Financial Web Transactions: How To Deal With An Online Customer?

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-02-1911

From my readings this week, I came across an interesting post from Lazy Man and Money discussing how you can lose a potential customer in one email. Here’s what he says about looking for a place to rent:

So I went through and checked quite a few places that I liked. I e-mailed a few of them and they responded back by telling me to call a number and talking to a person. That’s the part that just strikes me as odd. I’m living in Silicon Valley. You are advertising your product on the Internet. Why can’t a time to see the place be set up on the Internet?

Okay, I’m disagreeing with the stance that Lazy Man and many others took on this topic, which is about dealing with strangers on the internet — even if they are potential customers. Lazy Man thinks it’s a pain to have to be required to call a number stated on an ad (or in other correspondence) in order to proceed with a transaction over the internet, say to set up a time to show a rental or to sell a car, etc.

But I’d like to counter that due to the impersonal nature of the internet, I’d rather proceed cautiously and have a chance to talk to a potential customer over the phone before I agree to meeting with them. Lost sale? Perhaps, but it’ll give me peace of mind. I usually use a phone screen to gauge someone’s requirements and intentions before I agree to meet with them.

I’m fine with setting up details over email because I want that paper trail, though I’d also surely want to touch base with someone over the phone a bit before I move forward on something. Being a big Craigslist user (I’ve bought and sold via Craigslist), I’ve conducted myself this way for years and so far, haven’t met with any issues really. Remember that Craigslist offers no protection from any form of transaction — unlike some other sites that may provide an escrow service or some other buffer between you and your customer or service provider.

So do you think I’m being paranoid, or acting wisely by being cautious? You can read more about my thoughts on the scary side of the web in these posts:

Here’s what else others are saying out there in the financial web:

Personal Financial Articles

Additional Finance Reads

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Trevor - 14 Year Old Blogger February 19, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Lots of carnivals and financial articles.

Peace of mind is very important and I agree with you for doing at least a phone call. Although it doesn’t make a difference it helps psychologically.

Scott @ The Passive Dad February 19, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I enjoy having the option to call, but the other day I was looking for quotes on life insurance and got frustrated that all the quotes wanted my phone number. I was just looking for some simple quotes and didn’t want 10 life insurance companies having my phone number in a sales database.

As far as banking, I do admit that I’ve opened my ING account and transferred money without speaking to anyone. When I did talk to my personal banker at Bank of America she lost $10,000 and gave me excuses why it wasn’t her fault. She claimed the money was erroneously transferred to another clients account and that it never happens. I sometimes think automation is much smoother as it takes out room for human errors.

Leah S February 20, 2009 at 7:22 am

I’m afraid you’d certainly lose me as a potential customer. I’m profoundly deaf and simply cannot use a phone. I’d think you’d be a little more sensitive to that fact, due to the large deaf community in the Bay Area, along with the Deaf School in Fremont and Ohlone College that caters very well to deaf people.

I can talk, I can read lips, but I can’t communicate with just my ears alone. And that’s why I love the internet, it’s my way of “socializing” without being constantly frustrated by what I don’t hear.

Miss M February 20, 2009 at 7:23 am

I always remember having to call the managers to set up an appointment. While the initial inquiry might be via email, everything else was over the phone. I think in this case it should be handled on a more personal level, you are calling about a place to live. You’re not ordering a widget to be delivered, this person has to decide whether or not to rent to you. You have to decide if you want to rent from them. Some personal interaction needs to happen, even hermits must emerge to eat once in a while.

Craig February 20, 2009 at 1:17 pm

It’s tough I understand both sides. you do not want to lose the customer, but they should be willing to make a call if need be. You can learn a lot just by simply talking to someone for a few mins on the phone, some feel it’s more affective than a simple little email, it’s not personal.

The Personal Finance Playbook February 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I agree that meeting up with a stranger can be dangerous – but what good will talking on the phone do to screen them? Can you hear crazy in someone’s voice?

Silicon Valley Blogger February 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Screening doesn’t have to be entirely about trying to spot “crazy” in someone’s voice. Having a phone conversation can let you know if there is an initial fit for a big ticket purchase or long term financial relationship. I guess even as a buyer, I’ve always had the habit of calling the seller for details. I want to know in advance whether the trip I will make will be worth it. I have to spend gas and my own time to check something out.

Interestingly enough, as a buyer, I’ve been able to realize that something wasn’t really up my alley based on a simple phone call. When an item is described to me, I realize it’s not exactly what I am looking for, and that saves me a trip.

Anyway, just sharing some ideas based on my own experience. Everyone has their own way of conducting business so I understand. I also feel that men and women may have differing perspectives on this.

My spouse is someone who wants to confirm over the phone as well, again for the purpose of saving time, by discussing a potential transaction.

I guess my point is that I try to be cautious as well as prudent about doing transactions over the web. From my experience, I’ve always found buyers who were willing to transact and contact me over the phone. On the flip side, I don’t take it against any seller who wants to get a call back. So I’m one of those customers who won’t mind the phone screen either.

Manshu February 21, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I am all for a phone call.

chickmagnetstuff February 23, 2009 at 2:56 am

I think I have to agree with you, its better to talk through the phone first before setting up a meeting with the customer, you’re not going to lose a customer because of that process I believe if the customer is really serious about the rent he would exert an effort to call. Business transaction should be this way 70% effort by the seller and 30% from the buyer you can’t make it 100% from the seller because if it’s like that then it means that the buyer is not interested in whatever you are selling.

Kristy @ Master Your Card February 23, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Personally, I prefer the convenience of not having to make a phone call if I can avoid it. But, I understand your point of view here and see nothing wrong with it. But, I don’t do business on Craigslist, so I haven’t run into this situation too much. I do hate it that when you do several quotes online for something you suddenly get 10 phone calls a day. Every year I move and hire movers, I get inundated with phone calls. What really irks me is that their forms give me the option to choose email contact only, but that doesn’t seem to mean squat because they still call. If you’re going to give me the option, then email me when I ask. In that respect, I agree with Lazy Man.

fathersez February 27, 2009 at 1:02 am

I think having a phone chat first is very reasonable. My daughters have advertised for house mates to share the house they are renting. The actual address is not listed, only the general vicinity. My number has been listed as one to call. Even over the phone I have not disclosed the actual address yet.

I think this is far better and safer than to have unknown people dropping by and asking to see the place.

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