very busy Grand Central Station
PHOTO: Damir Kotorić

A recent online shopping experience, which left me waiting more than two weeks for a delivery, reminded me of the importance of, and our expectations about, time.

Brands and marketing teams are so focused on messaging and creating a unique experience that they often forget the core foundation of any successful business transaction: solving a problem. It’s easy to lose sight of this given all the ways we can engage with our customers, especially all the digital ways. Unfortunately, newsletters, Facebook posts and push notifications fall on deaf ears if a company is unable to meet the consumer’s most basic requirement: an easy and efficient way to get something done.

Take Amazon as the prime example (couldn't resist). Amazon has trained more than 100 million people to value time so much, they are willing to pay a premium for it. This approach has worked so well, the company is applying the same principles to its newest venture in the grocery world — Amazon Go. This new, frictionless shopping experience, based on the latest in machine vision systems, sensors and automated payment tools, eliminates the checkout line so shoppers are in and out of the store without any delays.

Brands can add exceptional value not only by saving customers money, but by saving them time. Companies that recognize this are gaining a key competitive advantage as they vie for customers’ attention and their lifelong loyalty.

Related Article: We Must Measure Customer Time

Grow Your Customer Base By Valuing Their Time

I had the pleasure of hearing Laura Campbell, director of Deloitte Digital in Australia, speak at a recent event hosted by my company, Acquia. She urged the audience to look beyond traditional marketing approaches and digital experiences used to catch a customer’s attention in favor of creating “utility-based experiences” that identify customers’ needs and provide them with quick and easy ways to meet those needs.

While marketers and brands have historically focused heavily on saving people money, time has become the new hot commodity. If companies want to keep up, it’s now critical that they focus on how they can save customers time when they interact with their brand or use their products or services. Otherwise, all the marketing strategies and brand differentiation techniques in the world won’t help them retain and grow their customer base.

Where Saving Time Is Leading to Success

The financial services industry is one of the sectors where this idea is taking hold. Banks and other providers of financial services have become experts at taking processes that were once complex and time-consuming and turning them into easy, intuitive digital activities that busy people can do at home or on the go.

Take bill payments, money transfers and even check deposits — all of these can now be done with a tap of your touchscreen. No longer do customers have to leave work early to stop at the bank or take an extended lunch break; a convenient way to bank is now in the palm of your hand.

In the retail sector, Amazon is the epitome of the union of cost and time savings, and the results are hard to deny. Amazon’s first-quarter earnings were “jaw-dropping,” according to Barron’s: The company reported a quarterly profit of $1.6 billion. Barron’s credited Amazon’s performance in part to an increase in the number of people signing up for Amazon Prime memberships — and, of course, one of the major benefits of a Prime membership is free, two-day shipping on millions of products.

Similarly, other major retailers are offering shoppers time-saving services such as in-store or curbside pickup of online orders, innovative new delivery options and aggressive delivery windows, including shipments to your door within hours of an order being placed. Target, for example, embraced the time-saving trend with its recent acquisition of Shipt, a service that has 20,000 personal shoppers who will buy your groceries and deliver them right to your kitchen the same day.

Other grocery brands and spin-outs like Blue Apron and Instacart have based their whole value proposition on saving customers time. And services like OpenTable, which facilitates online restaurant reservations, have quickly grown in popularity because they offer convenience and ease of use and promise to save people precious time with the click of a button.

This idea has even started to make its way into the public sector, which has often been considered synonymous with long lines. Government agencies are starting to implement new technologies aimed directly at providing services faster and giving citizens their precious time back. For example, many tax collectors and registries of motor vehicles have installed virtual check-in systems that notify people of their place in line via text, so customers can simply arrive at the office right before their appointments.

Many government entities are also investing in cleaner, more intuitive web experiences that allow users to locate necessary information quickly, without getting lost in confusing multilayered sites that send them in circles. This makes it easier to solve peoples’ problems and drives more engagement via digital channels.

Related Article: Customer Journey Mapping: Navigating a Course to Better Customer Relations

Saving Customer Time Has a Ripple Effect

No matter what industry you’re in, Campbell's words ring true. As she said about customer experiences, “the cleaner and leaner you can make [them], the higher the engagement will be, because time is worth money for many consumers.”

Instead of building experiences solely meant to drive people down a marketing funnel in the hopes that they will buy your product or service, turn your digital firepower toward building experiences and services that make people’s lives more efficient. “It’s more about [asking] if we have a proposition as a brand or a product set around the value of time, and how we give time back to customers,” Campbell said.

Although this may mean making major changes to how your organization operates and approaches its marketing program, saving people time can lead to huge secondary benefits. For example, convenience, which goes hand in hand with time savings, can increase brand recognition and customer loyalty, so brands that become known for convenience have opportunities to become leaders in their markets.

What’s more, companies that can make time work to their advantage can realize significant operational benefits. Embracing a strategy focused on saving time presents opportunities to evaluate your supply chains, partners, delivery cycles and overall processes to ensure they are at peak efficiency — and to fix any problems that you identify.

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

In Hunting the Almighty Dollar, Don’t Forget the All-Powerful Watch

Marketers may focus on content strategy at the top of the funnel, writing blogs and offering research to help customers make decisions, but when customers reach the buying phase and are ready to convert, as Campbell said, it’s critical that their transactional experiences are clean and lean.

Think about your own interactions with brands, even interactions that just occurred today, and you'll likely see this is true. We gravitate toward organizations that solve our problems, save us time and enable us to be more efficient in our daily lives. We do that because time is precious and we want to spend it our way, without feeling beholden to businesses we’re paying for a product or service.

Companies that answer not just to consumers’ wallets, but also to their watches are the ones that will have customers for life.