December 12, 2007
A responsive customer service department is priceless. These reps handle complaints, answer questions, offer real feedback on marketing campaigns and help convert more products.
A ‘Contact Us’ page with a well-designed email submission form can be a vital component of that mix. See how one CPG marketer designed pages that speed up responses to make customers happier. Includes what data to require from customers and what’s nice to ask for but not demand.
Marketers know that it’s less expensive to keep an old customer than to acquire a new one. That’s why a responsive service department is key to keeping customers coming back. A critical first step is a well-designed ‘Contact Us’ page for those visitors who want to communicate with you, especially by email.
“We really are very interested in first-contact resolution. Not to drive people away, but basically you don’t want to waste the consumer’s time,” says Linnea Johnson, Director Consumer Services, Unilever. “We should know enough about our brands that if a [customer] asks a question, we should be able to close that issue in one response.”
Johnson manages customer service in the US and Canada for dozens of personal care and food brands, including Dove, Ragu, Vaseline and Slim-Fast. Her team of 125 representatives handles 2 million consumer messages a year.
“A good half million of those contacts are from consumers who would have never bothered to call or write. They’re people who grew up on the Internet. It’s the people who are used to [instant messaging] people. They are not phone call people. They are email people.”
To handle email messages on your Contact Us page, an email submission form is much better than merely providing your contact email address. The latter can result in multiple messages and wasted time.
Guidelines for Building an Email Submission Form
Email submission forms are embedded into websites. They accept user information and send it to you in an email. They can require certain essential information (such as first and last name) and make less important information (such as company name) optional.
The key is to acquire enough data to resolve the consumer’s issue in one response while keeping the form simple enough so customers will use it.
Johnson says the email form needs:
o First and last name - required
o Age - required
o Additional box for questions or comments
Requesting the birth date of every person who submits a message is necessary to keep your company out of legal hot water. “On Ragu’s [site], where we have some more kids coming in, we need to make sure that you’re of age; otherwise, we cannot keep your information,” she says.
Other necessary data:
- Email address. Since the consumer sent an email, they’re probably comfortable with it. Require an email address before the message is sent.
- Street address, city, state and ZIP code. Because the Internet gives marketing campaigns global reach, you can get questions from anywhere in the world. This can be a problem. A response to a legal question, for instance, can be different if it comes from someone in the US or the UK.
“Our legal department wanted to make sure that we had just people inside the US and we weren’t communicating with people outside of the US, because some of the answers we provide may not be applicable in other countries,” Johnson says.
Data that’s nice to request but don’t require:
- Telephone number. Requiring this will drive away some consumers. But ask for one. You may receive medical questions or medical emergencies, and they are best dealt with on the telephone.
- Processing or manufacturing codes. Johnson works with consumer products, and she finds “that a lot of consumers have the UPC code, which really helps us then get to the right formula, to understand, OK, if you’re on antibiotics and you use this kind of skin cream with this kind of an ingredient, that may cause a reaction.”
Codes should not be required to send an email message, however. Not all inquiries are about a specific product or order, making a UPC unnecessary. Consumers who are inquiring about product availability, for example, could be frustrated by the need to provide a code.
Guidelines for Contact Us pages
Of course, there’s more to an effective Contact Us page than email information. The page should be easy to find. Either link to it in your primary navigation or provide a link on the bottom of your home page near the “About Us” link.
Your page should be loaded with ways to get in touch with your company, including:
- Customer service phone numbers. Although some consumers like to use email, others want immediate answers from a real person. Have your telephone number on the page to make it easy for them to call you.
“On our consumer packaged goods products, we get about 70% [of contacts] as phone calls, but 30% are emails,” Johnson says.
- Toll-free number for medical emergencies. Every website for consumable products should list these numbers. Consumers frequently have allergic reactions to products, and they sometimes accidentally ingest chemicals.
“Someone could say, ‘Hey, my child just drank a whole bottle of your lotion. Could he or she get sick?’ Well, you certainly don’t want to wait 24 hours for an answer on that” via email, Johnson says.
- Mailing address. Yes, people still send snail mail. Johnson has reps on her team solely devoted to answering letters. Provide your mailing address so users don’t have to waste time calling or emailing you to get it.
- Link to a Frequently Asked Questions page. Most marketers have a list of questions that their customer service department answers daily. Make a list of those questions, answer them, create a FAQ Web page and link it to your Contact us page. Every customer who finds this page useful will mean one less question for you to reply to.
- Tracking on the back end. Monitor and categorize all your customers’ messages so you can judge your customers’ opinions more accurately and gauge how well you are meeting their needs.
“We can say what percentage of all our contacts were complaints, what percentage were basic inquiries, how many of these were people that just loved our products,” Johnson says. “Also in there we can see how many times did it take to resolve a consumer’s question.”
Answer All Queries ASAP
“I’m sure you’ve sent emails to various websites and never got a response,” Johnson says. “You don’t want your Contact Us page to become a black hole.”
Your Contact Us page needs to be a service to consumers. All messages should be answered quickly, no later than 48 hours. “This customer care piece is what keeps people in your franchise,” Johnson says. “If a consumer has a problem and you handle them well, they actually tend to be more loyal than people who never had a problem in the first place.”
Linnea Johnson of Unilever spoke at this fall’s ad:tech conference in New York. For details on upcoming conferences, go to http://www.ad-tech.com.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Unilever’s Contact Us pages:
Past Sherpa article - How to Improve Your Customer Service Email Responses: 5 Solutions to Common Problems: