An origin story.

Dealing with payment disputes is part of the daily grind for anyone handling customer support.

Open a support ticket.

“why the hell did you take my money? I never authorized this! who do you think you are? Give it back RIGHT NOW”

Tab over to the customer database.

Find no entry for the email address or name on the ticket.

“Sorry, I couldn't find the details of your transaction. Could you please let me know the order ID it was created with?”

Receive no response.

1 day later, receive a notification that a chargeback has been filed for an order with the same last name as the support ticket you received.

Lodge evidence that the charge was created by the customer and the product has been delivered.

Lose the dispute and be charged a fee for the chargeback.

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It’s enough to lose sleep over. Obligatory stock photography.

Back in late 2012 I launched ChargeBack.cc. This service accepted billing disputes from customers and delivered them directly to merchants, giving the merchants a chance to resolve the dispute before it reached the banks. If that failed, we would forward the dispute to their customer’s bank but at least we tried to close the communication gap. Sounds useful, huh? While this service managed to solve quite a few chargebacks, we hit up against a surprising critical problem that we didn't expect— many businesses completely ignore billing disputes!

After talking to a few merchants who didn’t initially respond to the disputes, we received common feedback. Billing disputes were so painful to resolve with so little chance of success, that the best course of action seemed to be to ignore them and let the banks handle them.

When a business can resolve a billing dispute directly with a customer and make them happy, many times that customer will turn around and become one of the business’s biggest advocates. If someone previously decided to hand money over to you, they've already decided that your service or product is valuable to them. To throw this away over a mis-communication is a huge waste. Most disputes can be resolved with a little bit of information provided at the right time. It’s this post-payment experience which separates companies like Zappos and enables them to have such a loyal following. Turning around unhappy customers should be a high priority for every company. But it isn’t. Because it’s just too damn hard. There isn't enough information or tools to do a good job of it.

This problem was so huge that we decided to scrap our original vision of tackling chargebacks head-on. Instead we wanted to deal with the underlying problem of making billing support work for customers and merchants. Something must be broken for things to be this bad.

Nearly 2 years and many experiments later, I think we've made some great progress on improving billing support. Focusing on 3 key areas seems to improve the overall post-payment experience.

  1. Receipts and Invoices —At worst, email receipts are a few lines of text written by a developer 3 years ago which everyone is afraid to touch. Sometimes they don't even exist! Stripe has some of the best email receipts in the business, but they could still be better. Each email receipts is an opportunity for a customer to feel loved and appreciated. Receipts should explain exactly how the charge will appear on a customer’s bank statement. They should also provide clear channels to receive more information. Email receipts are… email! We can make it possible to just reply to them and instantly create a conversion with customer support about that specific charge. Invoices are also very important to many customers. They provide tax information necessary for many businesses to function and they provide a transportable digital record that the payment has been received. Providing this kind of complete package to customers after they have paid you makes them feel valued and gives them clear ways to ask questions.
  2. Billing Support Pages — Providing a unique page for every charge with detailed information about it’s current state is really useful to consumers. Typically this information is siloed away in a payment gateways, but it’s really useful for customers to have access to this information as well. If a charge is refunded or modified they should have a place to go and check on it’s status. These pages also provide an avenue for billing support questions. More general pages with good SEO become a path for customers to send their billing disputes directly to you before talking to their banks.
  3. Help Desk Tools — Almost universally billing support is resolved through customer support tools like Zendesk or Help Scout. Only the largest companies have dedicated billing support systems. Solving billing support requests are a special kind of customer service task which can be made a whole lot easier with the right tools. We've developed an algorithm to match billing support requests to the charges they are associated with. If you have multiple payment gateways we connect to them all and bring your charges together in one place. We've launched the ChargeDesk app in the Zendesk marketplace. Support for Help Scout is coming soon!

We're on a mission to make billing support as enjoyable as possible. If we can get this right we can make life easier for both consumers and merchants. ChargeDesk.com has just come out of private beta. We're continuing to iterate on the product, but think we've got a pretty interesting solution already. We've got some great businesses on board already and are looking for more. I'd love to receive any feedback you might have!


Written by

Real developer. Pretend journalist and entrepreneur. Failed physicist. Human rationality enthusiast. Likely transhumanist. Enjoys big words.

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