Handling online inquiries

30Jan08

During the past week, I submitted information request forms on two different websites. You know, the kind where you fill out your contact info and tell them what you’re looking for, and they respond with pricing and other details. The only problem is, neither company has gotten back to me yet. Maybe the inquiries got misplaced, or their CRM systems are broken. Either way, my experience underscores the need to tell customers what sort of response times to expect — and how to pick up the conversation again if they don’t hear back from you.

Some websites do a great job with this. They tell you how long a response should take, and even give you an inquiry number to refer to later. But in most cases, you’re just left guessing. When you don’t have any guidelines to work from, the question of “How long will it take to get the info I asked for?” quickly turns into “Should I contact them again?” — and then devolves into “Who did I contact in the first place?” As the memory of the original inquiry fades away, all the work that the vendor did to earn your interest has been squandered, and you as the customer never get what you wanted.

What’s the solution? I would start by providing a confirmation page after someone submits an online inquiry. On this page, tell them how long a response should take and provide a way to contact you if they want to speed up the process. For example: “We try to handle all questions within two business days, so you should hear back from us by 5 pm eastern time on March 9. If you haven’t gotten a response by then or need a response sooner, send an email to help@example.com and mention inquiry number 12345.” While you’re at it, give them a copy of their original inquiry, since they may have taken the time to write a fairly detailed set of questions that they might forget about later.

For the best results, take all of the information above and automatically email a copy to the prospect. This starts the relationship off right and gives them a nice reference point, even if you sometimes miss a beat on the follow-up.



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