How can we help you?
How can we help you? That was the message preceding a “request for information” form in the Contact Us section of a noteworthy B2B company website I recently visited. Ten days ago I filled out that form and requested specific information or a return phone call regarding a project I am directing for a client. I still haven’t heard from the company.
Sure, I could have picked up the phone, the main number was listed, but I was already on the website, the form was handy, seemed sincere, and I was trying to save a little time: (a) I wanted the information and hoped that the person vetting the inquiries would point me to the right person who would call me directly and save some steps going through the main switchboard, and (b) I often wonder about the effectiveness of the info@ email address, so this would be a good time to test it. In this case, I got the answer to (a): Not very effective.
But…I did receive an email a day later, confirming that I had been added to their email newsletter distribution list, despite the fact that I unchecked the box that would “sign me up to receive educational materials.” Obviously a glitch in their system? Or not. Worse was the impression this experience has left in my mind: (1) This company actually sells their expertise for online marketing strategy (isn’t the contact us form an important part of the lead generation process?) and (2) eNewsletter advice is listed in their offerings. So why didn’t their opt-out work properly?
At the end of the day, they lost not only a prospect—not responding to an info@ inquiry is a bad move for anyone—but the auto-sign-up, without my permission, compounded the dent in their overall image. When I told my client that we had not heard back from this company, he was shocked. He asked, “In this market, how can it be that a company does not even want to entertain a new business opportunity?” I had no answer for him. But, I’m pretty sure that should this well-known company’s name come up among his colleagues, where he’d normally have some influence to make a referral, he’d relay our story.
Technology is a game changer
Technology is a game changer. I’m not referring to shiny new stuff like social media, but rather something as simple as a basic business tool: EMAIL! Why would you relegate one of the most valuable, and commonly trusted technology to low priority?
Lawyers and law firms today frequently subscribe to pay-per-lead generation directory sites. Most pay good money for each lead the site generates. The reason these are becoming more popular is simple, more people go to the web when searching for services and products than ever before, thus getting leads from this traffic is valuable. But you actually have a decent lead generator on your own site, too. Are you giving it due respect?
Frankly, it begs the question: Why would a high profile company (or law firm) pay top dollar for a fancy and informative website but not have a functional lead generation tool on it? The simple Contact Us form on your website will do, as long as you manage it properly, right?
Do you use an firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox for web inquiries?
So I ask, knowing that many law firms dutifully include a contact form and use an email@example.com mail address, are you willing to risk losing a lead or denting your reputation when a response is not provided?
Who responds to your info@ mailbox?
I wonder how many law firms have an info@ inbox full of unanswered inquiries? I wonder how many of those info@ boxes are monitored by overworked legal secretaries or marketing coordinators who do not have the time to respond or even comprehend the value of an online lead?
The reality is two-fold. If you must have an info@ address, make sure it is monitored by a senior staff member or junior attorney that can respond effectively. Better still, testing has proven that prospects (leads) are more willing to reach out by email if the address has a human name! This is also true for eNewsletters. They should come from a real person and they should have a real person’s contact information and email address in the footer. People are much more confident that the message will be read and if valid, responded to.
Build good will
Granted, many online leads turn out to be a bad fit or a dead end, but that shouldn’t stop a law firm or company from leveraging the opportunity to build good will (you never know who they might know) by simply sending a brief note in response. Even if you’re not interested or you’re not capable of accepting their case, shouldn’t someone write a quick note to explain that, or better yet, take the time for a quick phone call? This is good business and great branding!
The end of the story
The end of my story is that I filled out four online forms on design agency sites. Of the four, three responded. Of those three, one said they’d get back to me, and didn’t, another wrote asking me for a convenient time to talk and further discuss my needs, and one picked up the phone and called me about 30 minutes after I hit submit. Of the two that made contact, one, (the one that asked for a convenient time) after vetting the project details I submitted with the lead form, politely declined the project (via email) saying they didn’t have the bandwidth to start the project until next spring, which was too late for us. The other one, the one that called promptly, is preparing a bid for us. And frankly, based on responsiveness alone and their grasp for the value of lead generation via their website, they have a pretty good chance of getting the work if all goes well because those two attributes mirror our own objectives!
Today I received a “generic” response to the web inquiry I had sent to design firm one, almost 2 full months from the day I submitted it. Is that an acceptable response time? No, it is not. Meanwhile, my client and I identified another solution.
I need your help.
I’d like to hear from readers about your experience using or managing Contact Us forms. How effective is an firstname.lastname@example.org email address for communicating with prospects or generating leads. How many leads generated via email turn into business engagements? Any other thoughts?
Great post, Jane.
We went through this at my law firm. Much like social media, users like to converse with an individual versus an entity, and I think the same applies for email addresses. Our “Contact Us” forms go directly to our marketing department to filter out legitimate questions and pass them along to the appropriate attorney. We have procedures for how to respond to forms that have been filled out. One of them is that every filled-out form gets a response, even if that means a like to the local bar association (if we aren’t able to assist).
There is no reason NOT to have multiple ways of reaching the business, but every single one of them needs to be responded to.
Thanks for your thoughts, Laura. The anonymous social media account has always been a pet peeve of mine and I wish more law firms would at least acknowledge who is Tweeting or posting on their behalf. I always beg my clients to do so, but it is rare that they will accept the suggestion, whether for housekeeping issues or other. Fact is, your account is never really anonymous in social media. If it has the firm brand, essentially, if anything goes wrong the finger will point to the highest officer or partner in the company or law firm.
Recently I had a conversation with “an entity” on Twitter and I was actually considering its services for a client of mine. We even got to the point of direct messaging on specifics and the person never once identified himself until I finally asked.
Despite the modern idea that clients hire law firms, I couldn’t disagree more. Clients hire lawyers to serve them and they hire law firms to make sure the lawyer is well supported and to give them a sense of security knowing a larger entity is backing them up or overseeing the work.
We don’t buy Colgate toothpaste because of Procter & Gamble, we buy Colgate because we like the product and what it does for our teeth. We are aware that a corporation stands behind a product, and sometimes it gives us a sense of trust, but we do not, normally, make our purchases based on the corporation. I think the contact us form is an excellent opportunity to remove the veil. I think most people want to know the person to whom they are speaking, asking, or depending on to answer their query. As just one more example of a missed opportunity for a personal touch, eNewsletters should, though rarely do, include the name of a REAL PERSON and their direct email address for correspondence. Why make anyone in your hard won database of contacts wait for info@ to answer! Enough with the anonymity. Be transparent!!!