Have you ever thought about what happens to that lovely ‘contact us’ form you carefully placed on a website? You know, the one that you use for claiming a ‘conversion’ in analytics. I’d urge you to periodically review what’s happening to it, and become your clients’ best friend.
What makes me say this?
Over the past few weeks I’ve had to reach out to design firms with a live brief. I was looking for a creative designer with both on and offline experience to work on an ongoing project. Not the sexiest branding project ever, I’ll grant, but a good solid income stream for someone. So we have a live brief worth several thousand pounds a month, ongoing, for someone.
I looked for someone local to me and the client that this was for – the Reading (UK) area – so that we could put a cap on travel time for the designer if we wanted meetings, and because my past experience of design projects has involved couriers. I wanted to keep this time, cost and, frankly, faff out of the equation. (With apologies to any couriers who read this, being subject to the vagaries of the M25 and the inevitable endless paperwork trails isn’t my idea of a good time!)
Initially I was looking for examples of past work to narrow the field down to the one or two designers we might like to meet. All this involved on their part was attaching a couple of images to an email and sending a link, or forwarding new business portfolios to us – they are, after all, designers.
As I was working out of hours, I cut and pasted the request into numerous contact forms and ‘[email protected]’ type email addresses. The results of this exercise were astounding. The vast majority offered no response at all. Nothing to say my web contact had been received, or when to expect a response. Several came back with ‘left the company’ or bounced email addresses. Some didn’t allow submission at all or returned an error message.
Some offered a glimmer of hope. They would, they responded, be back in touch within the next few days. One or two even thanked me for getting in touch, which was nice.
I sat and waited. For all bar one, I’m still waiting.
In this case, I resorted to the phone.
Ah, I hear you cry. That’s because people in Reading are plain rude, which is, I guess, possible, but mostly we’re all quite nice.
Could it be because your email didn’t have the correct details? Trust me I checked – and the spamcatcha hoops I had to jump through, and the bullying forms declaring that ‘All fields must be filled’ make me believe otherwise.
Maybe people just don’t like you? Always a possibility: even I don’t like me that much sometimes! But my name is common enough to be anonymous, I was using my client’s email address, and a polite ‘no thank you’ would have served.
I will acknowledge that good designers are rarer than rocking horse dung, and perhaps the ones who could fulfil the brief are so busy that our business was of no interest to them, met with a groan of ‘not more work’. In this case, I’d suggest that they put some kind of criteria for business onto their website. I’ve seen on some SEO sites a message saying ‘our services start from £X’ (a smart move, as I’ve regularly heard complaints of clients with £200 a month to spend on getting to number one on Google) so a polite note to that effect will weed some queries out.
Of course there’s a possibility that they all responded and the emails didn’t get to me. But if this was the case, not one then picked up the phone.
No, no, no. My conclusion, dear reader, is that –shock horror! – the processes behind the form just aren’t in place.
Sat on the receiving end of a couple of online forms, I’m aware of the amount of spam and sales guff that comes in through the system. Mostly mine’s from SEO companies, either promising the earth or trying to get me to take an article on their Laboutins or Ugg boots onto site that’s about PR. A quick response with a link to the site’s policy sorts this quickly.
So here are my six suggestions for winning some business brownie points with your clients if you’re an agency, or the CEO if you’re inhouse:
- Test those forms now!
- Build in an ongoing review schedule, perhaps once a quarter, of the ‘Contact us’ form(s) and email addresses on a site. Whilst logged out of the system – ideally from a home computer – manually submit a test request in the way that a user would. It’s easy to action, useful to report.
- If you’re getting the wrong type of contacts using the form, consider how to communicate with the wrong people. Is it an example of pricing? Is it a policy that they can use to filter themselves?
- Create automated messages setting some kind of expectation for a response – even if it’s that you won’t get one unless you meet certain criteria, or offering a current telephone number and contact name for when people haven’t heard back.
- Offer clients advice: suggest they take responsibility themselves for checking their internal processes for sales leads and other contacts. Maybe remind them on their monthly report to run a check – to see if the recipient is still with company, or on holiday.
- Review the processes and response times that users can expect.
And if you think it’s not appropriate to you, think again, especially if you’re an SEO company. One large company I tried to contact about a video SEO project, budget in hand, never came back to me. (Before you ask, that’s resolved now – I am not a sales lead!) And another, very reputable, SEO company offering an automated site review took over a week to respond to my order, then responded with an invoice thanking me for my order, which we paid promptly. I then heard nothing from them for over a week which was worrying. Had I shelled out the client’s money for nothing?
If you’re in an agency and think a client’s business processes are down to them, and have nothing to do with you, you are absolutely right. But the ultimate reason they employ you isn’t because they want to rank highly on Google. It’s because, somewhere along the line, they need the money that activity generates. If you fall at the last hurdle, and the customer can’t get in touch, I venture to suggest your contract will be short-lived as the customer fails to see a return on investment.