Capture Loyalty by Giving Customers Something They Need More of: Time

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
The organization that considers time when designing or improving its customer experience is the one that will win with today's time-starved customers.

How often have you wished that the hold time when you call customer support was shorter, or that a retailer would add more cashiers so the line wouldn't be so long, or that it didn't take so much time to unpack and set up a new gadget? Your customers are thinking the same thing. Therein lies the opportunity.

The organization that considers time when designing or improving its customer experience is the one that will win with today's time-starved customers."Executives need a systematic way to put customers' time into their thinking," Adrian Ott told me when we discussed this issue earlier this week. Ott is CEO and founder of Exponential Edge and author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connect Economy. Here are a few of her insights on using time to help create a competitive advantage:

Why is time such an important consideration in customers' purchase decisions today?
We factor time into decisions every day, whether implicitly or explicitly. This includes purchasing decisions. Is the product easy to consume or set up, what are the time alternatives? Should I go on Facebook or to the gym instead? These are what I call Time-Value Tradeoffs.

Many business executives spend hours looking at demographics, pricing, and other data; they don't consider how time affects consumer behavior. Yet time is critical and integral to most decisions today.

Are companies doing enough to market the time value of their products or services?
Businesses are missing a huge opportunity. The value of time should go into marketing, into the product itself, into service. Consider the difficulties many customers face with when they deal with customer service and how it wastes their time. Companies have an opportunity to do things differently. According to a recent survey, Zappos.com is now number one in customer service; they focus the company around it. They don't waste customers' time; they think about how to work with customers and make service a positive experience.

Even product development offers opportunities to rethink how to address customer needs in terms of time. Time slicing is one example. People using Twitter instead of blogging is an example of time slicing because many people don't have time to write blog posts. Sparked.org enables busy people to volunteer to charitable causes in spare moments through time-slicing. There are profound ways to create disruptive innovations when you consider time.

How else can companies use time as a differentiator?
Along with time slicing, there's timing sharing. Zip Car does this, and grew when Detroit didn't. Time saving is probably the oldest application of using time as a differentiator. Executives should think about how to embed time into the customer experience, like Nike+. Nike has gone beyond shoes to delivering an entire digital ecosystem for runners. Time can differentiate an offering tremendously.

Companies are battling for customers' time. Google and Facebook, for example, are in a time war. The more time consumers spend on one site, the more it sells and the less [consumers] may spend on competitor sites. How can an organization capture more of their customers' limited time?

What insights do companies need to help use time as a competitive advantage?
Business executives need to do walk-throughs in terms of clocking themselves: How much time does it take for a customer to get information, to make a purchase, to set up a product...all those things. Customers expect that.

In terms of customer adoption, you can't assume that just because a customer bought a product, it's a win; you have to have adoption. A sale without adoption is like winning the battle but losing the war. In The 24-Hour Customer I tell a story about receiving an MP3 player and never using it. Later I received an iPod as a gift and it's been a constant companion ever since because Apple made it convenient to use. Organizations need both adoption and continued use.

What's the one essential that marketers need to successfully use time value in their marketing?
The opportunity is to think of the triggers that redirect customers' time and attention. Marketers need to map how a product or service relates to customers' time priorities. Once they understand that, it drives actions. In other words, based on customers' time preferences and priorities marketers can then define what they need to do next. In fact, defining the end-to end-offering -- from design to marketing and sales to service -- in terms of customer time priorities is critical.

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EXPERT OPINION