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Nov
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5 Steps to a A Proper Contact Form!

I’m not sure if there is an authoritative guide on a website’s contact form, so here’s my take on the picture.

A contact form is a seemingly simple feature, that most websites mess up. While a broken or poorly designed contact form may not be the end-all problem with a website, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t work correctly.

What a contact for must contain:

  1. Name, email, (optional: phone), and message fields
  2. Shouldn’t Contain… A ridiculous captcha verification script
  3. Confirmation / feedback that the form was properly submitted
  4. An email response that the form was successfully received
  5. Finally… A response from someone that read the form (If necessary)

1.) Name, email, and message fields.

This is the one part that is rarely messed up, but often far overdone. A phone field is often useful but you will rarely need an address or any anything more personal than a person’s name, email, phone, and whatever they want to tell you. This is not a application form, it is a contact form! You shouldn’t be trying to qualify your customer in some way with a contact form.

The more fields a customer has to fill out, the less likely they will use your contact form, and the more likely they will call you for something that can be handled over email.

An example of a horrible contact form!

2.) Shouldn’t Contain… A ridiculous captcha verification script!

Captcha scripts can help reduce email spam from bots and automated programs designed to spam you. They also make it a complete pain to get through. Captcha itself is virtually impossible to get through at this point.

Use alternatives that are actually readable or ones that make a user solve a simple math problem to proceed, or use nothing if spam isn’t a huge problem.

USE THIS:

NOT THIS:

Requiring anyone to decipher an unreadable image of text is not a proactive customer service approach and will undoubtedly end with frustrated and confused customers.

3. ) Confirmation / feedback that the form was properly submitted.

DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT simply dump your customer into another page or refresh the form itself without a clear message that the form was submitted. This is a sure way to get multiple emails from your customer, each successive one showing more frustration than its predecessor.

Ideally, you should have a dedicated thank you, or confirmation page that the user is redirected to once the form is submitted. This is a better method than displaying an in-line message on the same page because there is no question that the form was properly submitted. This is one area where Web 2.0 is killing usability, because on-page changes are very often hard to detect and are not what a user is expecting.

It’s also a good idea to include links to informational pages, FAQ’s, and other areas of your website that could answer a question that a customer might have.

4.) An email response that the form was successfully received.

More than half the sites that I ever have contacted do not provide immediate email response when using their contact form.

You should always provide an immediate confirmation email that the message has been received. This will reiterate the response in the previous step, and makes your business look much more professional. Even a generic message is much better than no message. The message is a great time to provide alternate / emergency contact information in case they really need to get a hold of you, or provide links to FAQ and informational pages about your services or website.

You can setup a automated email response on just about any web server. It’s free and takes no human interaction to send an automated response email. There’s simply no reason not to send one.

6.) Finally… A response from someone that read the form (If necessary).

I put this on here because a huge number of customer inquiries are never responded to. Actually get back to your customer, by email, phone or whatever method you can. You don’t need to reply to spam, but you’re probably in business because you have customers. Providing unmatched response times is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from your competitors. Seriously, shoot for five or ten minutes during normal working hours.

Only when you customers reply with “wow that was fast”, is your response time prefect!

Contact forms are a cornerstone of online customer service and there’s absolutely no reason to mess them up. Stick with these steps and you can’t go wrong.

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3 Comments:
  1. Dave 6 Nov, 2008

    This is great! Thank you!

  2. Roy Hayward 18 Nov, 2008

    I like the suggestion of the additional contact information for emergency contacts. I think the best practice is to have this displayed on the page that confirms the submission, and in the email auto response.

    We just had an outage at one of our data centers on a holiday, and our emergency numbers went to voice mail.

    I think the rule of thumb might be, don’t give your customer a dead end. If they keep coming, they should eventually reach something live. (live being a person on the phone, on the chat tool, or email actually written by a person.)

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    Google carts are great if your computer savy……but for those of us that need a little assistance the Intersoft Group is ready to lend a helping hand. Visit http://www.goxsellit.com to view some of the help they have to offer.

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