subway train
Pay attention to what your customers are trying to do at any moment and remove all impediments from them accomplishing that task PHOTO: Viktor Forgacs

Time spent (minutes per month) on websites was down across all industries in the US in 2016, according to an Adobe report. 

“Despite time spent being down, visit rates are up 4 percent year-over-year (YoY) across all industries,” Giselle Abramovich, senior and strategic editor at Adobe's CMO wrote. This makes sense. The simpler, faster and more convenient you make your website, the more likely a customer is to come back.

Time spent and pages viewed are very dangerous metrics. They reflect the cult of volume approach that has dominated web management thinking for too long. Very poor websites that you have to use (such as government or support sites) can have really high time spent and pages viewed metrics that just reflect the awfulness of their design and management.

Abramovich's article suggests that the reason “time spent could be down is because the most successful companies have likely optimized their website experience to save people time when they are trying to complete tasks online.” True.

But then she quotes Catherine Diaz, senior analysis manager at ADI as saying that, “The need for differentiated experiences has never been greater. The battle is on for consumer time in a highly competitive landscape. Consumers are surrounded with options in this always-on world, and marketers need to surprise and delight their customers in order to win their time.”

This is the wrong focus. In fact, it is the ‘differentiated experience,’ the concept of a ‘battle’ for time and attention, and the need to ‘delight’ that often creates the ‘marketing’ environments that are most wasteful of customer time.

Traditional marketers are trained to get attention of potential customers. The best digital marketers focus on paying attention to current customers.

Let’s say I come to my bank website wanting to transfer money. That website or app has my undivided attention as long as it is focused on what I am focused on: transferring money. There is no battle or campaign needed here and no need to delight me. I don’t like transferring money or paying a bill but it has to be done. Just help me do it as quickly and accurately as possible.

But what I find many times is that the bank is battling with me, trying to get my attention for a mortgage or a car loan. Things I absolutely don’t want, things that just annoy and disrupt me.

We dealt with one bank that had wanted to create a “differentiated experience” for its online banking by calling the Login button “NetBank.” They started getting a stream of calls from infuriated customers demanding to know where the “Login” had gone. This shocked management back to reality and they became converts to a radical simplicity approach. They stripped all product advertising from their homepage and just placed dominant login details there. They did place product advertising on the logout page. Visits to the product pages rose by over 500 percent.

The best organizations today are paying much more attention to the customers they have than in joining ever more costly and losing battles for the customers they don’t have. Customers are switching brands in epidemic proportions. Isn’t that something we should be paying attention to?