Contact Us ... Really?

Website button for "Contact Us"
Does your website have a button like this?
Sometimes I have to search and cobble up something to write about. Other times circumstances conjure up important topics that make my fingers start twitching for a keyboard. Today, I am going to veer off the current path, your personal marketing efforts on social media. Today, I need to talk about the endgame, where all the social media, internet, website, supposed to lead. If you are preparing to read on about booking orders, you are missing the point of your social media endeavor. Today's topic is contact, more specifically, your company website's means of receiving personal inquiries and how responses to those inquiries are handled.

Here is the basic, ever so basic and over simplified, plan.

  • Social media drive traffic to website
  • Blog drives traffic to website
  • Everything else drives traffic to website
  • Website provides a bunch of ways for people to contact you about your products and services
If you do the first three well and get people interested enough in your company to go to the website, then fail to provide a timely response to an inquiry, I would argue strongly that you have nullified and squandered a portion of your marketing investment and the personal efforts of the good people at your company working to support those efforts.

website contact request form
Make sure your site's contact form actually makes
Back to what compelled me to write this article outside of the intended sequence. I write lots of articles about industrial process control. Generally, my research is conducted without outside assistance. When I do need input from a source, my preferred method of reaching out is to use contact forms on a product manufacturer website. Clearly identifying myself and my position, as well as whom I am writing for and how it relates to the contacted company, I state the purpose of my inquiry, ask for the help I need. Without exception, my article is something positively promotional about the company I contact. All good, right? Not so.
The level of "no response, ever" occurrences is stunningly high. 
I don't ask for help from these companies without good reason. I need what I ask for, to write an article that will tell readers a few interesting things about their company, product, or service. If I get no response, I write about a different subject. No response equals no promo.

At CMS4i, one facet of our efforts on behalf of our customers is to get people to click that contact button. It has occurred to me that our own customers may be delivering the same experience that I have received. Time to sound an alarm.
Responding to website inquiries is an important business process. 
The inquiry response procedure should have a deliberate design and a written procedure. The procedure and the importance of its proper execution should be understood and adopted by everyone involved, and it should be tested on a regular basis.

What is a deliberate design?

Consider what the goals should be for the inquiry response and how the character and form of the company's response will serve those goals. Generally, you should be striving to engage these valuable instances of communication, people investing their time and effort to reach out to you. These are the people you are searching for with your social media presence. By filling out a contact form, or clicking the "chat with us" button on your site, they just knocked on the door of your business. There should be an intentional response procedure that will provide each contact with an unequivocally positive experience.

Why do we need a written procedure?

Procedures have a way of drifting and morphing into modified versions of their original form. This can be especially true in the case of contact inquiry response, where the frequency of procedure execution may be low. A written procedure serves as a refresher that can be reviewed periodically by those involved in handling inquiries. It also provides a reference point for business process performance evaluation.

The importance of adoption

Everyone that will be executing the response plan must believe in the plan, through an understanding of its purpose and the value of its proper execution. One method of promoting procedure adoption is engaging the executors of the procedure as part of a team that creates the procedure. Their viewpoint and input will likely prove valuable.

The people interacting with potential customers that have reached out to your company for assistance, information, etc., need to be carefully selected. It is important that they recognize the value of these contacts and conduct themselves in a manner that will be positively regarded by any and all inquirers. The knowledge and skill level, as well as their communication skills and demeanor, are key elements of success.
The response to website contact inquiries should not be considered a purely administrative function. It is a person to person sales interaction.

What should a plan look like?

Developing, implementing, and maintaining an operable plan is a challenge for every business. The volume of inquiries and the resources available to respond to them vary widely from company to company. It is important to create a plan that can be executed by your organization. Some things to consider:
  • Inquiry Reception: How do the inquiries enter the company? When a user clicks "Submit" on a contact form, where does that information go, who sees it? What should they do with it?
  • Inquiry Filtering: Do you need to classify inquiries for direction to certain departments or individuals for response? Is there a need to pre-qualify the inquiries in any way to make their handling more effective or efficient?
  • Response Time: What is the response time goal? What are the likely customer expectations for response time? Keep in mind that this is the Internet....and the 21st century. Your response goal should be as fast as you can design and execute it.
  • Response Form: To what degree will responses be customized for each inquiry? Are there materials or content that should be included with every response? Will the response follow multiple paths, such as email and postal mail, or some other route?
  • Records: What documentation or data should be produced and retained for each interaction?
  • Referral: Are there other parties in the organization that should be notified about the contact occurrence? For example, passing the contact information along to a local distributor or field sales representative might be appropriate. 
  • Value Exchange: It is important that you create value for the individual that contacted you. Value can take many forms, from an accurate and timely response to tangible "Thanks for contacting us" gifts forwarded to inquirers. Whatever the case, make the user's inquiry a 100% positive experience from start to finish.
  • Testing: The plan must include periodic testing of the procedure from end to end. This will help verify proper functioning of the website elements that gather and transmit the inquiry and that all the back office activities are operating the way they should. Testing can be as simple as having a good friend fill out the contact form and see if the response conforms to the plan.
Develop and execute a solid contact inquiry response plan that will expand your website inquiries into additional useful contact and increased business. Don't wait until you have lots of inquiries. Do it now. There is much to think about, but be cautious about over complicating the process.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime. You can even use our website contact form!