Many websites contain a contact form on the Contact Us page. A contact form gathers information from the site visitor, assembles it into a message, then emails the message to a person specified by the form.
Many people like contact forms because they can complete them 24/7 and avoid playing phone tag. That’s a great benefit in today’s busy world, as people juggle commuting, work, and a family.
Site owners like contact forms because the form can:
- require the site visitor to provide certain information
- ask questions to qualify the request
- route the message to a specific person based on that information
The form provides a communication channel between the site visitor and the site owner.
When the Form Silently Stops Working
If the form stops working and the site owner doesn’t realize it, the communication channel is broken and the site visitor gets frustrated. They may also get a bad impression of you and your staff.
Why Does this Happen?
Software changes all the time, and web software changes very, very fast. Contact forms are often created at the very beginning, when the site is first created and launched. Sometimes the site owner doesn’t even know the form exists, let alone who the email is supposed to go to.
Forms are particularly prone to breaking because they rely on email. Many of the biggest email providers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others) heavily filter their email to avoid spam. Your form software needs continual updating in order to get past the spam filters and reach the destination.
What Can Be Done?
So what steps can you take to prevent this potential problem?
- Begin testing the form on a monthly basis. A simple test can help ensure the form is in working order.
- If the form is not working, you may need to bring in a web consultant to update the form software or replace it. The most reliable contact form software will require an annual maintenance fee.
- Discuss the form with your staff.
- Nail down the procedures involved in testing the form.
- Assign the testing to a specific person, and explain who to contact if the form malfunctions.
How to Test a Contact Form
- Determine how the form is supposed to work. Contact the person who designed or maintains your website. Ask them to look at the form’s programming code and tell you the form’s send-to, cc, bcc, from, and reply-to email addresses.
- Match the email addresses to your current staff members. Are the addresses still valid?
- Fill out the contact form and click Submit.
- Contact the staff members who should have received the messages.
Did the messages go through? If the staff members can’t find the messages, have them check their junk mail folders. If they still can’t locate the messages, contact the person from Step 1 and ask them to troubleshoot the form.
Discuss the Form with Your Management Team
Talk with your management team about the customer’s expectations of messages sent with the contact form. Next, discuss how you can most effectively meet those expectations.
These question will help you start the discussion:
- Which staff members should receive the messages?
- How often will designated staff members check for new messages?
- How long will staff members have to respond to messages?
- When the designated staff members are absent, who will monitor and respond to the messages? Technically, how will this happen?
- Can the supervisor login to the staff member’s computer and email accounts?*
- Will staff members use an email template or a script to respond to the messages?
- How will staff members prioritize the messages?
- Should you create special procedure(s) for routing emergency or sensitive messages?
- How will you ensure all incoming messages get answered?
- Will you monitor the responses for quality assurance? If so, how?
- Who will test the form each month?
- Who will troubleshoot the form if the test fails?
- When an employee listed in the “send to” of the contact form leaves the company, who will update the form with the new email address?
Repeat questions could signal the need for new policies or additional topics for your website’s Frequently Asked Questions page.
After the meeting, make sure to update your training and policy and procedures manuals based on your decisions.
* Role-based email lets multiple employees share a single account. The email address represents a role (e.g. sales@companyname or customersupport@companyname) rather than an individual employee’s name. A supervisor shares the login information with designated employees, and can monitor responses for quality assurance.