Is Trust a Word in the Customer Relations Dictionary?

Trust is implicit in the buying process, but no place more so than online. You don’t give your credit card over with one hand and grab the package with the other. You give your credit card, sit back and wait, trusting the merchant to complete the sale.

I’ve been thinking about this element of trust thanks to a recent experience that made me wonder why if I trust e-tailers so much, they can’t trust me just a little.

The other day, some children’s bedding we ordered online showed up on the front doorstep. The side of the box clearly said “fragile.” Well, at least it was clear before the box was obviously stomped on and, apparently, dragged from the warehouse to my house behind the truck.

Some of the merchandise inside was damaged as well. I grabbed the phone and let the e-tailer at the other end know about it. For the record, the retailer also deals in catalogs, so they were right by the phone when we called and were fairly responsive and, it seemed, experienced in these things. They pledged to make good, and dispatched Federal Express to pick the package up the next day.

But we’d have to wait to get our replacements. And wait we did.

Patience: A Virtue

First, we waited a few days, figuring that would be long enough for FedEx to speed the package back to the merchant. Then we spoke with a customer service representative who said it would take another few days for the package’s presence to register in the company’s database.

“It’s probably sitting in the warehouse right now,” she said, in what I think was an attempt to reassure us.

She also said someone would call us when they received it, which they never did. But that’s not the point.

In the end, it was two weeks to the day between the time the damaged goods arrived and the replacements showed up. All through the interim, we walked past the other three-fourths of the set, cursing the e-tailer under our breaths.

In No One We Trust

And it was in one of my many walks past that damaged box that it dawned on me that we had been duped. We had trusted the e-tailer with what was essentially our money, while they wouldn’t trust us with one lousy bed sheet.

No, they wanted proof not only that we had sent it but that it had arrived back in the warehouse and had been scanned into the computer system. Why? I have no idea. The sheet was ruined, but they wanted it back all the same.

Now I understand some level of caution on the part of retailers in this arena. You can’t be sending out replacement digital camcorders or DVD players just because someone promises on the phone they sent the broken one back. But you have to exercise some reasonable amount of sense, dont you?

Shades of Gray

Where customer service often breaks down, it seems to me, is in the subtle areas. The black-and-white stuff is pretty simple. Something’s broken, you replace it. Customers complain, you appease them in some way.

But when things get a little more complicated, a shade more gray, customer service seems unable to match the subtlety of the situation with a subtle response.

Now I know that it’s a lot to ask that every customer service rep in the world be trained to handle every situation. I’m not even asking for that. All I’m asking is for a little trust to be built into the system.


We checked the other day and they posed the charge to our credit card the day we placed the order, three days before we received it. We trusted they would do right by us, and eventually, they did. But when it came time to trust us, they couldn’t return the favor.

And now we’re wondering whether we can trust them again as well.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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