Customer services — an undervalued and forgotten part in the UX process

Illustration by Matilda Lundin

Changing my career direction to UX design has made me reflect on my previous work experiences, and how they shaped my passion for delivering customer driven design.

Back in 2012 I was made redundant and I needed a job quickly. After a month of intense job hunting I finally landed a Swedish Speaking customer service role in the outskirts of London.

It was only meant to be temporary but I ended up working there for over a year. And throughout this experience I learnt a lot about the do’s and don’ts in customer service.

From making a ranting customer on the phone hanging up being a pleased customer again — to explaining to people who didn’t even know what an Internet browser is and how to access theirs to clear the cookies without loosing my patience.

For years companies have talked about the importance of delivering great customer service. As of lately this has in many cases been replaced with the importance of user experience.

If you ask me you cannot separate the two, they are two sides of the same coin. Although I — as a customer service rep — could make an impact with how I spoke to the customer and dealt with the query the customer customer experience is impacted by so much more than what me and the other reps deliver.

The customer experience is the whole process and all contact the customer has with your company from beginning to end. It is important to make everyone in the company understand the impact they have on the customer experience.

It doesn’t matter how great e-commerce website you have developed if your courier then throws the customer’s potential wedding dress over her fence and her dog catches the package in the mud (not made up — a real story from the trenches of customer service).

During my time in the call centre me and my team mates at times felt really frustrated. The customers asked us a lot of questions assuming we knew why that decision was made and what actually was going on in the company.

The truth: We had no clue and we wanted to know as much as the customer — if not even more!

“Support shouldn’t be a forever thing. You can only have people yell at something that’s not your fault for so long before you go bananas,”

After this experience I went on working in another customer service role — but this time it was in-house.
In my opinion it was much better as I actually could contact relevant departments straight away to solve queries, and I knew what was going on in the company unlike in my previous role.

I believe also — despite having even more difficult customers than the quite well-behaved Swedes — that I was, as a result, able to deliver a better service to the customers I dealt with. A huge part was that power I got from simply knowing what was going on and who to raise any issues with.

However, I am not saying outsourcing your customer service team makes the quality automatically worse and that in-house is better.
I think it is all about how a company value the customer services-team and the knowledge they provide, together with how they communicate with the team.

It is NOT the current practice of many customer service departments where focus lays on measuring call time, how fast you write emails and much % of your work time you go to the bathroom (yes, some companies do measure that).

Stats can definitely give an indicator that something is not quite right. For example if you normally receive 200 emails a day and all of a sudden you received 800 you will know something is certainly going on. That is obvious.

But customer service goes much deeper than that and unfortunately many companies seem to have failed to understand this and it’s all numbers, numbers and numbers.

“Can we try to shorten the talk time to 3 min and 44 seconds?”
“You should write 10 emails at least an hour whilst taking calls”

Then the customers call asking about a unclear automated response, swearing about the difficulties using your ‘useless website’ and raging about an email response that just sounded like a template that did fail to answer their query.

Do you think this makes a customer services team feel valued?

As a user experience designers we need to listen to the users and ask questions. And who does speak to customers? Yes, of course your customer services team.

If you value and speak to your customer service team you can get so much insight about what is working and not working.
I would dare to say they will also more likely stay longer at your company if they feel like they can contribute, and are not only punch bags for other people’s decisions.

It is important to bear in mind that as a customer service rep you deal with a lot of unhappy customers that decided to contact the company (not all unhappy customers do even bother). They do very rarely include the happy customer that ordered her dress without any issues, got it on time and it now fits her perfectly.

However, I still think the insight you can get from the team is invaluable. You might seen in Google Analytics that you loose customers at a certain stage at check out. Is it a specific step that confuses people? Ask customer services — they will tell you straight away!

I remember a lot of customers having issues understanding how to fill out a certain field at check-out (an address label) in one of my customer service jobs. For us in my team and for the developers it was obvious — but not for the users.

It said ‘Address label e.g. Home’. First of all many customers did not know what it meant. Once they had understood customers were annoyed that they had to fill this address label out even if they only had one address.

What you can learn from this is that as a UX designers we need to be willing to be wrong, not having all the answers and understand that the user is not like us. Before having those calls back then I would never had guessed that the box ‘address label’ could cause so much confusion for our users.

Through designing a great user experience you can make the environment for your customer services reps so much more pleasant. They will less likely get angry calls from customers who have been swearing over your difficult website for the past half an hour.

If you make good product pages/sales pages, a smooth check out process and a clear FAQ you most likely will reduce calls, emails, call times etc. And as a result you do not need to ask customer services to reduce their talk time and write faster emails.

Instead they can focus on delivering great personalised customer service that make the customer feel valued. This is something you never can measure in your stats — but it is what increases the likely hood of them buying from you again and recommending you to others.

4 ways you can benefit from your customer service team today:

I have summarised a checklist that you can use today to gain value and improve the user experience with your customer services team:

  • Develop a good relationship with the customer services manager and team. Involve developers, graphic designer and any other people on your team that could benefit from understanding common queries and issues customers that contact this department have.
  • Ask the team about the 10 most common queries they get calls and emails about every week. Is there any queries (“low hanging fruit”) that could be easily solved straight away?
    Is there any bigger projects and investments that can be made that would pay off long term?
  • Ask the team to contact the relevant people responsible for the content. If a picture or product description is misleading it needs to be raised and solved as soon as possible.
  • Make sure clear customer expectations are set — how long can they expect to get through on the phone and/or how fast can they get a response via email/chat? How is it communicated to the customer?

Value your customer services team, improve the customer journey and the customers will in turn value you.