Email or Web Form?


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Email remains the internet’s “killer application”. Millions of emails are generated each day by Joe and Joanne Public, to the extent that email has replaced conventional post and phone calls in many situations. We use it to communicate with friends and family, and surely, it’s only natural to want to use this free, fast-delivery communication technology to interact with service providers. But therein lies a problem.

Whereas corporations like email for outbound communication and marketing, they don’t like it as an unsolicited, in-bound communications channel from their customers. It can be relatively expensive to handle in-bound email (it’s a bit like opening and responding to letters) and usually doesn’t fit smoothly into internal workflow and information systems. As a consequence, many organizations choose not to deploy a customer-usable internet email address at all. Instead, they elect to use predefined web-forms.

Consider the customer experience. Imagine you want to give feedback to, or ask a question of, an organization which has a web-form but not an email address. You navigate to their website and locate the form. You find that its options and drop-down choices don’t suit your reasons for communication, but you make your selections as best you can. You then type some free text into a box. How much free text are you allowed? You don’t know, and most forms don’t tell you. You discover you’ve used too many characters only after you press ‘submit’ and get an error, forcing you to shorten your message. You want a print-out of what you wrote on the form as your permanent record. You can’t get one. Printing the page from your browser’s print button will only print that part of your text message that’s visible in the box at this moment. Anything outside that, accessible by scroll bars, won’t come out on the printer. If you really want a copy, you have to select all the text in the text box and paste it to your word processor. Perhaps you should have been smarter and prepared your communication on your word processor in the first place, then pasted it into the form. Is this customer-focussed?

Now consider this alternative customer experience. You use an email program, let’s say Outlook Express, on your PC to construct your message. You format it neatly. It’s spell-checked. You can add a file attachment if you want. You press send. You have a record of having done so, because it’s right there in your email system, time and date stamped, alongside hundreds of other emails. The one you created can be filed neatly, retrieved and resent if needed. It’s convenient and quick.

Now, why shouldn’t that second scenario be commonplace? It’s because many organisations have turned away from inviting real email driven by their own convenience and cost-containment; certainly not for their customers’ benefit and not because their customers asked them to. It’s time to welcome email and deliver a better customer experience.

Francis Buttle
Dr. Francis Buttle founded the consultancy that bears his name back in 1979. He has over 40 years of international experience in consulting, training, researching, educating, and writing about a broad range of marketing and customer management matters. He is author of 15 books, has been a full professor of Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, Relationship Marketing, and Management.


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