Are you being served, yet? On waiting online

Apparently, we spend 2 to 3 years of our lives waiting for service – for instance, waiting to talk with a customer service representative, or for a meal to be served. Admittedly, this number will vary widely for the specific services accessed – e.g., private doctors vs. public health service – countries, etc. But the basic idea is that we do spend a lot of time waiting for service. Waiting usually translates into negative emotions, negatively impacts on service evaluation, leads to reduced customer satisfaction and, eventually, to abandonment.

And as more and more of our consumption moves online, we find ourselves waiting there, too. We wait for files to download, for pages to load, for updates to install, for replies to e-mails… the list goes on.

While the speed of Internet access has continued to increase both at home / in the office and in our phones and tablets, it is also true that our expectations have quickly adjusted. We expect instant access, instant reactions and instant replies to our queries. Moreover, we have lots of choice online – many alternative sources of information and many suppliers of similar products.

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Researchers at the FHOM (The Human Factor) Research Group of the Universitat Rovira I Virgili (in Catalunya, Spain) decided to investigate 1) whether our feelings of frustration with waiting in the offline world translated to the online context, and 2) whether customers endure the wait or, instead, move on to competitors. Gerard Ryan presented the findings from this research at a workshop that I attended recently.

The results may surprise you.

1. How do customers feel about waiting online?

The researchers found evidence of a very broad range of feelings. Some customers reported high levels of anxiety, frustration and even feelings of deception – for instance, when the information on the website is wrong (e.g., stock levels) or incomplete (e.g., steps to be followed in a procedure). Other customers reported delight or surprise, when the transaction is finally completed or the question answered.

Not only that, but the same user could experience different – and extreme – feelings in the same waiting instance: from very positive to extremely negative, or the other way around.

The key to the prevalent feeling was not so much how long they had waited but, rather, whether or not the customer had been able to complete the task.


2. How fickle are online users? Do they wait or do they abandon the site?

The answer is: it depends. Specifically, abandonment depends on the purpose of the browsing.

Consumers are more likely to abandon a website when:

•  Searching for information

•  Being forced to register their details

Otherwise, they tend to wait and rationalise the delay. Instead of blaming the website, they may assume that there is a problem with the Internet connection (e.g., on their mobile devices). Furthermore, rather than leaving the site, customers try to troube shoot – e.g., by reloading the page. Or, they simply fill in the wait.


In summary:

1. If you provide some sort of service online, ensure that your website users can complete the task – be it finding some information or completing a transaction.

2. A certain amount of delay is tolerated and will not necessarily lead to abandonment, particularly if they are browsing on a mobile device and doing some sort of transaction that is not purely information based and does not require registration.


We are not that fickle after all!

4 thoughts on “Are you being served, yet? On waiting online

  1. Interesting. Waiting can be quite annoying. I can be rather patient, but when I think the wait is “unnecessary”, I’m likely to abandon. By “unnecessary” I mean that it is something of which I suspect it could have been avoided. Either because a process/website looks like it’s implemented wrongly, or because similar experience elsewhere was without a wait.


    1. Ah! The issue of other experiences is a very important one, of course. I don’t think that it was explicitly identified in this research, but I think that you are quite right.


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