Right Here, Right Now: How to Handle Customers’ Changing Perception of Time

February 28, 201910min

“Time heals all wounds,” they say… except for consumers. For them, it seems time actually exacerbates all wounds.

We 21st century customers have become used to having virtually all we want – from online shopping to real-time support – in the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse. Waiting (impatiently), on the other hand, causes us all sorts of brand allergies and long-term intolerance.

This might have to do with consumers’ changing perceptions of time when it comes to customer service and Customer Experience.

Time through time

Time is a slippery concept to grasp and define.

Without looking at the multi-dimensional and distorted scientific context of space-time, and leaving aside the concept of time as ‘the suitable moment/season’, I’ll only focus on present time. That’s right: present (or mostly programmed), because past or future time is just a time to remember or imagine.

We often think of time as seconds, minutes, hours, and days, but these are the units of measure of time, and not time itself.

By definition, time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events” (OED), or the interval between beginning and end, and vice versa.

In today’s commercial world, time might be best defined as the passing of each instant between when consumers want something and when they’re going to get it. Between wish and relish – or anger and alleviation. And this time seems to be ticking on a clock of its own.

Tech revolution & CX

The technological revolution has certainly contributed to create a widespread sense of urgency, as Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina argues, but what impact did it specifically have on customer expectations?

Recent research from Salesforce shows that, on average, 64 percent of consumers (out of a sample of 6,700 people worldwide) expect immediate replies from the companies they do business with. This percentage rises to 66 percent when it comes to millennial customers. What’s more, as many as 80 percent of customers agree that real-time responses positively influence brand loyalty.

This might explain why live support is no longer just optional, but an essential component of companies’ customer service tools. Because compared to the average response times of emails or social media (12-10 hours), web chat customers can have their questions answered in a matter of minutes.

At the same time, as Dan Gingiss suggests, social media has “changed the game” in customer service, giving customers more control, and forcing companies – now more than ever in the limelight – to pay more attention.

Clearly customers are gaining the upper hand in this digital reality we live in, and with their higher expectations, average response times are shrinking.

Does this mean that quantity (quick reaction) is set to triumph over quality (outstanding customer service)? Or are they both necessary to blow customers away? Of course they are, it’s 2019! So how can businesses reply to customers in a tick and nurture the company–customer relationship in 280 characters, or just a few lines?

The ABC

It’s not surprising that responsiveness is increasingly emerging as the key to excellent customer service. Already, for over two decades, it’s been one of the five dimensions known as SERVQUAL, which customers use to evaluate the quality of the service they receive. The immediacy of a real-time response gives customers the reassurance they’re being listened to. It’s also a promising sign of a speedy resolution.

But along with responsiveness come other priorities, which can be easily remembered as the ABC of digital customer communication.

A – Attitude:

Virtually all companies nowadays want to be caring, empathetic, friendly and the like – or at least this is what most brand guidelines preach. So why shouldn’t customers expect just that?

There’s a plethora of strategies that front-line staff can use to come across as expected: from embracing an emotive language, to preferring warm over cold words, to controlling their tone through active verb voice. Any comeback – even the fastest one – that reveals indifference would only remind customers that their money can be better spent elsewhere.

B – Brand vs platform balance

Social media and web chat communication present a unique challenge: they require fine tuning the brand tone of voice to the platform where it’s being applied. It would be oxymoronic to sound too formal or artificial. Like travelling to Italy and not eating pizza – it’s just wrong!

On the contrary, vibrant yet professional language, a concise style, and a just touch of emojis whenever appropriate are all good rules of thumb.

C – Correct English, grammar & punctuation

It must not be easy for web chat and social media customer service advisors to be constantly fighting against time, or to be feeling the trepidation of being exposed to a global stage. Yet their writing must be 100 percent error free. There are no excuses.

Perhaps my latest web chat experience would have had a happier ending if Gyles Brandreth’s Have you Eaten Grandma? were part of companies’ compulsive readings. ‘Should of’ would have been written correctly, and ‘story’ might not have been confused with ‘storey’. Instead, was the online support faster and easier than speaking over the phone? Yes.

Did it leave a mark? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons.

As a millennial, someone might say I know very well what it means to want it all and want it now. At the same time though, I recognise that ‘fast and furious’ is not always where it’s all at in customer service. Give me a piece of communication that’s so good I wish I had written it – showing you care and using impeccable English – and you’ll make my day. As for you, you’ll make a customer.


Laura Olcelli

Laura Olcelli

Dr Laura Olcelli is a consultant and award-winning author interested in all things language. She works for T2 Linguistics, the leading provider that specialises in the commercial application of psycholinguistics (the psychology of language). She regularly writes about customer communication.




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