Tips For Online Form Management

February 19, 2015
Matt Wallens

mailbox_fullThe online form submission has been around for ages. Now that we’ve finally established some solid design standards, we shouldn’t let all of the great information they collect go to waste. What do I mean? Let me tell you a story.

I recently embarked on a mission to plan an event and needed to book a venue. I knew the date, approximate number of attendees and a general idea of the kind of venue I wanted, so I hit up Google to find potential solutions. As I browsed various sites, I could generally tell whether the venue would be a good fit based on size, amenities and location, but to get the critical information (availability, and sometimes cost) I knew I’d have to contact the venue.

Now, I’m not what you’d call a “phone person.” If I can use email instead of a phone, I choose email every time. Fortunately, most of these venues had published a contact email address, and many even had a handy form to fill out. It was nice to see a lot of well-designed, usable forms. When I came across one in my search, I happily filled in all the required information (and even some optional comments) and submitted my form request, with my primary goal to find out if these venues were available on the date I needed.

After I submitted my form, one of three things happened

1. No response

After 24 hours without a response I assumed my submission was delivered to an unmonitored email address, to someone who wasn’t interested in helping me, or to a business that was no longer around.

2. A form response

I don’t mean a quick “Thank you, we’ll get right back to you.” type of message. Those are helpful, but I’m talking about a message written by a person who didn’t bother to reference my answers to their form questions or respond to what I wrote in their comment box.

3. A personal response

It wasn’t often, but some companies I contacted took their form submissions seriously. In a few cases I received a response within the hour, that specifically addressed the date of my event and other information I provided.

I realized as designers and coders, we rarely focus on the “after” of an online form submission. In my search, I was dealing with very small businesses. For all I know, they may only have a few employees running things. But it was clear in many cases that they didn’t treat their online sales feed with the same respect I bet they treat their phone contacts. Would they not answer a ringing phone? Would they not return a voicemail left by a potential client? I suspect not.

As user experience designers, we should take the opportunity to better help our clients as we build products for them. It’s not enough to slap a form on a website, no matter how good the interaction design is. Ask your clients: Who will receive those messages? Talk to your clients about their customer’s expectations as far as response time and what information would be helpful in those responses.

If you have a form on your site, do you have an process for handling the submissions? Do they just sit in someone’s inbox until that person decides to answer them? Or worse, no one gets to them?