The Lost Art of Conversation – Encouraging Contact OnlineBy Miles Burke
The Web industry is abuzz with topics such as cross-browser compatibility, usability, accessibility and the like, but are many Web designers overlooking one of the key functions of a Website: starting dialogue?
Yes, we’re all very careful to ensure that every image has an ALT tag, every page renders nicely on various browsers, and our visitors can get to our product or service information easily, but are we ever putting ourselves in the position of the customer who wants to contact us?
No matter whether your Website is informational, ecommerce-oriented or just a ‘brochure’, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to hide your contact information, or fail to encourage site visitors to contact you.
Web users are a fickle lot — they’ll only look for your contact information for a short period of time before they give up. Even if you do provide links to your generic contact form on every page, this leaves only half the battle fought.
What happens when the user reaches your contact page? Is it inviting? Does it ask for feedback or comment? These are just a few of the site usability issues that we designers tend to overlook.
Is Your Contact Page as Inviting as a Business Card?
Have you written all the content throughout your site with personality and a strong sales focus, only to undermine the perception by posting a contact page that contains brief details and nothing else? Quick — visit your contact page now and ask yourself ‘Does this page alone encourage me to contact these people?’
You may be thinking ‘but all I want to do is sell Widgets!’, and this may be so, but if a customer can’t find a simple way to ask whether the Widgets you sell are the ones they need (even if you feel you’ve answered their questions on your Website), then you’ve just lost yourself a sale.
It’s the same with support information — you may have covered every possible question you think a customer could ask about your service or product, but there’ll always be something you’ve missed. Invite people to email or call you, and track these enquiries to gain direction for your next Website revision.
It’s more than asking every visitor to your site to email you (and, believe me, they won’t), it’s showing that you’re there to listen, that you’re trustworthy and that you encourage dialogue — positive emotions that will only help you win that visitor.
Many people consider the standard ‘Contact Us’ page on a Website to be like their business card, but the difference lies in the delivery. When you hand your business card to somebody, you encourage them to contact you when you speak to them, you smile at them and you gain the benefits of having their undivided attention. When they visit your Website, are you just going to give them your basic contact details?
A great example of an ecommerce site that really invites interaction is US-based Williams Sonoma. Not only do they have a link to ‘Customer Service’ at the footer of every page, they also have a line on every page that states ‘For questions or assistance, call 24 hours a day!’, along with their telephone number. Have a look at their contact page. Not only does it encourage feedback with a well written introduction, but it has the promise of a response within one business day, and a drop down box with contact subject options.
Another example, Coles Myer, could take a leaf out of their book. If you are lucky enough to click on ‘Corporate Information’, you’ll be taken to a page that has an ’email us’ link in the sub-menu. The target page has just three text links, with no introductory text or forms.
An even worse example of contact information is Australian national fast food chain Hungry Jacks, who have store locations and phone numbers in their Store Locator, but not one national customer email address or telephone number on their entire Website.
Hiding your True Identity?
We’ve all seen the research figures that show that people are afraid to use credit cards online — and rightly so if they can’t find a physical address or telephone number by which they can contact you. Would you be happy to submit your details through a Website whose contact information was simply a PO Box address, or worse still, had no address at all?
People have become wary of businesses that hide their true identity or contact information. So much so, in fact, that the Australian Federal Government’s ‘E-commerce Best Practice Model’ states that:
‘Businesses should provide customers with accurate, and easily accessible information that allows… email address, telephone and other contact information.’
Have a look at large Australian etailer, Wishlist. Each page of their Website not only links to their contact forms, but also includes the details of their email, toll-free telephone and physical address.
Shopping sites such as A Wicked Gift need to look at their details, and how hard they are to find. The only detail I was able to uncover on this site was an email address — no telephone number or physical address to be found anywhere! This doesn’t exactly instill you with confidence when it comes to buying from their site.
UnderwearFactory.com is marginally better. If you delve into their contact page, you’ll find an email address and telephone number, but nowhere on their site do they list their physical location, toll free number, or other details.
And don’t think for a moment you can get away with a post office box — they just scream ‘backyard business’ as well. If you absolutely have to, then list it, but if possible include your physical address too — it shows that you’re willing to back up your online presence in person.
Half of all Websites Don’t Want Your Interaction
Have a look around the next few websites you visit. My quick research of 50 sites of both informational and ecommerce varieties in a range of industries, showed that 50% had links from every page to a contact form or details, and yet offered no explanatory or welcoming text on the page. A further 25% of the sites either had links that were hard to find, or no links at all.
It’s as if these site owners are saying ‘We want you to give us your money, but please don’t consider contacting us.’
Instead of a bland page with ‘Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 1234 5678’, why not make it read ‘We look forward to hearing from you — please contact us via…’? This sounds much more appealing, and I guarantee more visitors will contact you, which, if you play your cards right, will end up as sales leads.
Place yourself in the shoes of a shy visitor and look over your Website — does it encourage dialogue from the very first page, through to your contact details? If it doesn’t, consider how many shy Website visitors could be out there.
Have a look at the Y3K Group’s contact page. It lists all their details, including a physical address and more, but does it encourage you to contact them? This page would be much more effective if there were a paragraph at the top that invited user feedback and communication.
For a great example of an invitation to interact, check out skinnyCorp’s contact page. Not only does it offer a detailed contact form, and all details including the directors names, but it kicks off with a great opening statement that encourages you to make contact with them.
Handy Contact Checklist
Next time you develop or update a site, check that you’ve included the following: these points will encourage contact, and help you refine your site and encourage sales.
- Always have more than one contact medium. Never only use email or telephone: people expect both.
- Put your main telephone number and a customer service email address on every page of your Website.
- Ensure that every page has at least one link to your contact information. It’s even better if it has two (for instance, in the navigation menu as image, and then in footer as text).
- Write opening text on your contact page that appeals by inviting dialogue from Website visitors.
- Don’t assume you’ve answered every customer question on the pages of your Website — I can guarantee you haven’t. Write all your site’s content in a way that encourages customers to contact you if they have questions or feedback.
- And last of all, once a site visitor has contacted you, reply as soon as you can. People expect email to be acted upon faster than a telephone message.