Recently, I was searching for a new surveying tool to use after customer interactions. I did some searching online, asked around and eventually curated a list to evaluate for our criteria. I found that nearly all of the options met our requirements, but while I was evaluating potential tools, one of the websites completely failed to load without any fallback or error. This was an immediate red flag for me and while they might have had the best offering of the bunch, they were immediately disqualified. This first impression lost them a potential customer.
First clicks matter more than ever in today’s hyper convenient world. Companies that pay extra attention to their customer’s first impression will have a leg up on their competition. And those that don’t, will find customers silently slipping away.
Customer Expectations Have Shifted
News and data travel faster than ever and consumers have adjusted to this new cadence. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, one of the largest retailers in the world, knows this well. As he said in his 2017 letter to shareholders; “One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature.” While the transactional nature of Amazon makes these trends easier to see and track changes over time, this is far from isolated to e-commerce. The changes to consumer expectations are happening across all businesses.
It’s no longer enough to provide a high-quality experience. It also has to be easy, and that expectation begins as soon as anyone interacts with your company for the first time. This trend has been building over the last few years, and can be seen in the rise of the Customer Effort Score1 introduced by the CEB (now a subsidiary of Gartner). “Our research shows, loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises.” Customers no longer want to just get it done, they also want it to be easy.
Market Leaders Have Adjusted
Within e-commerce, it’s easy to find examples of this new way of doing business, where convenience is key. Wayfair has an offer where for an extra $20 they’ll bring any item directly to your door. In addition to a clear delivery fee, they list the minimum door opening for a piece of furniture to fit directly on their website. These two features address two of my biggest concerns about buying a couch on the internet. No more guessing if you can rotate that couch through the doorway, or how many pizzas you need to buy your friends to help you move it. Wayfair removes all of the uncertainty This can be compared to Amazon and Google who have done a lot of finagling over the last couple years to bring same-day delivery to a number of markets. Amazon went so far as to buy Whole Foods, in large part so they could obtain distribution centers2 across the country.
This can also be seen in other service industries. Applications like Lyft and Uber have taken advantage of the cell phone boom, to remove a negative first experience when calling a ride: actually calling it. Now instead of calling a taxi dispatcher and waiting (and wondering) if they’ll show up, we type our address into our phones and check the estimated fare before accepting the ride. HotelTonight has made a similar business by tracking last-minute room availability. No longer do you need to call multiple hotels before knowing if you can get a room, you can browse and reserve one immediately.
First Impressions Matter
Whenever a user visits a website they make immediate judgements that are hard, if not impossible to reset. Clickfox found that, “59% of consumers say their decision of when a brand becomes a favorite of theirs, occurs right after their first purchase3 or when their service begins.” This favoritism is incredibly valuable, and earning that loyalty right at the start can offset the high cost of acquiring new customers. Getting it right the first time is a no-brainer.
Just like my experience with evaluating survey tools, first impressions can often make or break a sale. The importance of these types of interactions is shored up by human psychology. Anchoring bias in particular, causes humans to overly emphasize the first piece of information they encounter. This is a double-edged sword. If you don’t get this experience right, it can sink any opportunity. If you can provide a good experience, it will stick with that user.
This really brings home how important first impressions are. Taking advantage of this cognitive bias allows you to sow Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) against competitors by emphasizing competitive strengths and ensuring the consistency of the customer experience. Your great first impression might be your competitive advantage – and it’s a hard one for your competitors to overcome.
Customer Sentiment is Hard to Change
In addition to preferring the first piece of information, humans also prefer the most visible (survivorship bias) and the most recent (recency bias) data.
Survivorship bias reinforces the most visible experiences for a user. While looking at aggregate numbers, you might see that only 5% of users are affected by an issue, but for that 5% that may very well be their only impression. Imagine if this is the first interaction for them. You have most likely lost that customer.
This same bias also makes it harder for your company to accept the fact that sometimes, we don’t provide the best experience possible. “We only heard about it from one user,” is a classic excuse I’ve heard multiple times. This is a classic example which explains the origins of the name “survivorship bias.” When deciding whether to add armor to planes that returned from WWII, the British could only analyze planes that returned – the survivors. Every plane that didn’t make it back wasn’t included in their data set. They needed to improve the reliability and longevity of planes that didn’t return, and by reviewing the survivor data they nearly missed the mark.
Get it Right The First Time
With all of that said, be sure you don’t fall into complacency. As Bezos has noted, customer expectations are always rising. Today, you need to set expectations, get first impressions right, and follow through. It’s no longer enough to ensure you have a high-quality experience or that you can deliver on promises. To get a true advantage, you must set expectations accurately, earlier than ever before, and continue to improve and iterate to succeed.
1 – https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/unveiling-the-new-and-improved-customer-effort-score/
2 – https://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2018/02/08/amazon-wholefoods-delivery-grocery-last-mile/
3 – https://blog.clickfox.com/blog/clickfox-survey-finds-apple-continues-to-lead-in-customer-loyalty-in-third-consecutive-