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What is Good Customer Service in Web Design and Development?    
by William Szczepanek

Article 24: October 19, 2009

The level of customer service experience provided by many industries today can be both frustrating and time-wasting to the customer.  It seems that the larger the industry the worse is the problem.  We have all heard tales of woe in dealing with large telephone and cell phone companies.  TV satellite providers also come to mind, not to mention banks, insurance companies and Internet merchants of all kinds.

As consumers, what should we expect  in the way of customer service?  Many large companies are consumed by analysis of statistical data which indicate how many customer service calls they can take in a certain period of time and how well consumers are satisfied with the results.  The statistics often serve the purpose of generating quantitative evidence that the company and their employees are doing a good job and thus provide the basis for rewarding customer service representatives in the way of salaries and bonuses. Considering that customer service representatives are some of the lowest paid employees in the country, these companies are ensuring that customers will be served at the lowest cost possible.  Of course, the lowest paid employees in the USA are still very well paid compared to those in India, where entire facilities are built to provide customer service and save money. The customer service reps there go through extensive training  programs to ensure that they can deal with consumers properly, but have little personal experience to enable them to understand the problems at hand.

There are many companies, big, small and everywhere in between,  that provide extraordinary customer service.  Most of them have learned not to cut corners on service and to treat their customers  as critical  to their ongoing business endeavors.

Self Service Puts the Responsibility in the Hands of the Consumer.

Computers now enable us to make mistakes faster and more frequently than ever before.  We can now mess up our lives, lose our money to people who steal our identity and have no one to blame but ourselves. It truly scares me that if I power up a computer that I haven't used for a week, my security software will whirr and whine and transmit data over the Internet.  This usually results in required updates that will force me to restart the computer before I can do any useful work.  After the updates should I feel safe that my computer is now protected?  Now, can safely send my SSN and credit card numbers around the work and not have to worry?  Don't these computer hackers work during the day after my computer has been updated? Given these circumstances it is highly possible that we, as humans, will have problems with some of the various ordering and  payment gateway systems we will need to navigate to accomplish the task at hand. Then we call customer service, who will make it all better.

Have You Called Customer Service Lately?

Do you dread making that call to customer service.  Have you ever  broken a phone just from the frustration of trying to get through a voice response system when you so very much wanted to talk with a live person who could understand your problem?  Sometimes pressing the O (Operator Key) will get you someone.  Sometimes wildly pressing random buttons will get you transferred to a live person.  This last tactic comes with a high risk.  You can mistakenly order 100,000 copies of a book you want didn't want and have a semi-trailer pull up on your driveway and consequently  your credit card will be debited for $1,000,000, assuming you have that much credit (doesn't everyone?).

What Does all this have to do with Web Design and Development?

The Web design industry is like most others.  Sell a product or service, get paid.  What's often missing is the goal in the middle of these two  - "make your client happy".

Critical Components of Good Customer Service in Web Design

1.  Respect your customers for who they are and don't complain when they don't seem to understand the process. If they knew everything to begin with they wouldn't need to call you to help them with this service.  A large part of good customer service is educating the client.  To the extent that they don't know something, whether it be layout, navigation or SEO, they need to be informed of the pitfalls.  The answer "no problem" to their questions usually means there will be.

2.  Strive for extraordinary customer service and you will have a better chance of attaining good customer service, But, in order to achieve extraordinary customer service you need to define it and establish those procedures that will enable you to achieve that goal. That's vague language for "make the customer happy. This is usually accomplished by providing them more than they expected and quite possibly more than you expected to provide. You say that you can't make money if you spend all of that time, and I say that you can charge more if you can deliver more than your competition.

People have become accustomed to purchasing low cost goods from our friends across the sea, Some name brand shirts cost one fourth of what they did ten years ago.  The problem is that I am still able to wear shirts from ten years ago, but more and more a new shirt is destroyed after one washing.  I would gladly pay more money for a good shirt, but they are hard to find.  I would gladly pay more money for a cell phone that actually works well. I'm am very worried about the new $4,000 cars that GM is promising for tomorrow. Does a picture of Fred Flintstone come to mind?

3. Customers should be treated as if they are important. In fact they are critically essential. A good customer can provide referrals that can get you a new project, a dissatisfied customer can ruin your chances of getting ten customers.

4. You need to understand the goals of your customer.  You need to set realistic expectations early and often.  Don't promise more that you can deliver.

What Not to Do if You are Looking for Satisfied Customers

1.  Don't build navigation systems that work like telephone answering systems. Get people to where they want to go and back easily.

2. Don't expect a customer to be happy after you have them look at a few hundred templates for a design idea and not work at making the design work with the content.

3. If you are having the development done in another country, be absolutely sure that adequate time is and money is added to the project to ensure accurate and effective communication.

There are many venturing into Web design as an adjunct to some other business, such as publishing, marketing, photography or videos services, Often the Web add-on project is one they offer to get extra business, or make their current business seem more established. Many others have found ways to implement Web sites quickly through templates or low cost offshore programming. Some of these people are legitimate business people trying to earn a living. Some are con artists who prey on an unsuspecting senior or young gullible. Even large, well known companies offer Web sites at little or no cost though pre-programmed template systems, which often leave the customer unsupported and lost after futile attempts to "build it themselves".

When All Else Fails

But. sometimes, even with all of this effort, a customer does not get what he/she expected.  When this happens find out why, and then do what's reasonable. Some customers think that complaining and demanding will get them more.  When you have done everything you can do, but it just doesn't seem to satisfy, you may need to look for a new customer.  Just like good customer service, good customers can be hard to find.