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I Hate Web Contact Forms

Hate is a strong word to use in any context and I really shouldn’t start to write by excusing the title. When push comes to shove I think the word ‘annoying’ is probably more appropriate. The problem is the title for this post becomes an awful lot less dramatic with “Why I find Web Contact Forms Annoying” or even “Why I Find Web Contact forms Irritating”. Hate conveys gravity of emotion and hopefully gets more people to click here.

I’ve just completed a form on a website. When your life is web development you always do this with some professional interest.

It’s on loopnet.com. We need a larger office and every listing agent wants you to call so they can sell the benefits of their property. I find the approach annoying and a little antiquated and I don’t have time to speak to every listing agent and visit every property. A few photo’s and a layout is enough to filter out most of the options. But they’ve all conspired against me and every other prospective renter so we all have to waste our time.

Sorry to digress because the point is not listing agents, the point is contact forms. I’ve just filled in another contact form and I have no idea if it’s been sent. No feedback, no email confirmation, not even much of a change to the screen. Ever been there ? I’m sure you have.

I had lunch a few weeks ago in the Houston Galleria with a good friend who’s a Procurement Manager for a large oil company. As web developers we’re always interested in how people use the web and wanted to understand his daily usage patterns.

It probably won’t surprise you that procurementprofessionals spend a lot of their time with Google, Bing or Yahoo. It’s how they go shopping and it’s how most of us go shopping. For the most part we don’t want to be contacted, we just want to find it online the second we want it. And when we find it, it has to be easy. Complex, confusing and hard to find are shopping turn-off’s. Do you have what I need and how can I contact you are my 2 questions.

Contacting companies was a big part of our conversation and a particular frustration for my friend. Too many companies only use a contact form as the mechanism to get in touch. No email, no phone number and occasionally no physical address. Why ? It’s for their convenience rather than ours. Contact forms avoid the need to post an email address that avoids the risk of automated bots crawling the web collecting email addresses to sell to people who spam us. Same for phone numbers and automated dialing services. That’s all good for the website owner but the net result is us viewers who click away to find someone else that can be contacted easily. Sites confuse web development with customer service.

We don’t like contact forms because we don’t like the uncertainty of the message being transmitted. Email leaves a sent item and a phone call speaks to a human or leaves a message.

We advise all customers to use a contact email and phone number on their contact page as a minimum. Email and number on the header of every page is ideal, as you can see from this page. There are a number of ways to deal with spam. We use a WordPress plugin that encodes the email address from all of the nasty things that attempt to collect it. There are many other options that are well described online.

Whatever you do, make it easy for your customer to find you. To be fair, some people like webforms and some people even like captcha codes so use both. We use a web form, email and phone contacts, if someone wants to contact us they find it very easy. We use a shared mailbox that’s monitored by at least 2 people so we can respond to any email we consider legitimate within a maximum of 12 hours during normal business hours.

As I post this 4 days after sending the contact form to the listing broker I’ve still had no response. Looks like I’ll have to endure the pain of that phone call.

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