The Goldilocks theory of contact information

I recently found myself working with the owner of a service business whose marketing materials send business calls to his home phone – which he only checks at night. He doesn’t use e-mail, and his mobile phone is set up to not take messages.

He apparently doesn’t like to be bothered.

On the other extreme, I recently encountered a small-business owner who’s e-mail signature reads like the Congressional Directory; it provides 3 phone numbers, fax, 2 e-mail addresses, Twitter, Facebook and, of course, mailing address.

It left me wondering how I should reach him. Does he actually check all of these contact points several times a day? Should I send messages through several of these, or just one? And which one?

People who provide so many possible points of contact are trying to be considerate. They may hope to create convenience, or convey that they’re accessible and deeply interested in hearing from you. Unintentionally, they create uncertainty.

So how much contact information is just right?

E-mail

Providing an e-mail address is mandatory – even if you hate computers.

But for small companies, one address is always enough: People expect a timely response to e-mails – not an immediate one. So it’s more important to give confidence that their message is going to the right place and will be handled promptly.

Providing multiple addresses puts the burden on the customer or prospect to figure out the right one for their specific message. Most likely, they’ll just send it to both – meaning you end up dealing with it twice.

Because nobody can know how any given organization will actually route an e-mail message once it arrives, the best way to provide certainty is to offer a single address and take responsibility through internal processes for making sure it gets to the correct location.

Phone

Phone numbers are a little different. When someone makes a phone call, they usually hope to reach someone immediately. But in this age, we’re all realistic: If you provide a single phone number, people aren’t surprised – and are usually tolerant – if they have to leave a message and wait for you to return the call.

But if you provide two or more  phone numbers, it tells people they can expect to reach a real person – and that they should keep dialing until they do. The more numbers you offer, the more frustrating the exercise becomes. So it’s OK to offer multiple phone numbers – but only if one of them is actually going to lead to direct human contact (in which case, why not give people that number first?).

Social media

Social media is a disaster waiting to happen.

If you provide your Twitter handle as part of your contact information, you are implying that you’ll receive, read and respond to direct messages sent via Twitter. There are people out there who really do communicate this way. Most businesses are not prepared to actually do this; they’re just trying to get more Twitter followers, and don’t even know how to check for direct Twitter messages – let alone do it 3 or 4 times a day.

It’s the same with Facebook. If you provide the address of your Facebook page in the context of contact information, people will use it to engage you for issues that deserve immediate attention. Rather than call or e-mail with a complaint they’ll place it for all to see on your company’s Facebook page. I’ve seen serious complaints sit on company Facebook pages for weeks at a time without ever being addressed.

If you want to use social media for day-to-day contact with customers, that’s wonderful – as long as someone in your organization is responsible for checking and responding frequently.

But if the point of promoting your social media pages is to build a following, then don’t make this part of your customer service and contact information. Give it a separate location in your marketing materials and use words that set the right expectation, such as “Follow us on Facebook.”

All of this may sound intuitive, but I see multiple examples every day of businesses that harm themselves in the way they present contact information on websites, brochures, business cards and e-mail signatures.

Take a look at yours. Are you offering too little, too much or is it just right?

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