Conversion is an alluring end-game, but it’s not the only one. Before we celebrate the small percentage of customers who convert, shouldn’t we understand the vast majority who don’t?

“A man is dropped off on a desert island. He brings with him with an industrial-sized water barrel, which he thinks is full. But when he opens it, he finds only 10 cm of water at the bottom.” My colleague leans back in her chair sagely, sips her coffee, and continues to weave her thought experiment. “Should he celebrate the water he has, or consider where the rest went, as a first step toward getting more?”

This, I realized after the meeting, is exactly the online commerce industry’s conversions conundrum. We measure and celebrate the minuscule amount of water in our barrels, but don’t really examine the space remaining. 

Why isn’t the barrel full? Is it a problem with the barrel, with the water, with the air? These questions are not being asked, yet they should be. With conversion rates steady at three to 15 percent, what really needs to concern us is what is happening to the other 85 to 97 percent?

Experience, Not Conversions

Successful customer experience does not always end with a conversion, and conversions are not always attributable to a successful customer experience.

Don’t believe me? Think of the man who shops for several pleasant hours on a high-end jewelry website. Several weeks later, he goes into the brand’s physical store and buys the ring he lingered over online. This purchase would not be traditionally measured as a conversion — despite the fact that it was one — and despite the customer’s clearly positive experience.

On the flip side, think of any online purchase you’ve ever made following a less-than-ideal experience. You click “Confirm Purchase” because you really need the item, and you’ve already invested the time to find it on that site. But you’re not happy about the purchase experience, and you won’t buy on that site again if you can avoid it. Yet this correctly counts as a conversion.

These are two different examples with one common denominator: experience. It is this parameter that online commerce stakeholders need to consider, as well as measure.

It’s time, in other words, to change the ‘convert-sation’.

What IS Experience?

Let’s back up, and briefly understand what “experience” means.

Experience is defined as the interaction between a person and a stimulus, as influenced by a personal interpretation. In the online arena, for example, experience doesn’t happen on a website, it happens in the customer’s mind. This is the reason why two customers can interact with the same website and have two completely different stories to tell about their interaction.

It’s also important to note that a single experience is made up of an infinite number of smaller experiences. Each of your website’s pages can trigger a different type of interaction, which adds something to the customer’s overall impression at the end of the journey.

Founder of Behavioral Economics and Nobel-laureate Daniel Kahneman differentiates between two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self. These “selves” represent, in psychological terms, the two ways people interact with stimuli — in the present, and retrospectively in memory.

A customer experience is largely defined by his or her remembering self. This is because it is your customer’s remembering self that ... well ... remembers how it felt during or after interacting with your website. It’s not about the interaction itself, but about the customer’s emotional takeaways from it. The problem is, the remembering self is amazingly fickle. Consider two examples:

  • A classical music buff immensely enjoys a 20-minute violin concerto, yet in the concerto’s finale, the soloist flubs badly. What will she recall of this experience: the over 19 minutes of enjoyment, or the final seconds of disaster?
  • A moviegoer is moved to tears and laughter several times during a two-hour film, yet finds the ending illogical or confusing. What will his overall recollection of the experience be?

Experience, as Kahneman claims, is defined as positive or negative by the remembering self according to the journey’s final moments — as in the classical music example. Yet, I’ve learned that in the digital world, experience can be equally defined by the emotional intensity along the way. The moviegoer in our example is very likely to consider his experience positive, despite his disappointment with the ending, owing to the powerful feelings it elicited.

Learning Opportunities

On a website, customer experience is determined both by the end game (the last page the customer visited, for example) and by the emotional intensity during the journey (level of frustration, for example). It is crucial to take both factors into consideration, ensuring that there are more positive interactions overall to shape the customer’s memory of the site. 

Powerful experience analytics can give you an understanding of your customers’ experiences as they interact with your website and all of its pages and content. 

Making Experience a Metric

If we agree that the 85 to 97 percent of non-converters who visit your site warrant far more intense scrutiny — and that their experience very much influences your business — a highly-relevant question is: can we turn experience into a metric? Can we measure experience just as we measure conversions? Can we quantify the emotional intensity a customer experiences during a visit to your site?

The answer is, happily, yes.

Using the same advanced online behavioral modeling and monitoring technology, we can quantify user experience at multiple touch points, and in real time. We can measure and evaluate various on-screen actions that have been shown to express different states of mind — clearly defining each individual’s experience on your site.

What can we do with this data? Retroactively, we can correlate our user experience metric with visit outcome to better understand website friction points and improve future customer interactions. Why did a visitor drop off at a certain page, or after a certain series of actions? What was she feeling as she clicked away? Was the customer that just converted actually satisfied with the purchase process, and is he likely to be a return customer?

An even greater game-changer would be to use this core technology together with already-existing personalization tools, to conceivably respond to measured user experience in real time. We could, realistically, adapt the website experience in response to measured user experience, and drive individuals more effectively through the funnel.

The First Step Is Awareness

The first step to making effective use of the user experience metric is awareness.

It is crucial we shift our primary focus from the traditional conversion metric — which is not as cut and dry as we once thought — to more relevant and timely user experience. We need to concentrate on filling the empty part of the online commerce barrel. We need to grasp, in a very intimate way, what our customers are feeling as they experience our sites. We need to adopt technology that facilitates deeper understanding of why customers act like they do. 

Only then can we harness the true power of user experience and watch the impact on our bottom lines.

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