Not So Fast: Is Quicker Really Better?

A great customer experience balances fast service with the ability to indulge.

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jan 20, 2014

When asked if they want it fast or want it good, some of our customers might answer smugly, "Yes." OK—both fast and good. But when pressed to make a distinction, quality still wins out.

Despite the immediacy and impatience of our always-on world, many customers have bemoaned getting a rushed experience and a haphazard result when a business seems to value quick turnaround over quality. Emphasis upon speed over quality has often resulted in negative experiences for customers, costing businesses repeat patrons.

This raises the need for all businesses to pause, take a breath and determine whether the customer we just hurried along was truly satisfied. We better find out—quickly!

Get a hold on your giddyup, says Gallup

Simple 1-2-3 checkouts and easy no-questions-asked returns are the sorts of situations where customers want speed

A previous study by the Gallup Business Journal concluded that, as much as customers want fast service, they also want a satisfying experience that is free from feeling rushed along and forced out the door. The winning experience is one that effectively balances the need for speed with the ability to indulge.

Yes, these are seemingly mutually exclusive concepts: "Get me out of here quickly" versus "I want to take my time and soak up every drop of this goodness."

Therefore, as the folks at Gallup observed through their customer surveys, there are times and places where speed is of the essence, and a quick and efficient flow is likely to make for a memorable experience. However, there are also those situations where running through certain flows too quickly results in the perception of a negative experience and a feeling of being cheated for the sake of speed (as when the Disney parks, at peak visitor capacity, speed up their rides to push more people through quicker). The trick is to know when to step it up and when to back it off.

Applying speed where it matters

So, when was the last time you wished you could have spent more time at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Did it feel as if the two hours spent for a simple driver's license renewal rushed by too quickly while you awaited your opportunity to engage in lively banter with the attendant hiding behind the "now serving" display? Probably not.

Customers want speed and efficiency when it comes to mundane and administrative activities. Equally, they want to be moved along quickly when dealing with potentially unpleasant experiences (waiting to sit in the dentist's chair, for example).

There are times when your customers need to be left to their own schedule, often enabling them to lose track of all time for a truly enjoyable escape

In business, when it comes to creating store accounts, paying for purchases, or sorting through a return, your customers want a quick and painless process. If it takes longer than a few minutes, chances are most shoppers will abandon the effort and go elsewhere. Make it easy, then, to guide your customers through these flows, gathering only the absolutely necessary information and assuring them that "it only takes a minute."

Applying speed to unpleasant or otherwise unexciting processes will likely gain you approval. Study those situations when you're embroiled in them and try to determine which you preferred, and why. Simple 1-2-3 checkouts and easy no-questions-asked returns are the sorts of situations where customers want speed. Give it to them, make the experience quick but comprehensive, and get them on their way. They'll remember you nicely for it.

Allowing a slow pace when it pays off

This is where the quality of the experience comes in, the times when you let your customers bask in an indulgence, possibly to their heart's content. Consider a nice meal in a luxurious restaurant, a rejuvenating soak in a mineral bath or a slow stroll through a gallery of antiques. Forget the ominous clocks, buzzers and bells. There are times when your customers need to be left to their own schedule, often enabling them to lose track of all time for a truly enjoyable escape.

Clearly, this approach seems to be most applicable to the service or entertainment industry, but remember that even retail settings should allow for customers to take their time. If you have a store where shoppers might be pleased to linger (a clothing boutique or a book nook), make seating available and allow space for your guests to make themselves comfortable. Sure, when they're ready to check out, allow them to move along quickly but, until then, let them absorb the experience fully.

Learn how your customers navigate your store and where they spend their time to see if you're effectively catering to their desires

The slower pace situation, incidentally, is where the quality shines through (or is revealed as lacking). Put effort into a best experience for your customers, from the food you serve, the products you display, and even the ambience you provide. Tend to your customers' needs during their visit yet don't force yourself into their escape.

In an online setting, you can provide a nice display of products for purchase with plenty of links to additional images and information that lets customers learn more about what they might buy. Refrain, though, from shoving too many cross-sell pushes or "check out now" hustling along. Use site counters and tracking tools to see how your customers navigate your store and where they spend their time. You'll learn if you're effectively catering to their desires, and where you might make improvements.

The bottom line: 'Better' wins over 'quicker'

Although it's true that a fast flow is best in mundane activity, it's the quality of any experience that is most remembered. Your customers visit you for the products and services you offer and, in that regard, they want to feel they're given the time and space they choose during that experience.

This is the crux of establishing and maintaining connection to customers, the sort that will compel them to return time and time again. Yes, speed them through the have-to-take-care-of-this stuff, then let them loose to enjoy what you have to offer at their own rate and in their own way. They'll see you understand what they want and have a keen view of the details and nuances that make their every visit as good as or maybe better than the last.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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