July 10th, 2013

Web Forms Reduce Spam and Optimize Business Processes

Businesses of all sizes use general purpose email addresses, like info@company.com or support@company.com, as conduits for information, Support, Sales, Billing, and other requests from customers.  On the surface, there is an apparently very good reason for this: many customers appreciate the simplicity of being able to send an email message.  It’s best to be as flexible as possible and reduce the time that the customer must spend to get a response, right?

There are actually many significant downsides to accepting general customer requests via email; downsides which can actually cause friction, slow the response process, or result in missed opportunities.  We will cover many of these issues, below.  The solution, is to use targeted specific web-based forms to collect customer requests; we will also discuss why this is a better approach.

The pitfalls of using inbound email for customer requests

You may be surprised at what happens specifically and over time as you use general inbound email for customer requests:

  1. Customer Error = Lost Opportunities: If the customer misspells the email address, the email will not make it to you and the customer may or may not get or see the bounce message.  If the customer does get a bounce — s/he may be aggravated by the need to resend, even though it was the customer’s own mistake.  This can result in lost sales as the customer “doesn’t bother” or is more annoyed by contacting you than reaching out to others.
  2. Missing/Delayed Messages = Lost Opportunities: When receiving email from the Internet at large, there are many, many reasons why email messages can be lost or delayed.  When you have no control over the sending and the delivery of these messages, some will be lost and that can cause you to appear non-responsive to current and potential customers.  This is never good for a company’s image.
  3. Increasing Spam: When you put your contact email address “out there” on the Internet (e.g. on your company web site) for customers to use, it inevitably is found by spambots who will start sending you spam.  At a minimum, this causes more work for your employees and more risk that they will delete a real email by mistake.  At worst, you must implement good spam filters … which can result in misclassification of some legitimate messages as spam and result in lost opportunities.
  4. Incomplete Requests: Despite their best intentions, customers and sales leads very often do not provide all of the information needed when sending in free-form email requests.  E.g. they may ask for help with something, but omit key contextual information that would enable a technician to actually provide assistance or they may ask for a sales quote and not provide enough detail to make such a quote.  As a result, employees will have to start a back-and-forth email exchange to clarify the request.  This takes time and can cause frustration.  For Sales, every extra back-and-forth  can result in decreased sales conversions; for Support, extra back-and-forth extends the time to problem resolution and increases customer dissatisfaction.
  5. Identify Verification: Regular inbound email is very insecure, with no controls in place to ensure that the sender really is who s/he purports to be.  When accepting requests for action via email, you run the risk of performing sensitive actions at the bequest of unauthorized people.  This can result in serious security, privacy, and/or business continuity issues for your actual customer.  While this is not really an issue for Sales and general information requests; it can be a serious issue for customer support requests.

The Solution: Targeted Web Forms

The solution to all of the issues with inbound email is to have customers use forms on your web site instead.  You can still accept email from customers that really want that, but you can push most customers to web forms for a better experience and faster result.

How do web forms solve the above pitfalls?

  1. Customer Satisfaction: You configure your web form to deliver its contents to you via email or whatever other mechanism is appropriate.  The customer cannot make errors specifying the delivery address, as the customer has no control over that.
  2. Timely Messages: Your web form is on your web site and delivers directly to your employees (via email, and/or other mechanisms).  As you can be in control of the entire delivery pathway and can set up forms to have redundant delivery mechanisms, you can eliminate the possibility that you will not get customer messages or that they will be delayed.
  3. Less Spam: By using web forms, you do not need to publish your internal email addresses on the Internet … thus significantly reducing spam.  Additionally, your forms can deliver to dedicated email addresses that only accept email from these forms — thus completely eliminating spam — or you can receive the form data via means other than email (e.g. by it being saved to your database, etc.).  Additionally, you can protect your web forms from form spam using Captcha or simpler equally effective techniques.
  4. Complete Information: A web form allows you to ask your customers for specific information and to validate that they have presented it, before the request is submitted.  E.g., for Support: “what is your account number”, “what is the product that you are using”.  For Sales: request mailing address information, ask what the sales lead is currently using, which specific product(s) are of interest, and which other products the lead may like to also learn about.  The possibilities are endless.  By steering customers to enter required information, your responses can be more accurate and less clarification is needed before presenting a solution.
  5. Identify Verification: Web forms can be password protected or placed in a “member’s” area of your web site.  The identity verification used to access the form can then be extended to the request submitted through the form … allowing you to be much more sure who the person submitting the request really is.

Clearly, you can many different web forms on your site for different purposes.  This is exactly why many sites have “contact us” forms instead of publishing their email address, or have “quote request” forms instead of asking customers to merely email in any questions that they may have.

Using LuxSci SecureForm to Streamline Web Forms

Your web forms need to “post” their data somewhere.  E.g. to some server-side program that processed the data, saves it, and sends it on to your employees in the way that you need.  LuxSci’s SecureForm service provides a powerful easy-to-configure back-end solution that can be attached to any web site forms.  It allows you to get your form data securely, without form spam, and in any format that you need.  E.g.

  • Encrypted email for sensitive forms
  • To your database
  • To your FTP/SFTP site (e.g. for uploaded files)
  • To web-based archives
  • Notices of posts sent to your phone via SMS
  • Data re-filled into pretty templates for easy analysis by your staff
  • AJAX support for complex implementations
  • Automatic web form spam blocking
  • Collect customer written signatures

SecureForm gives any web site professional, secure form processing and data delivery without any programming or server-side script installation needed.

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