How to Stop Driving Customers Away
John R. Graham
It takes a website visitor less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression, according to recent eye-tracking research conducted by the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
But the study, involving college students, doesn't stop there. It indicates that it takes about 2.6 seconds for a visitor's eyes to focus on the portion of the website that most influences a first impression. In descending order, the sections of a website that drew the most interest were these: logo, main navigations, search box, social networking links, main image, main text content and then bottom of the website.
As to the value of the research, Dr. Hong Sheng, an assistant professor of business and information technology at the university, said, "As more people use the Internet to search for information, a user's first impression of a website can determine whether that user forms a favorable or unfavorable view of that organization."
How consumers evaluate websites applies to the way they make other types of decisions. Their opinions do not necessarily agree with what we think is most important. In other words, we can be driving customers and prospects away and not realize we're doing it. Here are danger signs that may alert us to trouble ahead.
Failure to Respond to Customer Complaints
The attractive bar and restaurant was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. But it quickly drew negative comments, particularly about service, on Yelp. As the complaints accumulated on Yelp sites, seemingly ignored by the owners, their "message" had a way of seeping into the minds and conversations of customers.
According to two analyst firms, Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research technologies, only 35% of complaints are answered. Two-thirds are missed opportunities to engage customers or resolve a complaint.
The lesson is simple: When customers contact a business or post a complaint, they expect a prompt response. If they are ignored, the impression is both indelible and viral as they "spread the bad word."
Not Taking "No Waiting" Seriously
While businesses worry about customers pilfering merchandise, shoppers are equally distressed when companies steal their time.
Waiting intolerance is quickly moving into the danger zone for many customers, with 52% saying they "hated" waiting in line in grocery stores and 51% at mass merchandisers.
A recent study of 1,000 smartphone users raises the ante even higher, with 40% saying they will abandon their "real world" shopping carts at checkout counters because of long lines and another 21% who will walk away from their cart if no register is open.
Everyone can recall in detail incidents that occurred when we were trapped while waiting in line in a store, a restaurant, on the phone or downloading something to a computer. Yet, try to recall the times when a business answered on the first ring. The negative experiences take on a life of their own.
Here's the point: Today any waiting can result in not only a lost sale, but a lost customer as well. To offset the negative effects of waiting intolerance, eliminating delays should be a top priority. When they are inevitable, letting customers know the estimated wait time is essential.
Failure to Recognize Fragility
Although the problem is painfully pervasive and constantly discussed, many companies don't take it seriously.
Customer relationships can "snap" at the very slightest provocation—or for seemingly no reason at all. When it breaks, we're often caught off guard and puzzled why it happened, but there's no turning back and no opportunity to repair it. What's going on?
Recently, while taking a regular walk along a busy road, I noticed that people seemed to drive differently on their way to work than they did going home. Overall, the driving is far more orderly in the morning. But, in the afternoon, it's quite a different story–horns honking, cutting in and out, speeding, slamming on the brakes. There is much more impatience on the way home. You might think it would be just the opposite because people do not want to be late to work.
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