Customer Contact Forms: Reducing complexity is important for everyone

I hate it when I’m on a company’s website looking for help or support and I reach the Contact Us form and it stretches for miles. It makes me suspect that they are raising the bar for engaging by making me write War and Peace to submit a question or begin an inquiry. Given the huge focus on customer engagement I doubt this is actually the case. I know from having been on the other side of the form is that what often happens is that in a misguided attempt to ensure proper routing of customer requests the organization’s asks for too much information and loses the ability to effectively engage with customers.

I have included a video above with my quick breakdown of Publix’s Contact Us form which I think is a pretty good example of hiding complexity from the end user.

They do it in two ways:

1. They reduce the amount of overall information they collect

2. They hide the complexity of certain customer paths unless the customer chooses to go down that route.

For example hiding they hide information that is required to complete certain menu options unless the user specifically chooses the option. This reduces complexity and presents an overall interface that is fairly easy to navigate and understand with a low bar to customer engagement.

Of course I’d like to see it even simpler but for every piece of information that you don’t ask for up front you risk pushing users down an improper internal organizational path or delaying the handling of the inquiry. So what do I suggest? Here are the rules I try to follow when gathering customer information:

1. Gather the least amount of information you can to support the requirement in your first engagement with a customer. This lowers the bar to engagement.

2. Remember that you need to gather enough information to accomplish the requirement. This is a balancing act.

3. Hide the complexity of multiple routes to customer objectives if possible. Remember that the customer likely doesn’t know how your business works.

4. Customer choice hierarchies are bad! How many times have you waded through three tiers of drop down menus to try to find the appropriate option? Just give me one big list, I don’t know how you think!

5. Speak their language. Unless your customers are all expected to be experts in your business they need to be spoken to in a way they can understand.

6. Engage! Don’t be afraid to reach out to customers and ask them how hard it is for them to contact you or to find the information they are looking for.

This is a pretty short list that covers the key points for starting to achieve better customer engagement from your contact forms. Engage, experiment and look around. The world is full of these forms and once you start paying attention you will start to recognize how much the way different companies engage with you even in simple ways like contact forms shapes your opinion of the overall interaction.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

A great business process re-engineering story hiding in a sales book

New appraoch to cold calling

I read Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into A Sales Machine With The $100 Million Best Practices Of Salesforce.com by Aaron Ross last night and came away truly impressed by the thought that had gone in the sales system he developed while at Salesforce.com. I’ve spoken quite a bit in these pages about Salesforce.com from the standpoint of the incredible force for integration it has become in the world. As a the reigning most innovative company in the world per Forbes and a leader in the cloud technology space there is plenty to talk about just from an innovation and capability standpoint. However, as I was running through some of the documentation they provide to enable partners I found a reference to Predictable Revenue and decided I’d buy the book. I’m always interested in people that are putting forward a system or method to doing things and I was curious about what I’d find between the covers.

Ten minutes later it was on my kindle and I was off and reading into the wee hours.

You may wonder why a sales post is appearing in a blog dedicated to organizational performance. It is here because the book is worth reading by anyone interested in how to drive organizational performance. The story may be about sales, but the substance is about developing a systems approach and implementing it with people, processes and technology. If you like re-engineering stories like Reengineering the Corporation: Manifesto for Business Revolution, A (Collins Business Essentials) or The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement you will like this story.

Aaron talks about his own disappointment as the CEO of an internet company which landed him in a sales job at Salesforce.com after running through more than five million dollars in venture capital. One of the most interesting things he talks about is the sense of empowerment he got from essentially being allowed to innovate on the job. This jibes with things I’ve read by Daniel Pink including my post about “Drive” where I describe the need to empower your people. Aaron decided quickly that he wasn’t going to succeed using the typical method of cold calling target companies and beating the gatekeepers into allowing him to talk to decision makers and then hammering them into taking delivery of the product. It simply was getting him nowhere fast.

Instead he decided to focus on finding the right people to talk to with customers that actually wanted his product. He talks about trying to find a match between your solutions and customer requirements and his approach to the roles and processes used for demand/lead generation is something everyone in sales should read. He breaks down the entire sales process from demand management through fulfillment explicitly including coverage of people, processes and technology; something anyone reading this column should be familiar with. I think too often people approach sales as a mystical area where sales gurus sell ice to eskimos and everyone else is stuck cold calling people that would rather dodge traffic on the beltway than talk to you. Interested in learning how to stand up new processes in a rapidly evolving organization? This is a great book on how to get it done and if you aren’t careful you may learn something about sales while you are at it.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Everybody’s selling something: Perfecting your pitch

Satellites_For_Sale_-_GPN-2000-001036

I had a really interesting meeting with a marketing manager at Troux Technologies the other day and I’d like to share a bit from it. It really highlighted how much marketing and sales has evolved over even just the past few years. If you read some of the books that are out there like, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of crossover techniques from what would traditionally be considered sales and marketing approaches. These are now being currently applied to everyday business writing, meetings, and tactical approaches.

One of the themes of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is the idea that most people, in their day to day lives, are working on sales on some level. By that I mean that you’re constantly trying to convince people to take your position on something, to do certain things, or to engage on projects. To ignore that is to set yourself up for failure. If you just present people with raw information without any attempt to help them see the message, then you’re doing yourself and your project a disservice. You’re likely to fall short just on the basis of not having presented your ideas well enough.

One of the things that was brought up during our conversation was a discussion on how important it is, especially with really complex messages, to correctly identify the thought train that is going through the person’s mind. You need to be aware of what pieces of information will they need at what time so they can grasp the whole idea. I guess on some level you’re always doing that when you create an executive summary, a long paper, or you are working through a slide deck for a meeting; you’re always working through that process and I’d never heard anyone explicitly put it like that before. I thought it was a really good way to think about it, particularly when you’re trying to communicate complex things. By putting it out in bite sized chunks, you make it easier to enable people to grasp the big picture at the end of it.

He brought up another idea that I think is good practice to bring into your day to day marketing of your ideas and projects. It’s the idea that you should always be focusing on your stakeholder community’s big values. I think on some level that should be pretty obvious but it’s still worth mentioning and reinforcing. I know that I’ve found myself many times writing something and what comes through on the page are the things that are really important to me and not necessarily to my audience. So I’ll have to go back through, reorder things, and rephrase them to make sure that I’m capturing what is important to the person that I’m writing it for and not just for me.

I really believe that is a worthwhile exercise anytime you write something or pull together communications pieces. By making sure that you take a step back you can really see whether you’ve captured what’s important for your intended audience and not just what are the things that you believe are important about it. So I realize some of what I said is fairly obvious but I know, at least for me, the conversation was a great reminder of:

  • How important it is to think about what the customer or consumer of your information is going to need
  • What order do they need that information in in order to understand it
  • To constantly focus on the areas that are going to be of interest to them as you communicate your big idea.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.