A great user experience extends beyond the website

As web designers we can only do so much for you the client. You can have the best website in the world, but if your customer service stinks users won’t come back.

I went to meet with a new client yesterday and was blown away by their commitment to customer service. Not only had they addressed every one of their customers points of pain, they had gone above and beyond in so many ways.

Update: Are you a web designer? Have you found yourself nodding at this post? Then before you get too smug you better read: “You’re a hypocrite (and so am I)“.

An unbelievable returns policy

The most stunning example of this was their returns policy. If you are lucky a website will offer you a 30 day return policy if the goods are unopened and so can be resold. If you are unlucky they will not accept returns at all or charge a restocking fee. However, with our new client things are radically different. They offer a 365 day return policy! However, they don’t stop there. You can return products that have been used and cannot be resold. Better still they will even pay the postage for you to return the goods.

It is truly staggering. So much so that the problem is convincing the user the offer is genuine!

A culture of service

However, it is more than that. They have the right culture too. I was fortunate enough to chat with their call centre staff. Currently they offer customers three ways to contact them…

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Live chat

I asked which contact method they preferred. I expected them to say email first, followed by live chat and finally phone. After all, when on the phone you can only deal with a single customer at a time. Email and live chat are much more cost effective. However my expectations were entirely wrong. The answer was the phone because “it is the quickest way customers could get their problems resolved”.

Cartoon in which the web designer is asked to remove the phone number from a site

Davi Sales Batista, Shutterstock

A growing trend

What’s interesting is that this client is not alone. More and more companies are realising that to compete on the web they cannot sell on product and price alone. The problem is that competition is fierce and the chances of having a unique product low. With your competition only a click away and savvy customers doing price comparison you are left with two choices – be the cheapest or be the best.

What this new breed of web businesses are realising is that racing to be the cheapest is a losers game. Eventually there is only so much that can reduce your margins. Instead they have discovered that customers (especially online) are willing to pay more for convenience. In today’s society time is as important a currency as money and users will often choose a more expensive option if it saves them time quibbling over returns or being on hold with customer services.

There are many poster children for this movement including the likes of Zappos. What these pioneers are proving is that the increase in revenue outweighs the costs involved.


On face value limiting customer service may seem like a good idea. However, in doing so you are putting short term objectives over the long term health of your business.

Think long term

Recently I wrote a post in which I said that business objectives are more important than users needs. However, that is not an excuse for neglecting your users. If you care about achieving long term business success, then you have to put great customer service and the user’s needs at the heart of what you do.

As web designers we can help you. We can make intuitive sites that are both painless and pleasurable to use. However, that is only half the battle. We also need you (the website owner) to continue that pleasurable experience in terms of customers service. What happens offline is as important as what happens on.

What about you?

So ask yourself – how could you be helping your customers more? Have you hidden away your phone number because you don’t want users calling you? Have you added in extra fields to your contact form so you can collect demographic data for spamming? Have you limited your returns policy for fear of people abusing it? What about hidden costs? Are there charges for returns or delivery?

Whether you are running an ecommerce site or an informational one the message is the same, provide outstanding user experience both on the site and off.

  • I ask my Clients to understand that the Web is ultra competitive! They have to commit to providing the same level of Customer Care online as they do in their Stores. Too often people see e-commerce as an opportunity to sell more and care less.

  • Andrew

    Paul, I enjoy reading your articles, but the video presentation ad along the bottom of this site is anoying!

    I use the page down key to move down the page as I read. The ad at the bottom means I have to hit page down, then scroll back up to read the lines the ad covers.

    • Click anywhere on the ad bar and it will go away. Hope that helps.

  • as an end user, there’s nothing more enfuriating than a web site that burries its contact details deep within the site, only to find you can’t call them, or worse still, forces you to email or raise a ticket in order to contact them, as this usually involves several days delay in response time. And then quite often, the response is inconclusive!

    as a designer, i really stress the importance of customer service focusing on the web site user just as much as if a customer who walked in the door. most companies don’t really care though and will only talk to a customer when they have too!

  • Customer service is indeed a great route to success, starting with the fulfilment and delivery process. Back in the eighties I helped turn round the ‘bad boys’ of mail order in one market so they ended up as heroes. We started out by doing next day delivery in an era when “allow 28 days” was the standard and also changed our price lists into community-building newsletters.

    These days I work a lot with customer comments from surveys embedded in ecommerce ‘thank you for your order’ pages, and they demonstrate to me the power of building customer loyalty through excellent service. Loyal customers will fight their way through broken checkouts, or come back another day if the site is down!

    If you want to justify this approach in business terms it’s vital to calculate the REAL cost of acquiring a customer and also the expected lifetime value of the customers you acquire through different channels.

    You should always have these two figures in mind.

    This approach will help you get a more structured understanding of the longer term profits in getting the service level right.

  • Andy


    You stated that the companies preferred method of contact is over the phone as: “it is the quickest way customers could get their problems resolved”.

    Working within a central web team at a large organisation, we have also found that talking to our clients in person (either by phone or arranging a meeting) produces much better results than communicating by email or a ticketing system. We have a devolved approach to building websites (through a CMS), where we provide advice and guidance to clients, who then do the leg work, after which we review and sign-off the site. As with any job, there is a need for revisions. In the past this resulted in endless emails back and forth debating the merit of various corrections. This proved to be a considerable time sink.

    We have found that by spending an hour or two up front with the client explaining the process (instead of just pointing them at the guidelines) and really finding out what their needs are, we reduce the number and severity of errors that crop up during the review process. It also gives our clients a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve through the review, and they are less likely to object to having to make revisions. By improving our customer service we can considerably reduce the amount of time we need to spend on a project and the better service enhances our teams reputation.

    Email may allow you to fire off a quick response, but it’s not really effective in the longer term if you then have to spend hours clarifying what you said.

  • sometimes yes you dont need “spam” calls
    for nothing
    specifically on homepage i think :(

  • Gavin

    Every online business should read this. The use of that returns policy, just as you state, would definately give buyers the feeling that the offer is genuine. I’m always willing to pay a bit more to a business that will provide the security of mind that any after sales difficulties and support will be hassle free.

    You might be interested to take a look at a business that could do with reading this post by checking out a public forum in Ireland – through which this company has chosen to maintain contact with customers (though they have a phone contact, many complaints state it is never answered). The site is Boards.ie, going to “Biz”, then “Talk To” and “Komplett” … this business used to be great but was recently sold and whatever policy changes happened after this sale, well, their customer support has gone down the tube. The various problems suffered by customers are played out daily on that forum. Pretty crazy stuff and I know many techies who won’t buy from them anymore because of this poor customer service. A great shame since the company used to be fantastic and I’ve bought a lot off them previously.

  • You make some very good points Paul. Obviously Zappos is a runaway success and a great example. I can only guess that Zappos have run the numbers and found that the cost of acquisition of customers via 24/7 phone support, free shipping and a 365 day return policy is lower priced and more effective than other traditional forms of marketing.

    Andy’s comment raised some great points. As a designer, I’m emailing clients constantly throughout the day, calls being reserved for project initiation, briefing or project milestones. Maybe there’s some merit in calling clients more often to resolve problems in one sweep and maintain facetime or “voicetime” with the client. Sometimes we can go weeks without actually talking to a client directly.

  • We try to avoid spam calls as much as possible but still phone is the easiest way for customers to contact. I don’t think we can do any thing in that.

  • sometimes yes you dont need “spam” calls for
    nothing specifically on homepage i think :(

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  • I help my customers more than enough, but this article has made me rethink the way I think on some aspects , thanks for sharing guys.