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[IPS News] Responding to the Contact Form

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Think about all the different touchpoints where you try to connect with members: forum discussions, blog comments, personal messages, email newsletters, weekly meetings, and perhaps offline events.  You write witty and clever messages. You dedicate an entire section of your community to welcome and hello topics.  You spend enormous amounts of time trying to elicit engagement from members. 

What if I told you that there’s one touchpoint that you consistently overlook where members reach out to you, some for the very first time?   

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You receive messages every day and every week from users through the Contact Form.  It’s one of the most common touchpoints that you’ll ever experience with members.  Unfortunately, most admins gloss over messages through the contact form, because we think it’s secondary to the activity in the community.  That’s not true!  As a touchpoint to your community, the interactions through the Contact Form are as important as any other user-facing activity.  In fact, because members proactively reach out – some for the very first time – this is likely one of the biggest opportunities where you consistently under-engage.    

It’s time to fix this gap.  Here are examples on how to effectively respond to 2 different types of messages from the Contact Form.  Let’s look at some sample responses with a fictional online community “Toronto Birding Society” (Note: I know nothing of birdwatching or Toronto). 

Responding to Guidance Questions

Many questions you receive through the Contact Form are “guidance” questions.  These are questions that ask about function and features such as “how to?” and “how do I?”  The tone is usually neutral, and the intent is positive (eg. to learn).

These questions are easy-to-answer and the responses usually involve instructions, step-by-step details, and screenshots.  If you only respond to the specific inquiry, however, you miss out on all the potential of member growth: to affirm the relationship, recognize his contributions, instill community culture, and ultimately encourage the member to contribute in a more meaningful manner. 

Example:

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Question: “How do I upload images to my replies?” 

Normal Answer:

“Thanks for reaching out.  To upload images to your forum posts, you can follow the instructions below and as shown in the screenshots.” 

Better Answer:

“Thanks for fluttering into TBS!  I see that you started your member nest with us two months ago, and that you’re a new member Hatchling.  

To upload images to your forum posts, you can follow the instructions below and as shown in the screenshots.

It’s great to see you more involved in TBS.  I really liked your recent posts X, Y, and Z.  You wrote an especially informative piece on the Peregrine Falcon.  Have you thought about starting your own birdwatching diary in Blogs?  It can be a great way of documenting your birding sightings in a personal diary.  Please reach out if you have any further questions and thanks for being a member of TBS.”

 

Responding to Negative Sentiment Questions

The next type of question you receive through the Contact Form are questions of “negative sentiment.”  These are questions that ask to cancel, terminate, or suppress various functions because the user would like to disconnect from the community.  Even though the tone is neutral, the intent is negative. 

Just like before, the questions themselves are easy-to-answer.  However, if you took the inquiry at face value and answered the specific question, you end up losing the member!  Your goal instead should be member retention: to investigate why he wants to leave, to re-affirm the strength of the relationship, recognize his past contributions, invite the member to revisit, and ultimately deflect the original inquiry. 

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Question: “I’d like to delete my account” 

Normal Answer:

“Please confirm the account deletion by responding, and your account will be deleted within 48 hours.” 

Better Answer:

“It sounds like you want to fly the coop!  I’m sorry to hear you go – is there something that recently made you unhappy with your experience with the community? I’d genuinely like to hear about any challenges that you might be having with the site, which would improve the experience for others.  

You’ve been a highly-valued member since you nested with us in 2016 so I’m surprised to hear that you’d like to fly away.  Over that time, you’ve posted X times and received Y reactions. You wrote an especially informative piece on the Peregrine Falcon.  I know you haven’t visited in awhile. You should come back and check out all the new reactions that you’ve received on your content.  TBS offers the most authoritative and up-to-date birdsighting database in Toronto along with the only community dedicated to birdwatching near Toronto.  Please confirm the account deletion by responding, and your account will be deleted within 48 hours. By leaving, you would lose access to all our great content like the conservation programs, sanctuary walks, and access to your profile.”

 

 

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Conclusion

Busy communities receive messages through the contact form daily and weekly.  They’re a recurring part of our community management that we consistently overlook.  It’s one of the greatest touchpoints you will ever have with a member, since the member is actively seeking growth (or regression) with the community.  Your responsibility is to nudge them in the right direction. 

My recommendation is to write two templates: one for guidance questions, one for negative sentiment questions. This allows you to quickly provide a framework that can be filled in with personalized details. 

Use your replies to contact form messages as a way to not only answer the specific question, but grow the member and progress them along the member lifecycle journey.    

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