Getting Creative With Contact Forms

Contact forms are the bread and butter of any business’ website. They’re how you gather new leads, convert prospects into real customers, and support your existing ones. They should be one of the places you focus on most when designing your website: A/B testing different solutions, getting creative with layouts, and optimizing conversion rate.

Unfortunately, most contact forms are the last priority when designing a website. They not only end up looking rushed or out of place within the context of the site’s design, but identical to every other site. The contact form is the end of the user’s journey through your website, and should be one of the key areas that differentiates you from your competition. It can be a real waste when your website uses beautiful fonts, colors and graphics like this:form-1And then your contact form looks like this:form-2

It can be difficult to come up with ways to get creative with your contact form. Most contact forms only need three pieces of information: the user’s name, a way to contact them, and a short message. The easiest way to do that is by simply using three text fields and a submit button. But getting creative with your contact form can improve the quality of your leads, increase your conversion rate, and bolster your brand’s reputation for good design.

Provide Options

The default contact form is great, but not always the most suitable. They’re not great for receiving immediate help, or for complicated requests. By providing different options at this point, users can pick what suits them best. Here, Chargebee offers not only the default contact form, but also a call back request. Placing links to the company’s social networks here would also be a good idea (Twitter and Facebook are great ways for getting in touch with a company).form-3

Fit the Design

A beautifully-designed website will impress visitors and sell your business. But since your website is essentially a path leading towards your contact form, having this final point in the journey be comparatively disappointing will tell visitors that you don’t pay attention to details. If you can’t get such an important aspect of your own site right, how can they entrust you with their site?

You don’t have to go to extreme lengths to create an entirely new contact experience – simply taking the time to design the form around the rest of your site is a great first step. Saus, a creative communications studio, has styled their contact form based on a physical postcard. At its base, it’s still just a couple of text input fields and a submit button, but it fits perfectly into the context of the website.form-4

Give Context

One way to improve Saus’ form would be to give the user some expectation of when they might receive an answer. If they call immediately, will there be someone to answer? If they email, will it be minutes, hours or days until they receive a response? Huge does this well by appending the current time to each of their offices. Now the user can tell whether or not it’s currently business hours, and can get a rough estimation of how long a response might take. If it’s currently 2 AM, you won’t be getting a response until later in the morning. But if it’s 2 PM, you can probably expect one within the hour.

form-5

 

Give a Head Start

One big discouraging influence in many contact forms is the blank text field. Name and email address are no problem – the user already knows those, it’s just a matter of being willing to share the information. But a big blank text field saying “Message” is daunting. The user needs to figure out exactly what needs to be shared, and worry about what they might have forgotten to include. A great solution to this problem is a mad-libs style contact form, like the one below  from Andrew Haglund.form-6

Eliminate The Blank Page

Even if you don’t want to go full mad-libs style, there are still ways to avoid the blank page syndrome. Prime users with multiple choice questions, then use placeholder text to further guide their answers.

Break It Up

Some contact forms won’t fit into the simple name-email-message structure, and will need to request a bit more information from the user. Placing a lot of text fields on screen at once is a sure way to scare users off, especially those with limited time. By breaking up long contact forms into sections, the form appears smaller and gives the illusion of taking a shorter time to fill out. Creative Digital Agency Harbr breaks their contact form into three steps. The final step is still a freeform text input field, but by this point the main questions have been answered, and this field is more of a support, rather than the critical piece.form-7

Get Graphical

Most form elements are pretty boring by default. Typeform spices up their designs by using simple illustrations instead of radio buttons. The illustrations remove the reliance on detailed copy, and allow users to skim the form. The less reading involved in your form, the faster users can fill it out, and the higher your conversion rate will be.form-8

Be Analytical

Whenever you’re making changes to your contact forms, make sure you track and analyze how the form performs before and after. If the changes you make reduce interaction rates, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! You might be reducing the rate of users asking questions that your website already answers. Keep track of how many useful conversions you get, and use the data to guide your design decisions.

Bridging the Gap Between Tech and Non-Tech – A Marketer’s Perspective

It was 2011 and I had just started working for a web company in its IT sector. My role was one of the less “defined” ones, at the confluence of sales and tech, a bit the middle-man amongst departments that were in tacit conflict. There was always at least one project sold under a misunderstanding or misrepresentation.

When pointing out an impending disaster to the directors (such as a project being undersold, or us being unprepared and understaffed to complete it on time), they would take the sales rep’s side because “he is the one who brings the money in, certainly not the devs.” Yet it was the devs who were turning those projects into concrete realities. It was the devs who should have been consulted for an in depth requirements analysis and a correct time cost evaluation, for sales to evaluate the money cost from there on. The departments, however, avoided communicating with each other whenever they could, assuming the other’s affairs were secondary to their own. They both overestimated their grasp on the other team’s skills and endeavors.

Now try for the sake of discussion to put yourself into a CIO’s shoes. Picture your IT department. What will your first thoughts be? Will you lament the money the department has wasted, or linger on frustration due to poor results, delays and bitter compromises? What measures should you take?

Business First, Tech Later – Or Is It?

Corporations teach that IT must be run like a business, with CIOs as business leaders, not technology pundits. Investments into IT should be spurred by business strategy. Nevertheless, at the 360 IT infrastructure event in London in 2010, with the recession causing a shift in IT roles and responsibilities, the general sentiment was that IT is very much a “changing face of business.” Attendees seemed to acknowledge the necessity of developing oneself and one’s staff into well-rounded, “business-savvy and technically-skilled” workers.

The results of an ulterior CA Technologies study from 2012 on over 800 global businesses showed a clear disconnect between IT and their execs as the main reason for missed opportunities for revenue growth and reduced customer engagement and satisfaction. 34 percent of the Business respondents in the survey dubbed their relationship with IT as “combative, distrustful or siloed”, and almost just as many on the IT side agreed.

Perhaps the best solution is for both sales and marketing departments to better their technical knowledge, and for tech teams to improve their administrative and marketing knowledge?

The Middle Ground: An Insight on How To

Belinda Yung-Rubke, director of Field Marketing at Visual Network Systems, is sure the answer sits in finding a common language and setting up common objectives, while Jimmy Augustine of Hewlett Packard urges a forceful bridging of the IT and Business gap. “The two should be one, like peanut butter and jelly. The right hand should know what the left hand is thinking and vice versa.”

Jeff Tash, CEO of Flashmap Systems, Inc and author of the free Architecture Resource Repository Site, recommends a three-step approach to bridging this gap: Consolidate, Standardize, Communicate. Initially, this involves eliminating redundancies, reducing resources, and aiming for reusable products and services instead of one-offs.

Most important is the final step, communication. Marketers and techies can often speak completely different languages. One group talks about B2B, B2C, CPCs, CPMs, DMOs, PPAs, PPCs, ROI, and UGC, and the other talks about HTML, CSS, JS, SQL, XML, JSON, IDEs, and APIs. It’s important to define a common vocabulary, so that no one is nodding along in meetings without any idea of what the discussion is about. Tash recommends to “make certain that both technical and non-technical audiences share a unified knowledge base” to ensure a dialogue of ideas, rather than a monologue.

We often see an expectation for techies to speak the marketer’s language, but not the other way around. In Vish Mulchand’s opinion, “the bosses you have to get the budget from don’t care about the technical side of why you’re pitching for a certain investment; they want to know how it will improve the business and grow revenue, so the tech guys need to know how to communicate this.”

It can be difficult for marketers to find motivation to learn tech language, but it can lead to more independent and self-sufficient behavior. In larger organizations, a simple typo fix can take weeks to make its way through bureaucracy. In smaller agencies and startups, you can usually just tap a developer on the shoulder and ask him to fix it. But consider the fact that even a one-minute interruption can require 10–15 minutes of ramp-up to resume working. With a little effort, marketers can learn just enough to be able to make small changes like these, avoiding bureaucracy and keeping developers focused and efficient.

interruptions

It might be wise to take a leaf from the startup world in this regard, where the lines between marketing, product and development become blurred. Instead of treating different aspects of a project as silos, marking territory, and making sure no-one crosses borders, all of these different aspects are treated as offensive weapons to win in the market.