THE BLOG

Customer Service: Sorry Page Not Found (404)

06/14/2010 11:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You walk into a Starbucks and ask for a small coffee, the barista looks at you bewildered and replies, "sorry, small coffee not found." This conversation would never happen for two reasons: 1. Starbucks has small coffee up the yingyang 2. The barista would translate your request to Starbuck's terminology, inform you that they call it a "tall coffee," and you'd have your small (tall) cup of coffee.

We are frequently caught up in our own eclectic, branded lingo and make the assumption that the rest of the world (wide web) will speak in the same language we do. No matter how hard we try, there will always be some level of confusion on our sites, which is why, like Starbucks, we must focus on getting the customer what they want, regardless of what it is they ask for. What we need is Starbucks-quality customer service.

Page Not Found
Did you know that the most trafficked page on your site with the least thought toward content or design is your "page not found" notification or 404 Error page? This is a default page that a coder quickly creates to show up when your site can't figure out what someone is looking for on the web server.

This can happen because someone incorrectly types a URL, a page was deleted, content is being updated, or perhaps there was a typo in a link on your site. Regardless of how, someone is lost, confused, frustrated and possibly angry with your site (and brand).

Now, imagine that instead of a page not found they were instantly connected to you via web cam (chat roulette style). What would you say? How invested would you be in trying to help them have a positive experience with your site and your brand?

In the sales industry, the rule-of-thumb is that it costs twice as much to acquire a new customer than it costs to retain an old one. On the web, your "page not found" is a sales agent/customer support rep on the front line preventing the frustration that leads to users leaving your site.

Question: how comfortable would you feel right now if this text linked to a broken page on your site?

Content that works    


Craigslist is famous for their nonsense text drawings, Greenpeace makes a tasteful extinction joke, and funny or DIE lives up to expectation. These sites are on to something -- humor works. They realize that humor is one of the best ways to immediately diffuse frustration. After diffusing frustration the goal should be to help the user reach their intended goal. This means presenting the user with a consistently branded page that has a:

  • Sitemap - this is a link to a simple index of your site
  • Keyword search - Google offers simple code for any site to provide this
  • Help form - a way to submit a question to a real person

Offering your users a way to submit their issue to a person that responds in a timely manner is the key to successful customer service solution. The cheapest way to create this is by embedding a Google form on your /help page that alerts a member of your staff. The Google form automatically creates spreadsheet that your staff member can then make notes on to mark when the user has been helped.

I wonder what Huffington Post's page not found looks like?