If there is one chapter from Don't Make Me Think that I would recommend for everyone involved in making websites, it Chapter 10 "Usability As Common Courtesy." This is all about the things your site can do that is good or bad in the eyes of users. This is definitely a chapter you will read and find yourself nodding your head a lot. Hopefully you won't find yourself cringing because you realize that your site doesn't always Do The Right Thing.
The chapter makes the point that most users come to your site with some amount of goodwill. Just how much is different for each user, and can even vary for a given user from day to day. There are still things that a site can do to increase or decrease the goodwill of the user, and the chapter contains insightful lists of these things. Of course The Bad Stuff sticks out most of all...
Hiding information is something that everyone will agree with. Nobody likes to feel like useful information is being hidden from them because of either some devious design or because the site is put together poorly. In fact you'll almost always assume its the former, not the latter. The first thing Krug lists is hiding customer support numbers. This is a topic we have talked about at eBay. We are always trying to make our customer support easier because we know that people assume that sites try to hide customer support.
So how are we doing? Well the customer support number is not on our home page. There is a link on the home page to Contact Us. That page very prominently displays the customer support phone number and hours for it. If you have Skype installed, you can make a single click on the page that will call the number using Skype. That page also lists PayPal's customer support number. The Contact Us link is part of the global header found on every eBay page, so you are always only one click away. That is pretty good.
However, to get to the Contact Us page, you have to be signed in. If you are not signed in, you are taken to a sign in page. That page does give an option to continue as a guest. If you click that, you are taken to a different contact us page. This page does not have a phone number and instead asks you to fill out a form. This does not seem as user friendly.
By comparison, I looked at Amazon. Their global header does not have a Contact Us link, but it has a Help link. The Help page does have a Contact Us link. Clicking it will take you to a Contact Us page. However, it too asks you to login and provides a guest link. If you login, then the Contact Us page shows recent orders and links for common problems. If you don't login, then you get the same page, but it shows a form to fill out. It takes one more click to bring up a page with a phone number. However, they try to get you to give them your phone number and have them call you.
My wife has actually done this and it works pretty good. Still it is a bit awkward and it speaks to the #2 Thing a site can do to diminish good will "Punish me for not doing things your way." If you do things Amazon's way, you talk to somebody pretty quickly. If not, then you may spend a lot of time on hold.
Anyways, even if you like the "don't call me, I'll call you" approach, it still takes three clicks to get there. Does that qualify as hiding? You be the judge.
For one final comparison, I looked at Craigslist. They have a Help link on their home page, and on search result pages. However, this link is in different places on those two pages. It does not even appear on any of the other pages, like a listings page or any of the pages in the post item sequence. If you do click on the Help link, you are taken to some FAQs. At the bottom of the FAQs, there are links to a discussion board and to a form that you can fill out. There is no customer support number...