Consumer Expectation In The Digital Age. What It Means, How To Measure It, And What To Do When It Declines.

More than ever before, consumers are dictating how business operates. what they offer, and how they offer it, setting price, quality and value of the products or services on offer, as well as customer service standards. In order to convert to a new vendor or brand, or remain loyal to an existing option, they want better and better digital tools, and they expect constant improvement. They have become extremely picky, even demanding, and they hold all the power. Yet, consumer expectation is perhaps one of the most overlooked elements in digital marketing today.

So, if pandering to the fastidious nature of customers is such a high priority, then why is it so often neglected? Well, there are probably three reasons for this.

  1. It’s tough to measure. Unlike other success metrics, conversions, revenue, traffic and alike, consumer expectation is more ambiguous, and is not so easy to measure, and it’s much harder to make an action call on. When you experience a drop in traffic, sales or revenue, the metrics are very clear, but trying to understand what people want by analyzing data data is much more complicated. Even if you know which metrics to track, and you have a critical mass of data to get a reasonable sense of an emerging trend, the data can still be enigmatic.
  2. It’s not easy to communicate. Similarly to point #1, since measuring consumer expectation is not straightforward, and what the data is telling us isn’t really clear, communicating it as an insight to others within the organization can be a tough task. Especially since, if your notion is accepted, it will require the commitment additional resource and investment.   
  3. Ignorance is bliss — and less costly. Perhaps the main reason why consumer expectation is ignored is because accepting that you must continually improve is a huge business commitment, and is a far call from perhaps the usual practice of making radical changes periodically. Accepting that consumer expectation is constantly changing, for many businesses is a frightening thought, and one they would rather pretend didn’t exist.  

Trying to give consumers what they want isn’t a new thing, but the big difference is that digital consumer expectation, is unlike traditional expectation because it’s ruthlessly unforgiving. Having access to seemingly limitless options at the touch of a button through search engines means that they have no reason to settle for second best. We all know, because we have all done it. We search on Google, we click, we don’t like what we see, we hit the back button and try another link. This pogo-sticking behavior can be very troubling for a brand, because the unsatisfactory experience means that they are highly unlikely to become a buyer, possibly ever. In other words, consumers are effectively rejecting any digital experience that doesn’t meet their very high standards.

To make matters worse, consumer digital expectation is constantly evolving, meaning that what is acceptable today, may be considered as outdated tomorrow. This means that you can no longer review site performance periodically, but instead have to do so continuously.

The purpose of this post is to help brand and marketing decision makers identify the problem, then take the steps to address it.

Consumer Expectation – How to identify and measure it

The good news is that it’s actually easier than you might think. Providing that you have access to Google Analytics, or another web analytics platform, you can then set up custom dashboards, and/or automated reports, that will help to isolate and monitor indicating metrics, and act swiftly if need be.

On a very basic level, if you just keep an eye of top-line site engagement metrics, such as Bounce Rate, Average Visit Duration and Pages/Session, and see how they are trending for individual traffic sources, if you see some consistent decline that is not in line with your seasonal expectations, then this is enough of a red flag to warrant additional investigation. Another metric definitely worth monitoring is user retention, which if you experience a reduction, could be an indication of increased dissatisfaction.

In fact, any negative trend in user related data is usually a reflection of dissatisfied visitors.

Beyond the basics mentioned above, that may alert you to the problem, analyzing on a deeper level, such as performance of specific web content, attribution and reverse conversion paths will better enable you to pinpoint the root cause of the problem, allowing you to allocate the right resource more effectively, and solve the problem quicker.

What You Can Do About It

Pinpoint The Issue

As mentioned above, the first challenge is to accurately identify what the problem is. Are you experiencing poorer performance just in certain areas of your website? If so, which? Have conversion rates for certain micro-goals declined? Have sales cycles become longer? Are first time visitors less inclined to return? Are some site features or tools just not used as often as they were before? Asking yourself these questions, and finding the related data will help to focus your efforts more precisely, or is the problem more broad, in which case you may want to consider a more radical overhaul.

Create Buyer Personas

If you want to provide visitors with a positive experience, not only do you need to know what they value, what their informational needs are, and what is important to them, but you also need to accept that not all users are the same. For example, an online apparel store have have visitors of either sex, are of a variety of ages, are purchasing for different reasons, have different budgets, and are shopping for wildly different products. Given the diversity, it’s fair to accept that their customer base has had different prior digital experiences, and thus have varying digital expectations.

With this in mind, it would make sense to create a few different buyer personas, grouping together common characteristics that make up ideal customers. This will allow you to better tailor your messaging, create better information architecture, and even build better product and service offerings to potential buyers. Obtaining a more thorough understanding of who your audience is, and no longer grouping them all together as one will help you to improve the experience that you are able to offer.  

A/B Testing

A/B Testing (AKA Multivariate Testing, AKA Split Testing) is a basic optimization methodology that allows you to improve your online content, by running controlled experiments, pitting variations of the same webpage against one other. This procedure is often used for testing and optimizing the effectiveness of signup forms and calls for actions, but can really be used to test any area of the site, perhaps varying page or blog post headlines to see which is more sticky, which can be a very effective way of understanding user preference.  Optimizely, among others provide affordable solutions that allow you to set up and start tracking content performance quickly and easily. 

Task Testing

Assuming that consumer expectation is influenced by how easily it is to complete tasks, which is particularly the case in mobile, you want to make sure that you’re making it as simple and straightforward as possible to accomplish them. Weather that’s to find a product, find pertinent information, find contact details, a return policy, or complete a purchase, you should identify what they are, see how long they take, how many steps are required and if there are potential pitfalls along the way, and then see if there are ways to improve those processes.   

Keep A Close Eye On Your Competition

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and never let your competition out of your site.

What we want, and what we think we deserve is primarily influenced by our experiences. In other words, we judge things not just on their own merits, but by how they compare to other available options.

In terms of what we are discussing here, this could mean that the tools and overall digital experience that you are offering is substandard to that of your competitors, and since in today’s digital marketplace, where brand loyalty has been superseded by digital convenience, this could be enough for them to go elsewhere.

So, by regularly monitoring what your competitors are doing, you will gain a better sense of what they are doing well, that you are not, and then you can adopt some of these techniques and provide them to your visitors.

Monitor Emerging Technologies  

While monitoring your competition may allow you to learn lessons and keep pace, it will not allow you to blaze trails, or stay ahead of the curve.

Much like observing and learning from your competitive set, try looking further afield, perhaps initially outside of your immediate space, and then even at the web at large, and see if there is anything technologically, or from a content or informational architecture standpoint that could be applied back to your business, and improve the experience you are providing.  

In Conclusion

While consumer expectation can be a complicated component of your marketing to understand, identify and improve, being diligent, taking a proactive approach and never ignoring the signs will help you to avoid alienating your audience and serving them on a platter to your competition.

If you have any questions concerning how you can better connect with your audience by understanding their expectations, and providing digital experiences that will work, please get in touch.