Make Customers Properly Enter Data

Do you have a contact form instead of an email address on your web site?   Great.   Now what about validating data fields?  I’m sure the tech crew told you how those dumb customers would type their zip code in the phone number field or vice versa.

But wait — there on the horizon — the tech guys know how to make each field on your form only allow proper input.  Your customer data will always be clean.  And it’s really no trouble to set up.  Insist on three digits in the area code!   Insist on only seven digits in the phone number.  Did that idiot placing the order actually try to put a dash between the third and fourth digits?  Easy enough to stop the order and make them re-enter the number. The same for zip codes, which will work until your first Canadian customer says, “Take off, you hoser.”

Two fast experiences at small businesses in the last 3 days: Business #1 does B2B sales only.  We placed a small order (about $100) a few months ago. The quality was good so as we developed a slightly bigger order, I returned to the site, went through the entire order process and could not place an order.   An account already exists for that business name, I read on the ORDER REJECTION screen. Right, my partner placed an order.  I tried placing the order as a guest or a new account. Both attempts generated the Account Already Exists message. So I popped a smarmy note to Customer Service and placed the order with a competitor.  Yes, they want my business back and offered to manually take orders.  Except, I guess, that fixing the underlying problem of creating an easy order process  is more difficult than calling a company exec with a $100 order.  Sigh.

Order #2 today was a B2C company.   Every field that uses numbers required only numbers.  No hyphen in the phone number, for example.  Nothing on the form said that.  Luckily, the form did not erase each of the three times my simple order form didn’t validate.  The big buy?  Bottled water service.  Lifetime value?   Figure $600-$1000 for a residential customer.

Look at your order and contact forms right now with someone who doesn’t know your business.  Challenge each field.  Try to break the form.  This is user testing at its most inexpensive.  Later, you can go outside your circle of friends and pay for real testing, but this will get you most of the way there.

Listen to your companion, especially for the non-verbals signs, grunts or exclamations.  Note where they came from.  Then ask the IT folks who made your form so cumbersome to give you a “clickstream report” of everyone who has used the order form and check how many people had to resubmit the order.  See what percentage resubmitted once or twice and so on.

Your contact forms do not exist for you to develop clean data.  They exist for your prospects to become customers and for your customers to communicate with you.  Anything else is asking for reduced profits.

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