan” (ie – someone who will recommend us to their friends.)

So, as of today, we’re back to daily Paypal checks of ordered goods as a supplement to relying on the email-based process…

… and I’m reminded of the need to set processes that work, and check that they are still being followed.


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