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You Are Annoying Your Customers. Do You Know Why?

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From social media to retargeting ads, marketers continue to add new communication channels, and with each one we add the ability to sell but we also increase our ability to annoy.

For example, ask anyone, "What annoys you about technology?" You'll undoubtedly get a quick answer. Ask the same person why they find such things annoying, and the answer will not be as clear. Slow Internet connections, repetitive Facebook ads, auto-correct, a portable thumb-drive's inability to plug in the first try... these things annoy us, but why?

If we are going to be effective at our jobs, we need to figure out how to increase our chances of converting a sale while minimizing the level of annoyance we inflict in an era of countless digital distractions and information overload.

Accordingly, marketers should understand the fundamental causes of annoyance.

Fundamental Annoyance No. 1: Norm Violation, AKA Minor Injustices

Norm violations are actions that are not targeted at you personally, but they violate certain standards that you may have. As NPR science correspondent Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, multimedia editor for NPR's Science Friday, point out, norm violations are actions that conflict with our value systems or "destroy a reasonable expectation."

Today, our growing reliance on technology means that we have developed certain expectations, and we get frustrated easily with technology when those expectations are not met. In June 2012, the Blogworld & New Media Expo was held at the Javits Center in New York City. Blogworld was a very well-organized and well-attended conference, and the people who put it on did a fantastic job. The problem, however, was their choice of location. The basement of the Javits Center is a concrete maze with very little Wi-Fi. Obviously, if you get enough bloggers into a large enough space and restrict their access to Wi-Fi, people are going to get annoyed—particularly if you don't meet their expectation of fast Internet.

As attendees of the conference write:

It's downright essential to have Wi-Fi for an event such as Blog World. Several bloggers like to live-blog during the conference and there are several others who tweet the highlights of the event to their followers. —Gazalla Gaya

When I want to be social online, at a new media conference, I need connectivity. —Lori Richardson

The organizers at Blogworld NMX did not intentionally prevent folks from accessing that which helps them earn a living, but in doing so they clearly violated a standard shared by everyone in attendance. Fast Internet at a blog and new media conference is essential. Don't provide it to us, and we are going to be upset.

The same faux pas may not have produced such a high level of annoyance at an outdoor farming expo, for instance, where people's expectations are much different. Nevertheless, had the organizers of the conference better understood the needs of their clientele and the restrictions of their venue, much of the negative comments from the event could have been avoided.

Lesson: Norm violations are why people get annoyed. As marketers, we need to understand the standards and expectations that our customers have grown accustom to.

Fundamental Annoyance No. 2: (Lack of) Speed

If you do any marketing online, it is fair to say that your customers have been conditioned to expect a certain level of speed. At a 2011 email marketing conference, Sucharita Mulpuru, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, noted that "47% of consumers expect a page to load in less than 2 seconds." By today's standards, even two seconds is too long. "Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web," says Microsoft computer scientist Harry Shum. Though expected load-times vary depending on the type of media one is accessing, speed has become a universal expectation for almost everyone online.

At a keynote speech at a software developer's conference while she was still a VP at Google, Marissa Mayer was quoted as saying, "One of the most significant things that Google discovered in its early user studies was that speed mattered more than anything else in generating a 'positive user experience.'" Google's resident speed expert, Arvind Jain, points out that "every millisecond matters" and that subconsciously, users "don't like to wait."

You can imagine that sluggish Internet speeds is like having thousands of slow drivers in the passing lane preventing you from getting somewhere on time. We have grown accustomed to arriving at our destination on the information superhighway as fast as humanly possible.

Lesson: Waiting is not user-friendly. Whether waiting for a website to load or to receive a reply to a customer service complaint, customers expect speed. Violating that expectation is a norm violation that leads to annoyance.

Final Thought: The New Norm, a Reasonable Expectation

We all easily get frustrated with technology. That is because we have grown to accept a new norm (a reasonable expectation) that technology should provide us with countless options but also be fast, intuitive, and easy to use. When things don't operate that way, we get frustrated.

As a marketer, next time someone posts an angry comment on your company's Facebook wall, or writes a bad review, understand that there is a strong chance that you, directly or indirectly, violated a standard that your customer has grown accustom to. In one way or the other, a reasonable expectation was destroyed.

Instead of just taking a reactionary approach, you should consider these six proactive measures to help prevent it from happening again:

  1. Be aware of norm violations.
  2. Anticipate your customer's ever-changing expectations.
  3. Respond quickly when such expectations are not met.
  4. Focus less on what annoys customers and concentrate on the root causes (why such things annoy them).
  5. Know that norms vary across cultures and demographics, but that there are certain norms that are almost universal, the expectation of speedy Internet being one of them.
  6. Know that norms constantly change, and just because something does not annoy your customers today doesn't mean it won't annoy them tomorrow.

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Gavin Jocius is the marketing director for Canvas on Demand, a leader in photo-to-canvas printing. He is also the author of The Age of Annoyance: Managing Our Frustrations With Information Overload.

Twitter: @changethecode

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  • by Michael Scott Thu Oct 17, 2013 via web

    Pop up windows that prevent visitors reading about annoyances are annoying me.
    They are unexpected, slow me down, and put me in a negative mind frame.
    But I know how I would improve this.

  • by Sarah Bauer Thu Oct 17, 2013 via web

    Interesting post. The "why" is simple - people get annoyed when they believe their time is being wasted (ex: by slow loading times, inability to connect, clunky navigation systems slowing down otherwise 'simple' processes). Time is our most valuable commodity, and we get annoyed when we can feel it slipping through our fingers, unproductively. Brands need to recognize this and provide time-efficient tools for their customers to help them make the most of the time they spend interacting.

    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • by Brian Bennington Thu Oct 17, 2013 via web

    While this is an excellent post dealing with technology problems, "people problems" can be even more annoying, primarily because they are caused by something that can't be blamed on technology. Poorly written and directed content can waste as much time as sporadic connectivity and lack of speed. Saturation mailings, even from a quality source, is a growing cause of annoyance. Unwarranted attempts to prematurely collect information qualifies. It is a growing list, nearly all the results of a lack of sensitive for the recipient.

  • by Gavin J. Mon Oct 21, 2013 via web

    “Time is our most valuable commodity, and we get annoyed when we can feel it slipping through our fingers, unproductively. Brands need to recognize this and provide time-efficient tools for their customers to help them make the most of the time they spend interacting.” – Excellent point Sarah. I couldn't agree more. Providing our customers with the speed at which they have grown accustom to is perhaps the single greatest thing we can do to generate a “positive user experience.” I mean ... who likes waiting?

  • by Melissa Tue Nov 5, 2013 via web

    It's interesting that in trying to read this article, the first thing the site did was serve up a "Norm violation". I was willing to sign up for the site (I did), but I expected just to have to give my email address then be redirected to the page I wanted to see. Instead, I was asked for email, password, company, the okay to send me ads... and then not only was I not redirected, I got an extra page asking what sort of content I'd like to see. It was, well, annoying.

  • by Tom Wed May 13, 2015 via web

    I made an account (immediately created an Gmail filter to block the spam I know is coming) just so I could point out the irony of making a post about annoying marketing habits and then immediately hitting the visitor with a popup. During that process, I got hit with that popup 4 times because of your poorly constructed site. Why aren't you using cookies?

    Seriously, popups that appear a second after page-load are majorly annoying and they are ineffective.

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