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Killing off web forms

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The world of customer service is changing at lightning pace. Tech savvy customers are turning to live chat and social media as their go to contact channels. There’s even a revival of customers phoning to sort out their issues.

I had an exclusive interview with Luke Todd, Consultant Head of Customer Services, at eBay classifieds website Gumtree UK. To give you some context, receives over 15 million visits per month. I asked him about webform and how he played grim reaper in it’s demise.

Why kill off webform?

Gumtree have been using live chat for over two years and access was available across the site. The last place for live chat was placed as the main contact channel; it was on the help pages of the site. Webform was offered as an option to contact customer service if live chat was busy.

Gumtree’s research showed that customer found that webform  drop-down menus, tick boxes and free text boxes very laborious. Webform also had by far the lowest CSAT(Customer Satisfaction) scores. The cost per transaction for each contact channel was analysed and taking into account first contact resolution and case reopens it was clear that webform was the most expensive contact channel.

The analysis further showed that phone and live chat had the highest first contact resolution and webform was by some margin the worst performer. Email results showed around a 30-35% case reopen rate and even that was better than the 60% reopen rate for webform contacts. Email has been identified as a dying channel for Gumtree. Customers really didn’t like webform and the drive was to open more live chat opportunities.

Customer tend to take a lot more time when writing an email going into specific details, meaning agents have a much higher chance to start resolving their issues. Whereas, on webform, customers provide very little useful information and many of the reopens were to get more specific information about their problem.

Even when users were given the option of using webform when live chat was busy were dissatisfied. They were hoping to use live chat and when nudged to use webform their expectations were not being met. Customers are used to first contact resolution because of access to live chat and the regrowth of phone as a contact channel. Users didn’t want the webform experience they only wanted and expected the live chat experience.

Gumtree witnessed the slow death of webform over a period of 12 months and took the decision to remove it completely. Customers had become accustomed to first contact resolution channels like live chat, self-help, telephone and social media and having to wait for webform issues to be resolved wasn’t meeting their needs.

Live chat increase

The key to live chats success taking over webform was in getting the optimum number of live chat agents’ right. If you are over staffed you’ll attract customers who are willing to self-help but choose live chat if it’s availale, so finding the balance was essential.

During the period webform was available and live chat was busy Gumtree was assessing the balance for the live chat team. When this was established webform was switched off and the optimized live chat team remained in place. Webform was replaced with a new button offering customers the chance to contact the Gumtree 24/7 social media support team. So, when live chat is busy, customers now see ‘Tweet Us’ button as an alternative contact method. If users click the ‘Tweet Us’ button, they’re redirected to the Gumtree help site feed in Twitter.

Gumtree sees Twitter as a high first contact resolution channel and an easily accessible alternative to those people wishing to use live chat. It’s a very similar experience to live chat and so it’s an easy and natural alternative customer experience.

Social Media

Since webform was switched off and Twitter promoted as an alternative, Gumtree has seen a 500% increase in social media contacts.

Gumtree’s social media customer support team looks at the profile of each customer to personalise how they respond. By looking at how many followers someone has or what their interests are the customer service agents can offer a really personalised response.

What Gumtree discovered is that there is a rise in Twitter accounts being created literally moments before contact is made with the social media customer support team. So, since the removal of webform it’s clear that customers are using the Twitter option, creating an account and immediately contacting customer services.

What Gumtree have also noticed is that some live chat users have migrated across to using Twitter as a contact channel. Those customers who couldn’t use live chat because it was busy moving across to social media. And, those customers who cannot use webform are engaging using live chat.

Overall, Gumtree is seeing more phone and live chat users using Twitter and old webform users using live chat. Gumtree’s dominant channel is live chat followed by phone and then social media with email languishing behind.

Gumtree is finding that because of the nature of social media and the high first contact resolution more and more customers are choosing to use social media. This really feeds into the feel good factor for those customers in contact and those that are seeing what’s happening live on Twitter. As a result Gumtree have had no complaints about the absence of webform. The only change has been some less internet savvy customers phoning customer services asking for the email address to make contact.

The benefits from the death of webform

Business efficiencies are improved because first contact resolution has increased significantly. This means costs are driven down because the reopen rate is going down.

Customer service agents can get to the heart of the issue much quicker over social media and live chat than they ever could over webform or email. This means that the number of cases being resolved per agent per hour has increased resulting in more cost savings.

CSATs are higher. Customers are much happier because they have immediate contact and being handled much more personally. Webform was robotic; the customer says something, the agent replied, customer says something, the agent replies…and it goes on!

Live chat, social media and phone support is more human and individual with far higher first contact resolutions.

First contact resolution not only benefits the customer and business it also leads to more repeat visits to Many more engaged customers!


Businesses have been using webform as a method for their CRM to classify what the customer is contacting them about for a very long time; today, that’s not enough, customers expect to be supported individually and demand instant gratification.

Webform makes customers pick from lists, tick boxes and add a few words to explain their problem. It’s not loved by customers and Gumtree say it’s not missed.

Switching off webform was a well-considered business decision for Gumtree and proved to be a very positive one. With the increase in social media customer contacts and live chat spearheading Gumtree’s customer service both the business and customers have seen real benefits.