5 things working in customer service taught me about users

5 things working in customer service taught me about users







What follows are a short list of truths and guidelines gleaned during my time working in customer service management and designing service-related features at an internet retailer.  This perspective is somewhat unique here at Sears UX, so I thought sharing might help; plus “Top 5” lists are easy 🙂  Here goes:

People don’t like to read

  •  That is to say, if they are looking for something, they are scanning for the answer to the question in their mind.  This applies to product specs, navigation pages, customer service related information, etc.
  •  A user in cart/checkout, is just looking to complete as fast as possible; handhold the user – make information consumable, and obstacles clear to understand and resolve

Writing for Usability / Good Information Architecture

  • This is the logical reaction to the above
  • Put yourself in the user’s shoes – what would your priorities be in that moment?  Structure the content to suit.
  • Ideally, use the inverted pyramid writing style
  • Make content scannable, including clear headings and trigger words as first words in sentences. Don’t hide important information

State the “obvious”, directly

  • …As designers or employees we often lose perspective.
  • Examples:
  • “What is this page?” A user has most likely never seen it before and it takes a lot of processing to digest what this page is trying to be. “Am I in the right place?”
  • For “negative” customer service situations like Returns, credit card declines, 404 pages, etc.   Let’s say you are a customer service rep – you may think it’s obvious to a customer that you will resolve an issue, because you are working diligently.  Years of experience showed that phrases like “I’m sorry, that must be frustrating” and “I will get that taken care of”  were like releasing a balloon of tension in a customer interaction.   Use this verbally, or in writing (web forms, FAQ pages, etc)
  • Let’s carry this over to presenting to a client – actually saying out loud “we understood that you wanted XYZ”   “This is our recommended solution because”.  While these things may seem implied to you – it goes a long way toward making someone feel heard, or reminding the team what the goal of the project is.

Users don’t care about next time…yet

  • Design for “one time” users
  • Guest checkout is an e-commerce best practice for this reason. Why would I sign up if I never plan on coming back?
  • Structure content, interaction patterns, etc to give users confidence, decrease cognitive load. Remember it’s their first time.
  • At Sears Holdings, we push membership, membership, points – but our research shows it is an up-hill battle. Our findings indicate the majority of users just want a good price today (assuming the price mark down is “meaningful”).  All of that extra information is just noise to the majority.
  • If they like the experience, they’ll come back.. and all of the good work you’ve done above will help them next time…because, they don’t really remember the details of entire process last time.

How you frame a piece of information aka “break the news” has a direct impact on the response.

  • With users – how you message “bad news” (card decline, out of stock, etc), or something like error messages can get users moving happily along the process, or upset them and create cart abandons, cancellations, etc.
  • With clients – “we can’t do that” or “..because that violates standards” is much less effective than invoking the name of the member/experience and detailing an alternate solution.


If a user contacts the company, you’ve already failed. Look for the cause.

Thanks Nielsen/Norman Group for the backup: Re#5 – see “different types of shoppers” for Ecommerce – NN/G  Re#1,2 – Users don’t read- NN/G


2 Responses to “5 things working in customer service taught me about users”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    July 10, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    I think the key here is empathy – we should design/field customer service calls as if we were the person using the site or having an issue. Do we like to struggle on websites? be bombarded with pop-ups and marketing messages? I would argue that people are looking for a good product at a good price.

    one of my favorite sites with themes related to yours – http://uxmyths.com/

    • Chad Cline →
      July 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      Empathy – 100%. I even considered making the featured image the word “empathy”.
      Thanks for the link, I’m bookmarking as ammunition for later – it includes research!