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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Internet and Contact Information

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 13, 2005

The button on the web page says, "Contact." Other variations are "Contact Us" or "Customer Service."

In the world of the Internet, it is the way you as the user of a business web site can contact the web site's sponsor to ask questions, learn more about a product, or even order a product online. Learning to use the "Contact" feature of a web page is essential to successful use of the Internet.

My mother asked if I could find a company that sells buckwheat flour.  The company that she had used for years went out-of-business. This seemed like a perfect use of the Internet's resources, but instead it became a frustrating exercise for me.

A basic search for "buckwheat flour" turned up more hits than I wanted to tackle, and narrowing the search yielded nothing useful. Further work on my search did reduce the number of hits to 50, and careful review of those found three buckwheat flour suppliers, that would seem to sell to the home consumer.

One was the company that had closed, yet their web site still blazed away to anyone on the Internet. The third company seemed appropriate.  It was located nearby in Pennsylvania, shipped product to home consumers, and had packaged product in a size that the home consumer would use.

"For information, Click Here" said the web site.  I did, and time passed as the electronic message fell into the Black Hole of the Internet. After two weeks, I called the phone number listed on the web site, and was greeted by a pleasant voice identifying the correct company, and asking how she could assist me.

"I contacted you through your web page, and haven't heard back."  The pleasant voice was silent, but slowly said, "What web page?"  It turned out that a local computer company in Pennsylvania had developed a simple web page to sell to this company; it was never purchased, but remained active with contacts to the page going absolutely no place. In the end, I was able to order the buckwheat flour, and the mysterious web page disappeared within a week.

This seems to be a common occurrence on the Internet.  Send an e-mail to a company, and it is never heard from again.  The reasons are as varied as the number of companies on the Internet. Larger companies often have a question and answer section on their web pages, trying to quickly answer the most common questions without a contact.

Government agencies seem to be better at their contact points; I have had good success contacting them via their web sites. Contact points on a web page require staff time, and with software programs on the market to contact companies through this method, it is understandable why web sites are bogging down.

Our own "Contact" on the library web page is receiving advertisements for new books, some carefully addressed as if it is a distressed library customer who can't find this book or that book in the library collection and how to buy it. Since these are quickly deleted, it is possible that legitimate e-mails are lost in the shuffle of unwanted advertisements.

My recommendations for contacting companies through their web page are to investigate the company and its site and record information about the firm.  Call their 800 number if they have one for more information. Write them a letter if they provide the address.  Tell them to mail you information to be assured they are "real."  If they want your business, they will respond.

Mail them an old-fashioned paper check, or use their online ordering system only if you are comfortable with your review of their operations. Some caution up front will save grief in the weeks ahead.