First Contact: Don’t Let the Bane of Online Forms Steer Opportunities Elsewhere

I’ve witnessed many changes during my 25 years of working as a journalist, particularly in regards to how people communicate. I’d like to share an observation I’ve made in visiting dozens of dealer websites during the time I’ve been with ENX Magazine: the proliferation of the dreaded online contact form. Virtually everyone has online forms, and aside from logging service requests, they’re essentially useless.

In short, you need to banish it from your website.

Think about your clients or prospects for a moment. Whether they’re seeking something as small as a toner cartridge or a larger consideration such as managed IT, clients have set aside a certain period of time in which to gather information. Filling out online forms can be a time-consuming process, especially when repeated, and it makes the experience seem more like the starting point for acquiring a new set of license plates at the local division of motor vehicles. It’s impersonal and somewhat cold.

Most of all, the delivery of information has now been delayed. When will a response be expected? An hour? Two hours? The next morning?

There’s an interesting story in the book “Ball Four” in which a baseball player describes a conversation with a Latin American player who had been mailing paychecks to his family back home, yet hadn’t heard a response from them in weeks. Finally, the player asks his Latin American teammate to show him which mailbox he had been dropping the checks into. The mailbox, it turns out, was a dumpster.

That pretty much sums up my feelings regarding online forms.

While many companies boast a record response time to any online inquiries, deferred gratification can be more than a little annoying for someone who is busy and wants information in short order. I’ve probably filled out dozens of online forms in my life, for business and personal matters, and I don’t know that I’ve ever received a single response. To quote Joe Pesci from the “Goodfellas” mobster movie, “What, do you got me on a #&%! pay-no-mind list, kid?”

There’s a simple remedy. When visitors click on your “contact us” button, it should send them to a page that has a list of real people in every department (copier and MFP sales, software, managed services, etc.), complete with a direct dial contact number and an email address. I’m a big fan of the latter. I’d rather send over my request and let you review it on your time rather than cold call and perhaps catch you in a meeting or when you’re busy with something else. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I reached out to exactly the right person I needed, and hopefully he/she will touch base with me shortly. More often that not, an emailed response is immediate.

Obviously, I’m not the target inquiry you should be worried about, but the “fill out a form, take a number and stand in line” philosophy of cultivating inbound opportunities only frustrates prospective clients. And if they’re as impatient as I am, you can bet they’re going to jump to the next dealer on their list. Better yet, keep the form, add the direct contact info, and see which method of contact is most preferred. Either way, those potential clients floating around in the interwebs will thank you. And so will your bottom line.

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.