Article written by Paul Shadbolt.
When talking to clients about designing their website, I quite often get… “oh, and my site must have a contact page!”, to which I respond… “sure, what communication method do you want to use, what are the hours that it will be manned, and what is the expected time period for a reply?”.
Cue silence, a long pause, then… “can’t we just have one of those forms that customers fill out?”, and there is the first step in turning a potential customer into an enemy.
It is vital when setting up a communication channel for people to contact you that you consider the customer’s experience. It is not good enough to ‘tick the box’ and say “yep, there’s a reply form and email address on our contact page… job done”.
I think it’s safe to say that one of the biggest causes of frustration in our modern world is wasting time. More so, when it is someone else wasting our time. We are all busy, and our time is a precious commodity.
Saving time is probably the reason why most sites have indirect communication methods (reply form, email), as opposed to direct communication methods (phone, online chat). Indirect communication methods are a great strategy for saving time… for the business and its employees, but how about the customers?
Step one: the first point to consider is ‘why’ the customer is contacting you.
Is it for a single issue or multiple reasons? Is it regarding something that is already covered on the site? If your business is an existing one you may already have an idea as to the reasons why your customers are wanting to contact you.
Add a subject line to your reply form.
To find out why your customers are wanting to contact you, consider adding a subject line to your reply form, preferably one with a drop-down that is pre-populated with a list of categories. For example… Product Enquiry, Billing Enquiry, Postage, Returns, etc. Logging your contact page’s enquires and keeping track of why your customers are wanting to contact you, will allow you to make appropriate changes to your website. Maybe that information on product xyz needs to be moved to a more predominate area of the site. It will also allow you to customise how and to whom an enquiry is sent.
What is the best communication channel for this enquiry?
Many online reply forms come standard with Conditional Logic Fields that will give a certain response when a specific criterion is entered. For instance, a product enquiry may prompt a site-based search field to appear, a postage enquiry may link the viewer to a page on the site, a complaint can be emailed to a certain person and flagged for an urgent reply. Other options might provide a contact phone number for a direct and more immediate response for your customer.
No one is home at the moment, and managing expectations.
Most enquires are created because the customer wants to know the answer to something as soon as possible. Adding a small amount of information as to when the contact page is being manned (Monday – Friday 8:00 – 5:00), and when to expect a reply (we generally respond to enquiries within 24 hours), is a very simple way to manage your customer’s expectations. It is far easier to solve a problem for someone if they are relaxed and open, as opposed to stressed out and defensive because they are feeling that no one is hearing them.
Keep your communication channel current.
It’s a problem if that returns enquiry is being sent to an email address that is no longer current or being manned. Likewise, if a web link is broken. Have someone (preferably outside your business) test your contact page to ensure that the message is getting through to the receiver.
And that’s probably the most important piece of advice here. A contact page is not about setting up a communication channel as a passive timesaver and forgetting about it. It is understanding that your contact page is not only an active communication portal for your customers to interrelate with you and your business, a good contact page is an ambassador as to how you treat and respond to your customers.
a good contact page is an ambassador as to how you treat and respond to your customers.
So go on, check out your contact page and give it the love and attention it deserves.