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How long will your users wait for a page to load?
Will they wait the same amount of time for a video to buffer or a document to download?
How long will it take before they close their tab in frustration?
It turns out that a user’s amount of patience can vary widely depending on the task at hand. Users have unique wait expectations for different activities, and these expectations are connected to their emotional state. For example:
A hungry customer orders a large cheese pizza, and his expectation is that he’ll have hot, melty, cheesy goodness within half an hour. But when it takes over an hour for the pizza to be delivered, he starts to feel the pangs of hanger (hunger + anger).
A user downloads the latest version of her computer software, which she sees as complex and valuable. She expects the process will take at least an hour, and waits patiently for the download to finish.
You want your users to have a positive experience, free of the frustrations that come from waiting longer than expected. But how long is a user okay waiting?
It’s hard to know what users expect on your particular site or app---so skip the guess work and ask them! Run a user test on a specific task that involves waiting and ask the following questions:
a. Much less time than normal
b. A little less time than normal
c. The normal amount of time
d. A little more time than normal
e. A lot more time than normal
a. It was worse than my expectations
b. It matched my expectations
c. It was better than my expectations
The answers to the questions above will highlight the user’s wait expectations versus what they actually experienced. Your reaction to this may be to try speed up your site or app to match the user’s expectation, but this isn’t always an engineering possibility. The good news is that there’s another way to improve the customer experience by tapping into the user’s perception of time!
While the technical performance of a site or app is important, it also matters how users perceive the performance. Luckily, you can influence the user’s perception of your site or app with the use of visual elements, like loading dialogs and animations.
For example, you’re probably familiar with "percentage completed" messages and the classic progress bars. But why not get creative? We looked into a group of different travel sites to get a feel for what loading messages and animations they are using.
Looking for flights can be a painful experience, but the creative loading messages and animations help to distract the user, and make the process appear faster, as seen with the flying Hipmunk and the image of the Priceline Negotiator.
Now while you might want to say, “Well then, why don’t we just throw an image of our mascot in the loading message for our software download?” it doesn’t necessarily work that way.
Take time to look at the areas on your site that involve longer wait times, and user test variations of your loading messages and animations.
What might appear cute to one group of users might be annoying to your target market. Find out if the ribbed, blue loading bar actually makes the wait time feel shorter than, let’s say, a flying chipmunk. It all comes down to running tests to find out which option creates a better experience for your own site visitors.
Run comparison tests on your site with the variations, and ask similar questions to the ones above. Include quantitative questions to gather data to support your findings. By doing so, you’ll find out what your users perceive to be a faster and more enjoyable experience.
While it may be difficult to technically speed up your site or app, there are always workarounds to make the user experience better. And maybe, just maybe, that means including a flying chipmunk.
If you’ve used a different method to alter how users perceive the performance of your site, post it in the comments below!
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