In observing thousands of customers over a 10-year period as they try to complete tasks online, I have noticed a very significant gap between what people say and what they do.

Firstly, people are generally not good at predicting their own behavior.

Time and time again, I’ve had people say they do A, B, and C online connected with a specific task, only to observe them do X, Y, and Z.

Secondly, people have failed miserably at a whole range of tasks on a website or app, only to say they were very satisfied with their experience.

These findings lead to the conclusion that it’s essential to observe online behavior if you want to find out about the true experience customers are having. Millions of customers go online every day to complete tasks.

Online is a much more active medium than television or print.

For example, with Search, the customer, not the brand, is the broadcaster.  The customer is active – the brand, reactive.  The customer is creating an advertisement as they type: “cheap flights Dublin”.  The brand needs to listen and respond.  So, online we really need to know: Are customers completing their tasks?

Speed Is The Essence Of The Online Experience

Time is everything online, and this is particularly true for mobile.  Therefore, if we want to measure what customers actually experience online, we must measure the time they spend.

“Subconsciously, you don’t like to wait,” Arvind Jain, a Google speed engineer told The New York Times in 2012.  “Every millisecond matters.”  Google found that if your pages are 250 milliseconds (a quarter of a second) slower than your competitors, you will lose customers to those competitors.  “Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft, told the Times.  A quarter of a second is not a lot of time.

Fast-downloading pages are critical to online success:

Every second faster Walmart.com made its pages load, saw a 2% lift in conversions.

Firefox reduced page load times by 2.2 seconds and saw 10 million extra downloads as a result.

The Financial Times found that a 1-second delay in page downloads caused a 4.9% drop in the number of articles read.

The 2012 Obama campaign made their website 60% faster, and this resulted in a 14% increase in donation conversions.

However, as important as page download speed is, it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall time involved in completing a task online.  It is estimated that page download speed accounts for between 10% and 20% of overall task time.  The vast majority of the time a typical customer spends online is taken up by scanning, reading, clicking, typing, selecting.  In other words, much more time is taken up using the page than it waiting for it to download.

Read all: Customer Experience: Measure What People Do, Not What They Say – Brand Quarterly

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