In a time when same-day, one-day, and well, one-hour shipping has become the norm (thanks Amazon), there is increased pressure on brands to deliver on this promise and manage consumer expectations within the non-Amazon direct-to-consumer model of order fulfillment and customer service satisfaction.
The big question today is, how do we keep our customers happy when there simply isn’t product available to sell?
To answer this question, let’s first understand the psychology of waiting. The most common waiting context is the classic real world waiting-in-line scenario, whether at the grocery store check-out counter or at your local coffee shop.
Recently, I’ve had the personal pain of a waiting experience during a family holiday trip abroad at the car rental agency. While the manual process of renting a car has somewhat improved over time, there’s still an archaic methodology of not keeping customers informed to what level of progress is being made to complete the rental.
While the actual check-out process may have only taken 15-20 minutes, it felt much longer standing there unknowingly and uninformed to how much more effort was required to finish the transaction.
With this experience this in mind, let’s look at three key aspects to the psychology of waiting that are worth recognizing the way we humans feel about it:
The perception of wait times generally feels much worse than the actual waiting time itself.
Unoccupied time (nothing to do but wait) feels longer than occupied time (multi-tasking) in waiting.
The value of what we wait for (either in urgency or importance) changes the intensity of the waiting pain.
So how might a brand lessen the pain of waiting for an online order to arrive and instead, turn this into an opportunity to deepen customer engagement in a positive way? How do we capitalize on this situation and help make our customers' lives a little better at the same time?
These tactical recommendations help to address the psychological condition of waiting:
In Stock & Available Near You
While common with enterprise and vertically-integrated retailers, some brands still struggle with inventory transparency. Before entering into the check-out process, ensure that product availability is clearly identified. In an ideal situation, availability should be connected to your customer's geographic location. This quickly sets customer expectations in advance of a purchase decision, addressing the need to manage what’s to come.
Complimentary Product Recommendations
Should initial product availability be limited or non-existent, showcase closely related products that may meet the customer’s needs. Be mindful that this is not to cross-sell somewhat related products, but rather to specifically address the consumer interest in a specific type of solution based on their current shopping search behavior.
Recently I received a promotional email from one of my favorite apparel brands – in fact I’ve committed to only buying their t-shirts from now on. This email piqued my interest as it was promoting a hefty discount on t-shirts and my immediate reaction was to click through and buy a few. Sadly when I arrived on the site, the only in-stock inventory at the discounted price was in size small. The first miss here was to promote a low inventory product. The second, to not direct me to the next, most similar option. Had this page promoted a similar in-stock product, I might have made a purchase. Instead I closed the browser and went back to work.
In a scenario where the user has completed the check-out process, and where product delivery time is estimated, ensure a consistent method of progress updating with every step of the fulfillment process is proactively communicated. Where possible, provide specific information around any product inventory or delivery delays that allows the customer to feel in control of knowing why their expectations may need adjusting.
Imagine that you have a very important event, and you go online to purchase the outfit that fits the occasion. You find your fit and style, plug in your credit card and shipping info and hit submit. As your event date nears, you wait with increased anxiety. What if it doesn't show up on time? What if I need to figure out a back up plan? Was it a bad idea to buy online? This is just too much stress! I sure wish this brand understood how important it is that this purchase arrives on time! Ugh.
Value Added Content (Exclusive/Non-Product Focused)
Today’s best e-commerce brands know that the best experiences go beyond transactional. They provide a deeper experience to visitors that assumes some people might not find what they need this time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create some form of engagement.
This especially rings true when products are unavailable. In this case, consider providing your customers with a reason to stay engaged by shifting focus toward brand content or product-related information that might cause a visitor to stay longer and find other value in the experience.
FAST Communication Style (Friendly, Accurate, Sympathetic, Thankful)
Long considered a best practice when addressing the needs of upset and frustrated customers in the real world; consider applying the same guiding principles to your online communications (especially when automated responses are applied).
Friendly – whether the customer is in fact always right (or not), develop a communication strategy that ensures a friendly on-brand approach to addressing frustrations and helping minimize a negative customer experience.
Accurate – be wholly transparent by providing customers with contextually specific information that helps explain why expectations may have not been met (yet).
Sympathetic – reflect on the customer’s emotional state in the moment; assure them that you’ve recognized the frustration they're experiencing in a meaningful way.
Thankful – a lost customer is an avoidable scenario. It’s always best for brands to communicate with gratitude as with most categories, your customer has a lot of options that might not be you. Keeping a customer, even after a negative experience is worth making that extra effort.
AMA Availability Level
When customers expect a deeper understanding as to why a product is unavailable and/or delayed in delivery, give them the opportunity to reach out to a live customer support person who is empowered to explain the situation with absolute clarity, and with the authority to address and quickly resolve the issues at hand. A future discount, a gift card, or simply acknowledging the frustration can be the difference between losing and retaining a customer over the long-term.
While brands rely heavily on automation and bots for customer support, consider the frustration of trying to seek clarity without access to a real human on the other end. While these services create business efficiency, they can cause greater frustration to a customer already having a negative experience with your brand. Use these technologies wisely and understand where they fall short.
If you’re looking to reinvent your online customer journey or optimize an existing e-commerce experience, reach out to us. We help our client partners plan, design, and deploy user-centered strategies that drive deeper customer engagement.