by Chris Martins, Product Marketing Manager, Trillium Software
Reconciling the borderless nature of digital interactions with the physical world of where customers actually are can present challenges. Unless potential issues are anticipated and addressed in your processes and supporting systems the price you pay can be a poor experience delivered to your [potential] customers. Below is an example (a personal anecdote) of how those challenges can crop up.
I was interested in reading a piece of research that was published by an [unnamed] organization. The information was marketed to me via an email newsletter that provided a link to the content provider. When I attempted to download the content, I was prompted to provide some information, which I was willing to do. However, the site went further than just asking for my name and email, seeking information about my company and its location. When filling out that those fields, I was stymied by a problem with my address, as has can be seen below.
Website registration forms may have to be governed by the constraints of the underlying system and the structure of the database. But, though this kind of error code might be fine for an internal audience, it’s not the way to deal with a prospective customer.
As a potential customer what should I do here? As perhaps can be discerned from the field name, this organization is based in the UK and uses the term “postcode” rather the US equivalent of “zip code.” But from my perspective, the numbers I entered are accurate; they’re just not a UK postcode. Being from the US, I don’t happen to know what the standard format for UK postcodes should be. Perhaps, I am just not cosmopolitan enough.
And the error message gives me no guidance; it presumes a typing error that I’ll know how to correct. But, even if I knew the right format and composition, I’d have to create a fictitious postcode in order to get the information, thus populating their marketing database with a bad record? Is that what they want? More importantly, why is the burden on me to figure out what to do?
Or do they want me to just go away? And write a snarky blog post.
This kind of problem is not just a matter of geography and country conventions. Web registration forms often fail to provide the right level of guidance to a prospect, regardless of their country of origin. That leaves your organizations dependent on how the customer interprets what to do next. And that often leads to bad data in the system, data that will hurt your marketing and sales efforts. For example, how many web registration forms are out there with a field asking you to optionally provide “Address Line 2” data, with no clue as to what’s supposed to be entered? Is it your office number, or an alternate shipping address, or? If you Google “address line 2”, you’ll get more than 90,000 results. A lot of people don’t know what to do with that field.
Or how many times do you enter a phone number into a blank text field, only to get an error message afterwards telling you whether or not is was supposed to be numbers-only or should include the dashes. Or you input a credit card number, not knowing if you should include the spaces or not – again often only having an error message afterwards to provide what is wanted.
All these prospective error messages – or the uncertainty associated with not knowing what to do - create a poor customer experience. They also prompt the entry of inaccurate or poorly formatted data that populates your downstream marketing, ecommerce, and CRM systems. That infects future communications and reflects badly on your brand. Or these obstructions get in the way of gathering the data and delivery the product or service. Or potential customers abandon the effort and go somewhere else.
In my situation, I did abandon the effort. A far better experience would have been to gather some address information and automatically populate the remaining fields, including postal/zip code information. There’s technology that can do that quite effectively. My abandonment is no real loss, but how many other, potential paying customers would similarly be stymied in their efforts. In those situations, it could be real dollars lost.
Or, given the term “post codes”, perhaps I should say pounds lost.