Avoiding ‘digital desertion’: How organisations can meet rising consumer expectations

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It’s safe to say that consumer expectations around online experience have changed dramatically: we’re less forgiving when it comes to poor website performance, and businesses need to address increasing demands to avoid a complete loss of customer loyalty.

To assess the transformation of attitudes towards the digital performances of brand, web performance testing and monitoring company Apica surveyed 2,250 internet users across the UK, US and Sweden. Findings delivered some interesting revelations about rising consumer expectations, which shape key lessons for organisations in terms of how to meet them.

Speed and quality of service are paramount when it comes to customer experience. Over the last few years, we’ve become more demanding of websites and apps: organisations – large and small – need to wake up to this fact and address changing attitudes before they suffer total digital desertion from their customers. Here’s how:

Graphs showing how likely consumers are to abandon slow performing sites (L) and to tell friends and family (R) about this

Address the need for speed

In an increasingly digitalised world, we’re experiencing ‘Amazonification’ when it comes to customer experience: users expect to get exactly what they want, at unprecedented speed. With same-day delivery options and the potential for groceries to be delivered directly to your car at the touch of a button, it’s no surprise that consumers expect faster online performance.

In fact, Apica’s research revealed that 75 per cent of users expect sites and apps to perform faster than they did three years ago. For brands, managing the peaks and troughs of online traffic – and delivering improved customer experience as a result – has never been more critically important. As consumers become increasingly digitally-savvy and less forgiving, the pressure is on businesses to continuously monitor and optimise websites and application performance to ensure a flawless user experience.

Recognise that long loads lose loyalty

Minimising load times is essential to encouraging brand loyalty. In an era of instant digital gratification, the phrase ‘time is money’ has never been more relevant as when it comes to application performance. In fact, 40 per cent of respondents in Apica’s survey admitted they will only wait a maximum of 10 seconds for a website to respond before switching to a competitor’s site. Furthermore, 11 per cent said they would refuse to spare even five seconds of their time to wait for a webpage to load.

In addition, Apica found that 60 per cent of respondents were likely to become less loyal to a particular brand if they encountered poor website or app performance, and 10 per cent would not return to purchase goods or services from a brand if faced with performance issues. The idea of an internet retailer wiping 1 in 10 of its customers off its books through app incompetence is concerning to say the least.

These results offer a reminder to companies globally that uptime and customer loyalty can only be optimised through efficient testing and monitoring of their websites and applications. Without it, companies are totally blind to the peak load capabilities of their online services.

Avoid planned maintenance at all costs

Occasionally, retailers will be forced into planned closures of physical stores for reasons such as maintenance, or even multiple absences. Online retailers don’t have that excuse: scheduling downtime is counterintuitive and profits will dip as soon as the business goes offline. However, there’s another impact, namely that consumer confidence takes a hit and frustrated consumers go elsewhere.

That being said, it appears there’s more understanding from consumers if organisations do at least flag this downtime in advance - 46 per cent of respondents to Apica’s survey revealed they would accept several hours of website downtime, as long as the organisation involved provided a clear explanation for the lack of availability

Depending on the nature of the website or app, businesses may be able to achieve constant uptime by deploying updates to small portions of an application at a time. Additionally, it goes without saying that maintenance windows should be scheduled at times that minimise impact on end-users. Across industries, these minimal impact times can vary greatly – and depending on the regional majority of a customer base, time zone will need to be taken into careful consideration also.

Remember: bad news travels fast

In an era of social media as a key platform for expression, we know that bad news can travel fast and wide. But perhaps what businesses need to worry about more in terms of their digital presence is face-to-face spoken exchanges about online experiences: as we all know, whether it’s workplace gossip or brand reputation – news spreads most quickly through word-of-mouth.

To highlight this, 83 per cent of respondents said that they would be likely to inform a colleague of a website or app’s bad performance. A further 4 out of 10 would without doubt share accounts of poor online experiences with friends, family or work colleagues. Organisations need to wake up to the fact that negative stories travel quickly – and take all measures necessary to prevent the justification of bad news in the first place.

In addition, businesses will never be able to avoid or doubt the power of a first impression: just one consumer’s poor initial experience can have potentially disastrous, long-lasting consequences.

How can businesses win?

This dramatic rise in consumer demand should ring alarm bells in the ears of digital businesses everywhere, regardless of organisation size or industry. Digital desertion is a very real challenge that companies need to address now, before any significant damage is done (or at least until their customers come to realise it).

To retain both customers and revenue, companies must concentrate on implementing proactive performance testing and monitoring for digital services to ensure that downtime and performance bottlenecks are dealt with before they affect end-users, even at peak usage times. The critical nature of this is backed up by evidence to say that end-users are less tolerant than ever, and more importantly, will not hesitate to share a poor online experience with their peers.

Organisations need to integrate the right testing and monitoring tools, people and processes to their long-term business strategies in attempt to meet increasing consumer expectations and avoid total digital desertion.

To find out more about the Apica survey and download the executive report of results, click here.

Carmen Carey, CEO, Apica
Image Credit: Jacek Dudzinski / Shutterstock