Originally posted on the Reckless New Media website.
A nice story came out at the end of last week about how an eleven year old boy had spent so long saving up for a Lego set that it'd become discontinued. He wrote to Lego, who managed to track down an Emerald Night Train set and send it to him. It's a fantastic piece of customer service and it will have certainly done no harm for their reputation, as well as making one kid very happy and most likely gaining his loyalty for years, maybe even decades, to come. Likewise, the almost endless stream of negative publicity for Apple Maps has done far more harm than good for Apple - however well they've designed their products in the past, it's their latest products which they're being judged on.
It has made me wonder, though, what customer service is online. A website could, maybe even should, be all about customer service - going the extra mile for each and every person using it. That does mean spending longer on getting a website just right - spending extra time at every stage of the process asking what the user would expect and how to offer them more than that. That's best done at the very start of the project, when you're deciding what the website actually does - things take less time when you know exactly what you're doing!
One example might be to pay attention to the error messages which your site gives. A 404 error page is something that everyone experiences at some point on the web, when the server can't find the page you're looking for. Saying sorry is a start, but the page could offer additional help. A link to the homepage or a search page would be helpful, but having a search box on the error page would be even more useful and relatively cost-free. It would also be possible to offer suggestions of pages the user might've been looking for based on the URL they'd gone to.
A more fun part to it all is to be creative with the services a website offers. As an example, I use Kayak Explore fairly regularly because it's really quite useful. Sometimes I use it because I know what budget I have for a holiday and want to see where my options are for places to go. A few months ago I found I could fly to Tblisi in Georgia from London for about £180 return. It's a trip I'd have thought was completely beyond the realms of reality, at least on my budget, had it not been for that search. I also use it to find out, say, which airports I can fly from to get to Berlin for less than £120 return.
Of course, that feature's something that only really applies to the travel industry, but it is a wonderful piece of creative thought and it just goes to show you that one really well considered feature can allow the user to feel that one website offers something much more than another - the essence of customer service.