Asking for too much information on a contact form (such as gender, marital status or just too many fields altogether) can send users running away screaming. On the other hand, not getting the information you need to understand the user’s needs defeats the purpose of collecting information to begin with. To find that perfect balance, the first step is to determine the primary purpose of the form.
Prioritize Your Needs vs Wants
Are you simply providing potential clients a means to get in touch with you, or are you providing an estimate or quote? Will you store this information for later use, or is it just getting the information for initial contact? Try to break the potential form elements (anything from name and email to message subject and other options) into two groups, needs and wants. Ask yourself ‘what information do I absolutely need in order to answer their question’, and ‘what are some thing that would be nice to know about them, but I don’t need’. Determining the necessities and priorities of the form elements will establish the base of the form.
Now that you have a list of elements that are required for the form to succeed in its purpose, try and break up those elements into categories, such as Contact Information, Business Information, Product/Service Information, Special Requests, etc. Additional information could include a newsletter signup, entry for contests, etc.
Let’s take a look at Express Gift Baskets user registration form. This form is what every customer must fill out prior to placing an order. Once the account is created, we had to narrow down what was necessary information to collect from the user. In this case, saving the address of the user saved a ton of time in the checkout process, as this same information could be selected as both the billing and shipping address for their orders. In addition, by changing the term ‘Phone’ to ‘Primary Phone’, Express is suggesting to the user to type in the number that they are most likely able to be reached at in case of a change in the order.
Many companies like to ask information that benefits both the business and the user, such as ‘How would you prefer to be contacted by’ and ‘What time/date should we call’. Determining the best time to contact the potential client can increase success rates drastically. Some software support forms also require the user to define a priority to submit a support question, such as ‘urgent’ or ‘regular priority’. Both of these elements would fall under the ‘want’ category as they are not mandatory to answer the user’s question, but increase overall satisfaction.