What happens after the call to action?

Paul Boag

The ultimate goal of every website is that users will complete your call to action. Whether that objective is to place an order, complete a contact form, sign a petition or subscribe to a newsletter, we obsess about how to encourage users to take that step. But what happens then?

The most popular post I ever wrote was on calls to action. It consistently out performs anything else I have written despite being over 3 years old.

This is not surprising really, calls to action are the heart of our website. We all know how important they are and we will do anything to make them as effective as possible.

The problem is that as we encourage users to take action, we often forget to consider what happens next.

Let’s begin by looking at reassuring the user.

Reassure your users

Have you ever been on a site where you placed an order or submitted a form and were left wondering if it went through successfully? Too many websites fail to reassure users that the process has been completed.

Make sure your site confirms in no uncertain terms that whatever the user was trying to do has been done. It may seem obvious and you may think you have done it, but I encourage you to test the experience with a real user and make sure they agree.

Transmit download screen
Panic make it abundantly clear that the user has successfully completed their call to action for downloading Transmit.

Be careful how you confirm completion of the process. Sending an email is not enough. Users are not currently looking at their email and so will still be left wondering if they are done. Also email can get lost in spam filters.

Even confirmation on the site itself needs to be done with care, especially if the call to action is completed without page refresh. Users can easily miss a notification saying there action has been completed if they are looking at the button they have just clicked. Always include notifications in the same place the user was last interacting.

As well as confirming when something has been completed successfully you also need to consider what will happen if something goes wrong.

Handling errors

A major reason for users failing to complete a call to action is that they encounter an error. Whether that error is of their own making or a bug in the site, it still amounts to a wasted opportunity.

You will want to compensate for common errors. For example if your call to action requires a user to complete their postcode, don’t make them format it in a specific way. Do the formatting at the backend. This will significantly reduce the number of people experiencing problems.

Where errors cannot be prevented, make recovery as easy as possible. When filling in a form make sure data is not lost when an error occurs. Users are unlikely to persevere if they have to enter the entire form from scratch.

Example 404 error page
404 errors are one of the most common and yet many 404 error pages are more concerned with looking pretty than helping users.

Also, offer people an alternative way of completing a call to action if they are encountering errors. Give them a phone number, allow them to send an email. Do whatever it takes to keep them moving forward.

Finally, as with completion notifications, make sure the user sees errors. Always place them next to the problem area or where the user is currently looking. In usability testing I have seen too many users staring confused at a screen because they haven’t spotted something has gone wrong.

Ultimately it boils down to ensuring users spot errors and providing help so they can recover from them. Talking of help…

Accessing help

Whether the user has successfully completed a call to action or not, it is important that they can get help afterwards.

Too many sites do their best to make it hard for users to contact them, offering nothing more than FAQs. Others limit communication to email. Unfortunately users are impatient and often unwilling to wait for replies.

Wiltshire Farm Foods help page
When we built the Wiltshire Farm Foods website we were very aware the elderly audience may have questions and want to speak to a real person.

Offering a telephone number or live chat system goes a long way to reassuring users about their decision to complete a call to action. The last thing you want is for them to regret their choice.

Avoiding buyer’s remorse

Have you ever bought something and then regretted it afterwards? Did you have a feeling that you made the wrong decision?

This is referred to as buyer’s remorse. It can occur whenever you make a decision that cannot easily be undone. You start second guessing the decision and feeling a sense of anxiety.

This sense of buyers remorse can apply to a range of calls to action, from purchases to handing over personal details for a newsletter subscription.

Small things can trigger this feeling and makes it more likely users will cancel their order and undo the decision they originally made.

Its important that you put a lot of consideration into how you will reassure the user. This maybe emphasising the benefits the user will receive from completing the call to action or offering a small thank you gift.

The trick is to exceed the users expectations rather than merely meeting them.

Going above and beyond

Ultimately the best way to follow through on your calls to action, is to exceed expectations and offer exceptional service.

That is what companies like Zappos do so well. With their 365 day free return policy, they go above and beyond the industry norm.

There are so many opportunities to go beyond expectations. Some ideas could include:

  • Offering a customer support line that picks up straight away rather than leaving you on hold.
  • Having 24/7 live chat support.
  • Paying for postage on returns.
  • Giving subscribers to your newsletter exclusive content or gifts.
  • Personally thanking people when they recommend you on social networks and rewarding them.

Even when you make mistakes, there are opportunities to exceed expectations. Take for example Jawbone. When they first released their Jawbone UP it had a serious fault that caused problems for a huge number of users.

Jawbone UP refund page
When Jawbone had problems with their UP product, they far exceeded their users expectations with an impressive return policy.

Not only did Jawbone offer a full refund they also provided unlimited replacements if your Jawbone broke. All with no requirement to return it or even prove the device was broken.

Unfortunately few companies endeavour to exceed user expectations. In fact many fail to even meet them.

Avoid unwelcome surprises

All too often completing a call to action leads to unexpected consequences. One user signs up for a newsletter expecting an email once a week and find themselves spammed daily. Another decides to buy a product only to be stung with a delivery charge they hadn’t expected. The sad truth is that many websites hide surprises in the metaphorical small print.

ASOS delivery information
ASOS do a great job at clearly explaining the cost of delivery before the user goes to make a purchase.

You will quickly lose any goodwill that lead users to complete a call to action if you aren’t entirely transparent up front. This is particularly important with delivery.


If your call to action involves delivering a product of some kind (whether physical or electronic), it is important to handle that delivery process with care.

First, bear in mind my previous comments about unwelcome surprises. So if you have to charge delivery for your item, make sure you are very clear about that upfront. Don’t wait until the user has filled in all their details before dropping that bombshell on them. Yes, they are probably less likely to drop out once they have bothered to enter their details, however you will royally piss them off in the process.

Second, think about timescales. When a user completes a call to action they not only want to know what happens next, they also want to know when it is going to happen.

For example, if a user completes a contact form they want to know how quickly somebody will be back to them. If they have purchased a physical product, they want to know when it will be delivered.

Basecamp Support page
If you open a support ticket with Basecamp it clearly indicates how quickly you can expect a reply.

Its even important to be clear about delivery with electronic goods. Will the product be delivered instantly or will they need to wait for it to be manually approved?

If items are not delivered to the users expectations then you lose their goodwill. You will need that goodwill if you wish them to complete future calls to action.

Secondary calls to action

Website owners rarely consider what users should do once they complete the primary call to action. The presumption is that the ‘transaction’ is done and so the user is left to their own devices.

For example, on an ecommerce site the order confirmation page often contains nothing more than a ‘continue shopping’ link. Why do I need a link for this? Why would I want to continue shopping when I have just finished? Surely there is a better secondary call to action to put in here?

A call to action to follow on twitter
If a user has just bought a laptop from you, now is a good time to ask them to follow you on Twitter.

Instead of leaving users hanging at the end of the process, direct them towards a new call to action. For example, if they have just signed up to a newsletter suggest they might want to consider following you on Twitter. If they have just placed an order suggest they signup for the newsletter to get exclusive discounts.

There is always something else users could be doing. You just need to ask. But, what happens if the user doesn’t complete the primary call to action properly.

Recovering from false starts

Recently my son decided he wanted to give some of his birthday money to charity. Together we used my iPad to donate to Charity Water. Unfortunately we could not donate on their website via an iOS device, so decided to do it later.

The next day I received an email from them thanking me for my attempt to donate and encouraging me to complete the process. They had collected my email address, recognised that I hadn’t followed through on their call to action and intervened.

Charity Water followup email
Charity Water follows up via email if you fail to complete their donation process.

This is a great example of encouraging users to complete a call to action they started, but didn’t finish.

The lesson here is to get people’s contact information early. This would enable you to follow up on a range of calls to action from abandoned shopping baskets to incomplete contact forms.

However, even if the user has given you no information you can still help them recover from false starts. If they are in the middle of a call to action process, remember their information if they drop out. That way if they return later to finish their purchase or contact us form, they don’t have to start from scratch.


The message here is a simple one; don’t see a call to action as the end. It is only the beginning of your relationship with users. When a user completes a call to action they are trusting you. They trust you with their time, money or personal details. Don’t let them down and give them a great user experience at every step.

Download this post in printable PDF format. Go on try, it looks smashing ;-)