At the risk of being redundant, please allow me to say this again. Online business owners are both merchant and customer. We play both roles and we need different talents for each.

As the Merchant

While I was growing up my daddy used to tell me, "It's your decision. You have to make it. But be prepared to take responsibility for whatever decision you make."

Yikes! Now, that will make a kid stop and think!

Stepping up to the plate to take responsibility is one of the things I look for in those I choose to do business with. There can be no higher ethical standard. In our online businesses, we make decisions every day. Even a small decision can come back and bite us in the butt.

We make mistakes. We make thoughtless choices. We sometimes get involved with online programs without thinking about the repercussions. Stuff happens.

The question isn't whether we're smart enough to avoid all that. We can't. The question is whether we're willing to be accountable when we screw up.

Now, is this about customer service? You bet it is! But it's also about how we deal with other businesses - as well as life itself. And it's about telling - and accepting - the truth!

Can you make money without accountability? Sure you can! It's done every day. But when push comes to shove, you'll be the one going over the cliff.

Those willing to step up to the plate when necessary don't hide their contact information. You don't have to try to beat them out of the bushes. You won't have to threaten them to get a refund. They tell you the whole story right up front.

If they're not willing to do that - they're not willing to be accountable should something go awry. They're not willing to say, "I was wrong. How can we fix this?"

The absolute best way to establish a sterling online reputation as a business owner is to, "Be prepared to take responsibility for whatever decision you make!" It's a matter of integrity - and it will earn you the respect of both your customers and your business associates.

There is no higher compliment!

As the Customer

There's always talk online regarding the amount of "Internet Rage.” I've noticed that attacks seem to come from two places.

First, from people who don't do what they committed to do. This includes merchants who don't provide what they promised. It's a defense mechanism. You know - it's the ol' "The best defense is offense," routine. It's a little sad.

Secondly, rage - and the "flames" - come from some customers. These are the same customers who forget all their manners because they never have to see you face to face. Let's talk about that ...

iCop members are required to exhibit professionalism in their online businesses in every way. But - how do we do as customers?

Every online business owner is also an online consumer. We can't run our businesses without using other online products and services. When we are dealing with other merchants, we're just another one of the crowd.

However - that does not mean that we get to act like some of the other online rage-aholics. No matter what you are doing online, you're doing it as a member of iCop.

Ideally, that is mentioned in your signature file. If so, that means you are identifiable as a member to anyone who receives an email from you.

When something goes wrong while we're acting as the customer - we need to deal with that in a professional manner. This goes for everyone - iCop member or not. You know who acted in an unacceptable manner toward you, don't you? And, you'll remember that person!

Well, other merchants will remember you too - if you lower yourself to the level of the rage-aholic. Nothing warrants anything other than professional behavior at all times. It is perfectly possible to write a scathing letter without all the histrionics. Off-line professionals do it every day.

Just food for thought ...

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* dr. jl scott is the Founder of Chamber of Commerce - on the Web™ - and also the publisher of the Online Business Trade Journal™ - the blog that keeps you up to date with online business coming of age. Visit:

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