Back-office mistakes that make customers angry.

With apologies to authors of who-done-its, when customers complain about a mistake, the knee-jerk reaction is to say, “The warehouse did it.” Often, the warehouse didn’t make the mistake - someone in the office or field did. In this lousy economy it takes only a few mistakes to lose business - or lose customers. Retaining customers requires that some back-office processes be as error-free as warehouse processes.

In a previous article I addressed ways to prevent mistakes in the warehouse. This article outlines where to look, and key things to look for, in the back office.


Customers get angry when the quotes they receive contain wrong items/quantities/prices. They buy elsewhere. No one wants to spend time proofing low-value quotes before sending them to customers. But quotes worth more than a certain dollar amount should be checked by someone other than the person(s) who worked them up, and checked before being sent.

Taking Orders

Unlike quotes, which should be reviewed before being transformed into orders, orders that do not originate with quotes should always be checked to some extent; especially orders that are received electronically. Although sales orders are checked by the computer system for such characteristics as item code, few systems check for reasonable quantity for the customer and items involved. “Reasonable” could be based on the average or maximum quantity ordered within the prior six months or season. This step can detect the mistake of keying an extra zero when entering a quantity ordered.

Monitoring Orders

For some customers, orders received late are useless. So for future orders, use the system to generate an alert if there is not enough inventory available X days before the due date. For such at-risk orders, someone should determine if needed inventory is likely to arrive in time; it may be necessary to temporarily rob Peter to pay Paul.

Special Order Purchasing

Studies have shown that many special orders are money-losers when all costs are taken into account. No one should increase that loss, or turn a profit into a loss, by making a mistake on a special order. As with quotes, special POs worth more than a certain dollar amount should be checked by someone other than the person(s) who worked them up, and checked before being placed.


If there are a large number of credit memos issued daily to customers because of distributor-made mistakes of any kind, do not print invoices without at least spot-checking invoices in pro forma format. A large number could be more than 1/2% of the total number of invoices printed/transmitted daily. Attack the root causes of these errors.

Customer Returns and Credits

Traditionally, if items returned by customers might not be re-saleable, no credit is given until someone makes a determination. For customers sold on credit, don’t wait; give them a credit memo as soon as data for returns is entered into the system. If they can be trusted to pay their bills, they can be trusted to go along with debit memos that would be issued if items are found to have been damaged by them.