No matter how good your site may be at providing your users with exactly what they want, where they want it, before they even know they want it, you will still get some people who need to contact you directly. There may even be times when you want to encourage contact - it is not always the case that doing everything online is the best for your customer, or for your business.
Whether you encourage it or not, contact is going to happen from your website. The key question is, how are you going to handle that?
All organisations have preferred points of contact, and if a user is going to contact you it is the responsibility of your website to encourage them to go to the right place. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you.
To manage your online customer contact well, you will want to try to achieve a number of things:
Not always, but often, the first task of contact management is to _prevent _contact. Other contact channels are often more expensive, and unless you are looking for sales, you’re not going to get the money back. Of course, the last thing you want is for your customer to feel neglected, so when you’re discouraging their contact, you need to do it in a way that is good for them, as well as you. So, your first step is to try and answer their question online. If that doesn’t work - if their question is just too specific - you will need to manage their next steps carefully.
All organisations will have preferred contact channels, and these may be different for different services. Make that the first channel you offer them is the one you want them to use.
In a simple case, this will probably mean offering the online form up-front, and hiding phone numbers further down. A more complex solution might involve guiding the user through a series of steps, before offering the most appropriate channel, but be cautious - making contact too hard never ends well.
You shouldn’t be afraid to tell your users what your preferred contact method is, especially if you’re spending their money to do it. Even something as simple as a sentence that says “it is cheaper for you to contact us online” tells people that avoiding the phone will save everyone’s money.
Even if you present contact as personal (e.g. contact dave) you should refrain from offering individuals contact details. People leave, office phone numbers change, and you just end up with a dead contact point, and no one is happy about that.
If you measure where contact comes from and what type of contact is made, you can analyse what sections or pages of the site are causing customer contact to happen. There are a number of ways to do this, including many inside your contact management system.
One quick and effective way we have used before is to place contact details on a separate page from the content - when people click to get the contact details, it is easy to measure. It doesn’t give you a one-to-one correlation (not everyone who looks up your phone number will then dial it) but it does give clear indications of what bits of your site are leading to contact, which means you can start to focus your efforts and work out just why that’s happening.