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Contact Us

 3:52 am on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Background: over the past few years I've had occasion to e-mail an assortment of strangers with questions about blue widgets. Generally via Contact links on www pages, or similar. Overall the response rate has been atrocious-- and that's counting things like "Sorry, I don't know" or "This site is not actively maintained" or "Please see our FAQ" as responses. I auto-save all sent e-mail, so this isn't selective memory; we're talking less than 10% overall.

In fairness, random e-mail to other sites on other subjects doesn't seem to fare much better. (Rare exception: the Bodleian thanked me for pointing out that one MS image was mislabeled. With every evidence of a straight face, even though the digitization project in question is 15 years old and it's not like they can grab the nearest passing undergraduate, hand them a camera and tell them to come back with a picture of page 60v of such-and-such eleventh-century manuscript. But at least they were polite about it.)

I went over to another venue and put up a survey with this highly scientific and objective choice of responses:

almost always
most of the time
some do, some don't
usually not
hardly ever

I asked them not to count sites that are so big, the contact form itself warns that there won't be an individual response. If I'd thought of it, I'd also have put in an option for "I can't find a way to contact them in the first place" (all those sites with egregious typos, or links that died in 2004, and not so much as a working "webmaster@" address).

To date, nobody has come forward with an "almost always". What I see is a blunt bell curve distributed among the other four options, leaning slightly towards the the "most of the time" and "sometimes, sometimes not" half of the continuum.

A couple of people had variations on this (quoting):
I have on occasion contacted the author of articles in online newspapers to correct horrible typos or just plain factually wrong information. I dont think I've ever received a "thank you" or any acknowledgment back, even though they correct their article.

I would think that would make the writer even madder than if their comment had simply disappeared into a black hole!

In the course of further discussion I said
Nobody expects a publisher of dead-tree books to recall all copies for typo fixes. But web pages are dynamic by their nature, so it's reasonable to think someone will swing by every year or so to make corrections. After all, someone has to renew the domain name and pay for hosting.

OK, there's overhead: The mere act of opening a page's raw source file takes time, whether you're fixing one typo or twenty. But if you've got 20 different typo reports in the course of a year, shouldn't you really do something about it?

Tentative conclusion, speaking strictly for myself: If you don't have the resources to answer e-mail, it ends up less annoying if you don't publish a contact method at all. Maybe it's a matter of time: It takes longer to compose an e-mail or fill in a form than it did to look for a link that doesn't exist. Sure, you may spend ten times longer simply reading random stuff on {insert name of your favorite time-wasting site here} ... but it doesn't come across as the same kind of slap-in-the-face waste of time.



 2:44 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

I try to answer most Contact Us form submissions within the same day.

However, there are some that I don't even bother acknowledging- like a generic request for airline tickets- can find dozens of sources on Google posting the same message, word for word). And anything mentioning "Nigerian prince" :) Oh, and anything mentioning "SEO."

There are also the way lower priority items that I may or may not get to someday- people requesting a link or business listing removal, but are too vague about where the link or business listing is (I'm not going to spend a chunk of my time to alleviate your Google paranoia if you're not even going to give me some basic information like the page where the link is!).

On a related note, I have found that in probably 10-20% of the cases, I end up wasting the time I spent in a nice, detailed message because the e-mail address they gave doesn't even work and my reply gets bounced!


 3:25 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Ah yes, standing in the middle of a gi-normous retail outlet without a sales 'associate' in sight, in long queue as half the bank tellers close their locations for mandated break, being told after 20 minutes on hold that the only person able to assist is on maternity leave...

Customer service is generally atrocious, online and off.

I run info sites so much fewer visitors contact me than would on an e-com site. However, I still consider customer service an important detail. As with LifeinAsia my goal is to respond with a day. Would I like to do it within the hour? Of course, and sometimes I do, however I'm a one man band so that as a default standard is impractical. And thank goodness for filters or I'd be doing nothing but removing spam.

Why should an info site care about 'contact us' customer service?
1. I asked for the contact (implied by the form existing).
2. The contact may improve the site.
3. The contact - and my reply - may create that most valuable of visitors, the direct return.
4. The contact - and my reply - may create positive WOM marketing.
5. The contact - and my reply - may forestall negative WOM.

Why should I NOT care about 'contact us' customer service?
Haven't a clue.
However, my experience on and offline is quite similar to Lucy24's bell curve results. So I guess that once again iamlost with a competitive advantage. :) Or so I like to think.


 5:28 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

I can put incoming emails into four categories

1. Serious queries affecting real business
2. Slightly off topic but might turn into a good lead if I keep them sweet
3. People who haven't bothered to read the home page or anything in between and are totally off topic
4. Spam

1 and 2 I try to reply same day
3. I usually ignore. If I am feeling polite and have nothing better to do I might reply pointing out that their band does not play the type of music that we cover.
4. I make a choice to delete, report or look at improving my filters


 1:14 am on Jul 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

Overall the response rate has been atrocious-- and that's counting things like "Sorry, I don't know" or "This site is not actively maintained"

You get what they offer... and if they don't offer right, grip the panties and move on. Life is too short.

Those that know what "contact us" means will do it right. If they don't you've got a head's up to move along.

In the long run it is not what other sites' "Contact us" means, it is what YOUR "Contact us" means.


 3:57 am on Jul 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

it is not what other sites' "Contact us" means, it is what YOUR "Contact us" means.

In my case [webmasterworld.com] it means "Oh, oops, you mean if I give a particular e-mail address on my website (this happened before I had a Contact page) then I'm supposed to check the mail sent to that address every six months or so?"

I would prefer not to think that 90% of the people dealing in blue widgets operate at a similar level of competence.


 4:02 pm on Jul 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

then I'm supposed to check the mail sent to that address every six months or so?

I have come across organisations where checking the team mailbox is always "somebody elses problem".
Where on-line queries go to a specific individual organisations often fail to keep the destination address up to date as staff are moved or leave.

Not good business but it seems to be a "feature" of corporate culture. Of course the "one man band" often doesn't have time to respond to anything that doesn't look like a firm business lead.


 8:16 pm on Jul 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

I never answer:

1) offers of SEO services
2) spammy link requests
3) asking me questions that boil down to "will you do my homework for me".


 8:43 pm on Jul 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

3) asking me questions that boil down to "will you do my homework for me".

Oh yeah, get a lot of those (not so many any more though). Often, it's something along the lines of "I'm doing a project on Korea. Please send me all your information." Although they usually lack punctuation, capitalization, and the "please" part.

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