Developing websites for business allows us a glimpse at how people think about communicating with customers. Usually the first website is something they embrace, because it will mean less customer hassle, or it is something they resist, because it will mean less customer contact. I am constantly telling people — what happens on the web should never be INSTEAD OF customer contact, it should be IN ADDITION TO. It’s a way to enhance your process, your work product, your deliverable. But it shouldn’t take the place of real-time, human-centric customer service.

I recently ordered a vintage clock from a small, low budget website. The clock was a gift for a friend. I moved through the entire process online and anxiously awaited the arrival of my item. But when I tracked the package to my hometown, I was troubled to learn it had been misaddressed and was being returned. I immediately accessed the customer problem area of the website and filed my complaint. Within 12 hours I received a phone call from a rep who explained and offered to overnight the package. That short exchange made me feel confident in their brand and my purchase. And it illustrates how the web really compliments good customer service. It should never take the place of a real-time exchange. But it helps when a human isn’t available.