Why are you hiding your telephone number from me? Why?

For a recent project here, we had to go through a number of websites looking for contact telephone numbers, which was an interesting exercise. Using a company’s website to look up its telephone number is perhaps the single most common use the site is put to. And a lot of those people looking up your telephone number are going to be very important to you, so you need to make the task as simple as possible. To be fair, I think that the proportion of websites which do this simple job well is increasing. But there’s still room for improvement.

In my opinion, the company telephone number should be at the top of the home page. It’s as straightforward as that. Why? Because many people don’t have the time or ability to go delving down through layers of “contact us” pages and guides to departments. I’ve tried to look up company phone numbers on a ship where the internet connection is 60 pence a minute. I’ve tried it in a rural location where the “3G” has just disappeared from my mobile phone screen. Most customers will already have had to do a Google search to get to your website. It’s utterly infuriating for them to have to load up two or three more pages just to get a number.

On one company’s website I saw recently, the only way to get to the contact information was through a map of the world, where you had to click on the country you’re in. I didn’t know that at first. I was looking on an iPad, and there was just a baffling white space on the “contact us” page. The (invisible) animated map had been created in a technology called “Flash”, which didn’t show on my iPad, as it wouldn’t on most mobile phones. Being a web geek, I guessed what was happening and tried again on a desktop PC. What a disastrous bit of customer relations that must have been on many occasions though.

A common defence for hiding telephone numbers behind layers of unnecessary fluff is that the company has dozens of contact numbers worldwide, and it couldn’t possibly put them all at the top of the home page. Sure, but if the company is big enough to have dozens of contact numbers worldwide, it’s big enough to invest in some web technology which identifies the visitor’s location and shows the relevant local number. If that’s too daunting, at least have a link at the top of the home page which says “contact telephone numbers”, which goes straight to an uncluttered page listing relevant numbers clearly. No menus or maps of the world please, just a list of numbers. How hard can that be? Yet I rarely ever see one.

Now go and call up your company’s website, preferably on a mobile phone, and see how many clicks, how much scrolling or what graphical frivolities have to be endured, just to get to the phone number. I hope the result isn’t too embarrassing.

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