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.

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 loser's 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 online.

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 e-commerce site or an informational one the message is the same, provide outstanding user experience both on the site and off.

Paul Boag

Published 9 September, 2010 by Paul Boag

Digital Strategist Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or his personal blog Boagworld.

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Comments (3)


Rob Drummond

I think often companies need to be braver. It may be more 'work' and higher cost, but the benefits of focusing on customer experience seems to be great. I am also increasingly seeing more and more technology to make this possible - CRM/website helpdesk integration and so on.

almost 8 years ago


Elizabeth Sealey

Recent research shows that most customers just want to be dealt with efficiently. They don't want to have to follow up or repeat themselves. Service is to be short and sweet to be good. Loyalty is only marginally improved when you exceed expectations (source HBR). Zappos as you've said is a good poster child for the movement and what impresses me is that they fund customer service as a marketing activity not operational. Interesting how that can change your mind set towards service!

almost 8 years ago


Amy Shelton

I think the point about great customer service being much more important than being the cheapest is very important. If you think about your own purchasing habits, you'll probably find that you give your business to companies that treat you well. Everybody seems to have that one favorite business that is frequented and recommended to family and friends. You also know that there are businesses that will never get your repeat business, probably due to a bad customer service experience - *even if they are the cheapest*.

almost 8 years ago

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