Talk first. Ask for detail later

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I take no credit for any of the work done here. It’s all down to Martin Kerr and Rob Catterson.

But I’ll tell the story.

Martin noticed it first.

When he tested with customers they grew exasparated …

Why don’t you ask me about the interesting stuff first?

All the guff we need to manage enquiries: name, email, who you work for, what you do … it disengages people.

What Martin discovered is that if you ask people what they’re passionate about first you get much better engagement.

What’s your project? What do you want to achieve? How (do you think) can we help you?

We get many more, and better, answers to questions like these if we ask them first, instead of asking for banal data like name and email address upfront.

The power of conversation

So Rob and Martin had a conversation. 

It’s impossible to overstate this; the importance of being able to actually talk, face-to-face, is immeasurable.

There really isn’t a substitute. Be in a room. Talk like people.

Nothing else even approaches coming close.

So Rob did this.

He turned the Contact us form on the SDI site on it head. Instead of asking for personal data, the first questions are about how we can help you. 

  • How can we help you?
  • What, specifically, can we help you with?

Only after that do we ask: how do we get back to you?

Now, there’s a subtle but significant change in tone here.

Before, we said: tell us these things or we won’t even talk to you.

After, we said: How can we help you? Cool, got that, we’ll get back to you in a day or two, tell us how to get in touch so we can do that.

This is what happened


Conversion rate for measured by page views and unique page views
Conversion rate for measured by page views and unique page views


Average time on page
Average time on page

So, compared to the previous period (about 6 weeks) proportionately more people completed the form just because we asked how we can help them before we ask for any other information.

Basically, we got out of their way.

The conversion rate went up by 1%. Or, if you prefer tabloid numbers, it’s a 23% increase on what we previously had.

That may not look like much. But it’s indicative that if we ask interesting questions first and the boring stuff later, we get better data, and better conversations.

Psychologically, people are more committed: I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

And they did it quicker.

So we’ve not just made this more effective, it’s also more efficient.

Just by listening, and making small changes.



I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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