Science Supports the Need for Better Customer Experiences

There continues to be a huge discrepancy between what customers and companies believe about customer experience (CX), despite many companies' efforts to make changes to omnichannel interactions. Why is this continuing if technology itself is better and companies are trying harder?

Part of it comes from the consumerization of IT (CoIT), meaning that consumers are far more familiar with digital experiences via tablets, smart phones, and social media, so their expectations for companies to provide simple, fast, user-friendly customer experiences is table stakes. But this is not the only force at work.

In interviews, customer experience and customer service professionals told me they were focused on completing customer journey mapping and making sure it is well-matched with the capabilities of the omnichannel software implemented. IT professionals told me their focus was on digital performance management, meaning the actual performance of the software infrastructure that supports the omnichannel software. And in speaking to both groups, few were focused on both omnichannel customer experiences and digital performance management. Hence the gap in customer experiences. There's no rocket science here, but there is a strong need for a balance in focus and collaboration.

At first glance, one could think customers are just too picky. But if we look at neuroscience's noted researcher and writer Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, he observed in 1998 that people who perform seamless, sequence-based activities on a regular basis are happier than people who don't. To describe this behavior, he coined the term "flow." With the advent of CoIT, we've actually imposed a new set of demands on our customers' brains. But instead of offering a series of smoothly sequential flows, websites and mobile applications are characterized by lag, downtime, and restarts, even though customers' flow-oriented brains aren't wired to deal with poor digital experience interactions. So, science proves the business need for great customer experiences is a fact, not a myth.

Neuroscience Shows Customer Experience is Not Fluff: It's the Right Stuff

In fact, there's a wealth of scientific research on what happens to customers at a neurological level when they are forced to deal with slow or interrupted processes. Impatience is an indelible part of their human circuitry. Companies must recognize that the way customers' brains are hard-wired and their neurological desire for flow/ease of use are both part of the cost of doing business. This means companies must come to terms with the economic imperative of the customer experience or risk driving customers to their competitors.

What's more, happier customers are more likely to follow calls to action to register, download, subscribe, request information, or purchase. On the other hand, unhappy customers, which could include those who experience a mere two-second slowdown in how a web page loads, make almost 2 percent fewer queries and 3.75 fewer clicks and report being significantly less satisfied with their overall experiences. Worse, they tell their friends about their negative experiences. With the word of mouth social networks provide, companies need to heed the seriousness of differentiating their customer experiences or be left in the dust.

Striking A Balance: Omnichannel CX and Digital Performance Management

Robert B. Miller's 1968 paper, "Response Time in Man-Computer Conversational Transactions" found people have always been most comfortable, most efficient, and most productive with response times of less than two seconds. And these facts about human perception and response times have been consistent for more than 45 years. They are hard-wired in human brains and consistent regardless of the type of device, application, or connection a customer is using. And what's critical is determining where a company's web/mobile site performance is compared to customer expectations and benchmarking against CoIT applications, competitors, or even non-competitors that have a great customer experience.

This past year, a site that normally performs really well, went down. The cost? With $98.5 billion sold in 2015, a 20-minute outage cost Amazon about $3.75 million. So while that might be a drop in the bucket for this online retailer, no company wants to prevent buyers from making purchases.

Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., is a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.