Why neglecting your Contacts is bad for business

A small investment in improving your corporate website’s ‘Contact us’ section is likely to pay back many times over, Scott Payton says.

Much has been written about the potential for companies to use social media channels to ‘engage’ with their audiences – but another online contact point of (at least) equal importance has too often been overlooked: the ‘Contact us’ section of the corporate website.

A good Contact area can bring a range of sizeable benefits to the company as well as its online visitors, including…

  • saving users time, by pointing them quickly to the relevant department, subsidiary or local office;
  • reducing the administrative burden of re-routing misdirected online enquiries to the right place;
  • cutting the amount of unnecessary enquiries, by guiding visitors to relevant FAQs and other self-service options;
  • sending a clear message that the company is open to the world, rather than a closed shop.

So which companies offer exemplary ‘Contact us’ sections – and which highlight the perils of getting it wrong?

Lessons from the best

GSK

The UK-based healthcare company’s fairly new global website proves that regulatory restrictions (that prevent drugs makers from answering questions about consumers’ personal medical conditions, for example) need not be a barrier to a helpful, comprehensive Contact provision.

Notable features include:

  • A clear message at the top of GSK’s ‘Contact us’ landing page explaining what visitors can – and can’t – find here (with a short, plain-English disclaimer about the relevant regulatory restraints).
  • A prominent, clearly presented and concisely explained set of panels signposting contact points for specific audiences (investors, customers/patients, journalists and so on) and types of enquiry (such as funding requests). These signposts are also provided in the left menu throughout the Contact us area, ensuring ease of travel between contact sub-sections.
  • Full integration of the site’s country office locator into the Contact Us area: a feature that remains frustratingly separate on many corporate sites. As well as pleasing visitors looking to move quickly to the contact details of a relevant country, such integration is also likely to reduce the number of irrelevant local enquiries sent mistakenly (or in exasperation) to the corporate centre.

GSK’s strong service also highlights the fact that a good Contact area can guide people to more than just telephone numbers, email addresses and web enquiry forms. The Contact Us > Careers page, for instance, points users towards country-level careers sites and social media presences: appropriate, given the decentralised nature of the company’s recruitment processes.

Nestlé

The Swiss food and drinks giant’s global site goes one step beyond providing a strong ‘Contact us’ area: every part of the site, including the home page, shouts ‘get in touch!’.

This message is conveyed by three prominent ‘call to action’ buttons towards the top-right of pages throughout the site:

  • ‘Contact us’ (linking to the main Contact page);
  • Sign up’ (leading to the signup page for customisable email newsletters);
  • ‘Ask Nestlé’ (a thoughtful and sophisticated FAQs service)

As well as being useful, the prominence, ubiquity and clarity of these three buttons send a clear and pervasive message: ‘we welcome feedback and are ready to listen to it’. This is likely to be a powerful and important message for companies, which like Nestlé, are often at the sharp end of campaign group protests.

The Contact us page itself amplifies this sentiment: ‘Need to talk to us? We’re listening’, declares the main banner, alongside a cartoon image of a smiling telephone operative surrounded by question marks in speech bubbles.

Various features on the page help to convince visitors that Nestlé is ready to meet this promise:

  • A prominent ‘Call us’ panel links through to About Us > Nestlé worldwide, which provides an HQ number and employs both a Google map and logically tabbed list to provide country-level corporate office and customer service numbers around the world – as well as links to local websites.
  • An equally prominent link leads to the FAQs area, which combines careful responses to reputation management issues (‘Does Nestle have child labour in its supply chains?’) with practical questions for customers and others (‘What type of nutritional information do you put on your packaging?’). Questions are logically categorised and easy to search.
  • ‘Connect with us’ is a further clickable panel. This leads, unusually but logically and appropriately, to a gateway page for Nestlé’s presence on a range of social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google + and Flickr. Why is this a logical thing to signpost on a Contact us page? Because people are increasingly choosing to talk to companies via social media. For sure, only some of the channels signposted are truly social (Facebook and Google+ are; Flickr and YouTube are not, for example), but users can be expected to know this.

Back on Nestlé’s main Contact us page, there are also conventional – but highly useful – telephone numbers and email addresses for investor relations and media relations, plus a general enquiries number with details of office hours helpfully provided.

Finally, there is a conventional web enquiry form, complete with an explanation of what will happen to an enquiry once it has been sent – an explanation that is often missing from many other corporate sites’ web forms.

Best practice elsewhere

Other companies offer a range of other ideas for web managers looking to improve their corporate site’s contact provision.

CitiGroup shows how a simple, carefully curated directory page can guide people to contact information wherever it exists throughout the web estate: a useful approach for firms with a decentralised online presence.

Siemens’ global site has a constantly visible Contact link that leads to different contact information according to the section that the visitor is currently in. Clicking Contact in the IR section, for instance, leads to the IR contact details. A series of tabs in the Contact area ensures that other contact details are always within easy reach. See BC Tip for a similarly tailored contact service by Allianz.

General Electric’s neatly categorised Contact page is carefully mobile optimised, with categories provided as intuitive tabs in ‘desktop’ mode, and as a vertical listing of links in ‘mobile’ mode.

Warnings from the worst

What should companies avoid in their Contact provisions? Here are particularly acute examples of three common pitfalls:

Unfriendliness

The global Vodafone site’s contact page has just one telephone number and the physical registered office address, headed by the terse note: ‘All general enquiries about Vodafone should be made through the central switchboard’. There are no signposts for users with specific enquiries – aside from right-column links to press, IR and other landing pages (not to the relevant contact pages themselves). The message to visitors? ‘Please go away’.

Ambiguity

ExxonMobil’s corporate site has a long Contact directory. But lack of filters, combined with the jumbling up of consumer-oriented contact points with those aimed at wholesale buyers and corporate audiences makes it more difficult to browse than necessary.

Lack of clear signposts

Many companies bury their corporate site’s main Contact link in the footer, where it is easy to overlook – especially on long-scrolling pages. This may reflect a conscious decision to discourage direct contact – though it is also likely to undermine any company’s efforts to present itself as open and transparent. Toyota’s English-language global site goes a step further, however – and doesn’t have a main Contact signpost at all, forcing visitors to waste time trawling the rest of the company’s web estate to find a relevant contact point.

Indeed, wasting users’ time is perhaps the worst crime that a Contact section – or lack of one – can commit.  

First published 04 February, 2015
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