It’s time to give back time
As we cope with fear, loss, and monotony today, we also demonstrate resilience as individuals. Through acts of incredible resourcefulness and quiet kindness, we have shown that we can do more and be more. In a society that is now asking businesses to do more and be more, how should your business act today, and how should you prepare for tomorrow?
It’s time to start valuing time. What if you treated your customer like a relationship you had with family or friends? You would act with respect, honesty, and consistency. You would have quiet, instinctive, and perceptive reactions to what a customer was going through. Your customer would be more than a cell in a spreadsheet. When things got complicated you would not delete the cell to dismiss the human need.
Time is the most precious asset we have as humans, an equalizer like none other. Today, a customer’s time is a greatly undervalued asset for most businesses. Squander it and you lose trust, respect it and you have a lifelong champion. What if you valued your customers by giving back their time and ensuring that any time spent together was purposeful? You would measure your success by more than clicks, comments, and time spent. Your objective would be not to capture more time, but to make the most of the time a customer gave to you.
Of course, some interactions with your business are necessarily complex, and they will take time. But you can make the most of your customers’ time through “perceived acceleration” — making a slow moment perceptively move a little more quickly — or “perceived deceleration” — making a stressful moment seem to move a little more slowly.
There are many factors that influence how time is perceived, as multiple studies have found. In the context of business, the three critical ones are expectation, emotion, and action:
- Expectation: People like to feel in control of their time. The more a business informs a customer, the more it can set expectations and demonstrate respect. Think of a time when you called your healthcare provider and navigated a complex phone tree trying to understand your benefits in more detail. If you were informed at the start about how much time it would take, and what information you needed to be prepared to share, it likely would have made you feel more in control. Some home loan providers do this by flagging that a call to discuss your financial requirements will be a minimum of 45 minutes. It makes you understand what time you need to allocate and also reinforces the sense that this is serious financial advice, and it needs to be valued.
- Emotion: Positive emotions like happiness and awe can greatly speed up the perception of time; boredom and jealousy can greatly slow it down. Think of an instance when there were multiple lines after the airport security check before your bags were scanned. You did the mental line dance of trying to pick the fastest line. You were likely convinced you picked the wrong line, even if you saw just one person move slightly ahead of you in another line. This perceived sense of privilege leads to negative emotions that cause the time to feel like it is moving much more slowly — and often leads to resentment of the business that put you in this situation.
- Action: As much as multi-tasking gets frowned upon, if you empower a customer to do smaller, passive actions in parallel to their interactions with you, they will perceive time moving more quickly. This could take the form of entertaining diversions. Disney theme parks have mastered this art. As customers wind their way toward a ride on the Star Wars attraction The Galaxy’s Edge, they tour the junkyards and markets of a remote outpost on the planet Battu. Even if not serving a higher purpose, the experience is designed to occupy customers’ necessary walking time with unexpected and enriching interactions.
There is an often-used phrase: “death by a thousand cuts.” In your relationship with your customers, we believe the opportunity is to imagine it, instead, as “life by a thousand stitches.” Every stitch matters. The focus is less on macro actions and more on micro-interactions. To find and refine these interactions you need to create a detailed blueprint of your technologies, processes, and people working with your customer. You find the breakpoints and fix them one moment at a time. With every fix, you aim to give back time to your customer.
When you approach each micro-interaction with respect, honesty, and consistency, you are actively demonstrating that you value the time a customer gives you. You value it as they move through your environment, as they use your products and services, and as they interact with your people. This should provide a sense of:
- Calm in moments of strife
- Play and reward in moments of boredom
- Efficiency, by empowering tasks to be completed ahead of time
- Agency, by offering the ability to change the way the journey is taken
- Celebration, when the journey is complete
While none of us can predict what tomorrow will bring, it is in our control to make small shifts that could change how business is done and how a customer’s time is valued. There are no perfect case studies or playbooks written on giving back time to a customer. If anything, we take that as an indication that it is a challenge waiting to be handled.
Illustrations in this article are by Mike Andersen, Associate Director of Design at Method. Edited by Erin Peace.