It’s easy enough to add a form to any website, begging your clients — or prospective clients — to give you as much information as possible. After all, the more information you have on file, the better you can help clients, right?
Just because the mechanics of gathering information are easy online, though, you shouldn’t take the opportunity lightly. That information is valuable, and not everyone will want to give it to you. That means you’ll need to know as much as possible about the process of collecting information online before you even start.
- You have an obligation to protect any information you collect: For many types of information that you might collect from your clients, especially online, there are laws that govern the collection and use of such information. Even if you aren’t legally required to handle information correctly, however, by asking for that information, you’ve created an implicit obligation for yourself. If you don’t protect your clients, they won’t be your clients for long.
- Many people will not give you the information you want: If you’re offering some sort of incentive for your clients to fill out a form (like a free ebook or a coupon code), it’s quite possible that some will fill in false information to get their reward, leaving you to sort out the useful data from the dregs. That’s true, whether your clients are businesses or individuals.
- Some people are extremely reluctant to give out information online, no matter what. Some people won’t give out information online, some won’t include sensitive information no matter how many protections you put in place and some will fill out anything you send them.
- You need to have a plan in place for what you’re going to do with that information: The simple truth is that some businesses collect information just to have it, just in case. But considering the relative ease of gathering data these days, it may not be worth collecting a ton of information right now, unless you’re prepared to act on it.
- It can be extremely difficult to get updates to the information you collect: Where you might have had an assistant just go through and call every number for past clients to check if your records are up to date in the past, it’s not nearly so simple with online information — with an email list, who’s to say that a bounced email means that an email address has changed, a mail box is full or some other situation entirely.
Before you even create a form, you need to have strategies in place to take care of your obligations regarding client data, as well as to make sure that you’re really getting what you need out of the information you collect.
Image by Flickr user warthog09