Online Form Usability - Montana Webmaster

When Form Submission Leaves People Hanging

The Scenario

Screenshot of form submission success message
This system did not follow through beyond the Success Message.

Today, I signed up for a training webinar with Oracle. Their webinars are well worth taking an hour out of my morning. But I was a little surprised at the terseness of their form success message.

And, I haven’t received a confirmation email. I don’t even know for sure whether I should expect one. I mean, it’s normal to receive one, but there is no indication from their success message.

Update: I never did receive emails for the webinar, in spite of the submission. In fact, I didn’t receive any further information on the webinar at all, so, of course, I didn’t attend. This makes me lose confidence in whether it is worth while to sign up for future webinars with them.

What Should Happen After Someone Fills Out your Form?

Mostly, if we test a form, we are happy that it works. The definition of “working” is that you received their submission into your email inbox. You got what you wanted. They filled out your form. But, you may have gotten something you don’t know about … an uncomfortable viewer. The bigger picture of what you want is a viewer who is satisfied with the result and thinks your company is wonderful.

The key to obtaining the bigger picture is to dig into the process a little more closely. What happens after they fill out the form? It’s bigger than you receiving the submission and replying.

What Happens on the Page with the Form?

  1. Nothing visible to them?
  2. Does the form keep showing with what they entered?
  3. Does the form disappear?
  4. Does a “success message” replace the form?

What Happens to the Form Itself?

The key here is what gives your viewers confidence that their submission was successful. If the form keeps showing with their entry, they may think it didn’t process and try submitting again. This is uncomfortable.

In this case, the form disappears, but there is a simple Success Message in its place.

If the form disappears, but their entry shows in a Success Message, they know something happened. The form isn’t there, but they still see that the system has their entry. The basic success message should include a thank you, what your normal response time is, and a confirmation of what they filled out in the form.

Is your Success Message Friendly?

This Success Message shows up at the bottom of the form below the Submit button after the form is submitted and cleared. The important thing is to know whether your viewers are returned to the top of the page or whether their screen stays at the bottom of the form.

There should be a system generated message that shows on the page called a Success Message. It confirms to the viewer that the server received the message and processed it.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. Sometimes the success message displays on a part of the page that doesn’t show on the screen. For example, the message may show at the top, but the viewer’s screen shows the area where the Submit button is/was. In this case, it’s likely that the viewer won’t see it.
  2. Sometimes the success message is a terse, “Thanks”.
  3. Sometimes the success message gives the viewer false hope. In the introduction above, the confusion came because there was no further response after the success message.

Think about your success message from the point of the person filling out the form.

  1. What will make them feel confidence that you will respond?
  2. What will make them feel confident that you will respond with great customer service?

A well crafted and designed success message tells viewers that you pay attention to details.

Your success message could also include:

  1. A group photo of the staff that might respond to the form (office staff, sales staff, etc.)
  2. Information about an upcoming event or sale
  3. A fun fact about your business  or industry

Of course, to have that fun success message, someone needs to pay attention to the form. But, isn’t that what marketing and customer service is all about?

Do your Viewers Receive an Email Response?

And what does it look like? What should be in the email?

  1. The subject line should tell that it’s a response from you for filling out there form. That means that it should say something like, “Thank you for contacting [Company Name] through our online form.” Keep in mind that people receive a whole lot of email, and a whole lot of junk. They won’t get a good impression from your email if they don’t open it.
  2. The email should have a real “Reply to” person. In the long run, what your readers want is a person, not a series of computer generated messages.

Have You Used your Own Form?

We all expect others to forgive us for actions that we don’t forgive in others.

Test your form, not in the idea of “it’s good enough”, but with the eyes of someone who is deciding whether they really want to interact with you again. Don’t just ask your developer to test the form, test it yourself. In the long run, it’s your clients that will be filling out the form, not your developer’s.

Whenever I add a form to a website, I do a test for functionality. That means I make sure that the pieces work. But, I also ask my clients to fill out their own forms. In the mad scramble to get a site up and running, these tests seem to move down to the bottom of the To Do list. So, the task generally rolls back around when something goes wrong with the form.

It’s not to late to have a website form that promotes sales, as well as customer service.


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