The Psychology of Waiting: 3 Ways to Optimize Customer Wait Time in Your Marketing

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It was pure hatred.

That’s the only way to characterize the emotion I saw my dad display for one thing above all others when I was growing up — red lights.

I can’t tell you how many side streets, back roads, and “scenic routes” we took all in the name of avoiding traffic lights.

Why? Because, just like pretty much everyone else in the world, my dad hates waiting. He preferred moving to sitting still, even if it meant going several miles out of the way.

According to the New York Times, however, this is not just another one of my dad’s odd quirks — it’s a psychological trait backed by sound research.

In an article titled “Why Waiting Is Torture,” Alex Stone recounted a story about a Houston airport that saw baggage claim wait time complaints virtually disappear after they moved baggage claim as far away from the arrival gates as possible.

It took baggage even longer to arrive, but since the travelers’ waiting time was occupied by walking from their gates to baggage claim (instead of just standing at the carousel twiddling their thumbs), their perception of the wait time changed dramatically.

For marketers, this leads to a big question:

How are visitors perceiving the time they spend waiting on your website?

NOTE: Don’t forget to grab your free copy of the “Psychology of Waiting” Quick Reference Sheet at the end of this post.

What Marketers Are Missing About Waiting

According to Richard Laron, an M.I.T. operations researcher who is called the world’s “foremost expert on lines” in the aforementioned New York Times article, “Often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself.”

What does that mean in plain English? It means that how people perceive their waiting time is usually more important than the actual amount of time they spend waiting.

The baggage claim example introduces two important terms: unoccupied waiting (standing at baggage claim and consciously waiting) vs. occupied waiting (walking to baggage claim and not consciously waiting).

Unfortunately, marketers usually completely ignore these terms when considering waiting in the context of their websites. Instead, they focus on two questions:

    1. What wait times can I eliminate on my website?
    2. What wait times can I reduce on my website?

While these aren’t bad questions, there’s a critical third question most marketers are overlooking:

“What unoccupied wait times can I convert into occupied wait times?”

In other words, what are the “waiting points” on your website that leave visitors with nothing to do but wait? And how can you fill those waiting points with activities that keep visitors engaged?

Addressing these unoccupied wait times can not only lead to fewer complaints, bounces, and dissatisfied prospects — it can actually lead to higher conversions.

In this post, we’ll examine these three questions (particularly the third) in the context of three common “waiting points” in online marketing. We’ll then look at specific actions you can take to begin battling this unseen force in your marketing efforts immediately.

Waiting Point #1: The Post-Opt-In Email Delay

If you’ve ever opted in for anything on LeadPages, you probably noticed something about our thank you page — it doesn’t just say, “Thanks, go check your email.” Instead, our thank you page gives you the opportunity to register for our weekly webinar:

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We created this page in a matter of minutes using the Thank You/Webinar Page template inside of LeadPages.

This thank you page changes unoccupied wait time where your subscribers would usually wait for an email into occupied time. It gives them something to do — read about your webinar and potentially register.

This not only cuts down their waiting time, but it takes advantage of an overlooked marketing opportunity — the post-in state of hyper compliance.

Think about how many times your average visitors said “yes” to arrive on your thank you page:

  • Out of the billions of web pages out there, they said “yes” to visiting yours.
  • Instead of bouncing (like around 50% of visitors usually do) they said “yes” to checking out your website.
  • Finally, they said “yes” to inviting you into their email inbox.

This is what we call the post-opt-in state of hyper compliance.

Your subscribers are already saying “yes,” so your thank you page should give them another opportunity to say “yes.” By inviting them to a webinar, you’re continuing the conversation instead of ending it.

If you’re not currently hosting webinars, don’t worry — this strategy can still work for you. You can use this thank you page to ask for anything, as long as there’s value in it for the visitor.

For example, you could use your thank you page to get your new subscribers to…

  • Opt-in to an email autoresponder series
  • Opt-in to a free video series
  • Schedule a consultation
  • Claim a special discount or coupon
  • Fill out a survey
  • Share your website on social media (yes, we have a thank you page template for that as well)
  • Follow you on social media

There are tons of examples. To figure out what would work best for you, ask yourself this: What customer actions are most important to my business?

Make a list and choose the action that’s both valuable and doable. Then create a thank you page that prompts that action.

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We used the “Invite a Friend” Thank You Page template to prompt visitors to share the lead magnet they’d just opted in for.

Waiting Point #2: Unperceived Progress

Sometimes you don’t even have to actually be waiting to feel like you’re waiting.

This is what I like to call “unperceived progress” — the feeling you get when you’re engaged with something but have no idea how much further you have to go.

This is why you find yourself asking questions like, “How much longer is this movie?” or, every parent’s favorite, “Are we there yet?”

To combat unperceived progress, try finding ways to incorporate status elements like progress bars into the processes you want your visitors to go through.

For example, in our latest update to LeadBoxes, our two-step opt-in tool, we added an optional progress bar graphic to the top of the LeadBox layout.

Note the “50% Complete” progress bar at the top of the LeadBox.

This serves two purposes:

      1. It’s a subtle notification that the visitor is already halfway done with the opt-in process.
      2. It capitalizes on the human brain’s natural desire to complete things.

We built a progress bar into our Video Lesson Page template for the same reasons:

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The progress bar and “Part 6 of 7” header box let visitors know they’re progressing to the finish line.

Progress bars aren’t the only element that battles unperceived progress, of course. Others include:

  • Countdown timers (like the one we use here)
  • Checklists
  • “Step X of X” text
  • Load screen animations
  • “Email X of X” in subject lines for emails in a series
countdown
We use a countdown timer on this Web 3.0 Webinar Registration Page template to create anticipation and add a subtle touch of progression.

These types of elements make your visitors feel like they’re progressing toward the end instead of making them feel like they’re simply waiting for the end.

Waiting Point #3: Website Speed

While we’ve mainly focused on occupied waiting vs. unoccupied waiting, there’s a third type I’d also like to introduce — unexpected waiting.

Most forms of waiting on your website are expected to a degree. People expect to wait a minute or so to receive the email containing your lead magnet, for example.

A prime example of what they don’t expect? A long load time.

As comedian Louis CK crystallized in his much-shared “Everything’s amazing, nobody’s happy” appearance on Conan, we live in a society that expects our technology to work instantly. It doesn’t matter that it’s “going to space,” as he says. It better work — and it better work now.

The same goes for your website. After all, here are the numbers regarding page speed:

  • Every one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
  • 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.
  • Google has made it known that page speed affects how they rank pages (while this isn’t necessarily related to waiting, it’s still important).

Bottom line? Waiting for a website to load is unoccupied time at its worst.

There are many strategies out there for improving your site’s speed, but one that can have a dramatic impact on your conversions right away is finding the fastest hosting available.

Juan Martitegui, LeadPages customer and CEO of MindValley Hispano, created a split test that illustrates just how important your hosting choice can be to your conversion rates.

Juan’s test pitted a LeadPages landing page he uploaded to his own website against the exact same page, with one important difference — it was hosted on the Google server network.

To do this, Juan simply utilized the page’s LeadPages-generated URL, which is automatically created and available for every page you create with LeadPages. All LeadPages URL versions of pages are hosted on the Google server network, arguably the fastest server in the world.

The result of this test? The page hosted on the Google server network accounted for an 8.47% increase in conversions. . . all because it simply increased the page’s speed.

To get an idea of your site’s speed, try using a free tool like Pingdom. It’ll analyze your site’s speed and give you a breakdown of the areas that may be slowing it down.

What Are You Waiting For?

While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate all customer waiting points, we can certainly learn to make them better.

We can occupy time that is traditionally unoccupied, meet and exceed expectations instead of failing them, and to clearly communicate progress.

To keep these concepts fresh in your mind, be sure to click the button below and grab your copy of the “Psychology of Waiting” Quick Reference Sheet:

In the interest of constantly improving, tell me — What unoccupied waiting points do you see in your own business? How can you occupy them for your customers?

  • Really interesting article. I’ve seen time and time again how pacing the customer experience, the use of positive expectation, and open loops leads to increased conversation. But this is the be explanation I’ve ever seen as to *why* these methods work. Thanks for the great article, Will!

    • Thanks, Clay! It’s a really interesting subject, especially in the context of the online experience — tons of old and new concepts and experiences intersecting with one another. It will be cool to see how wait times are treated as user experiences continue to evolve.

  • I love your posts because they always have information that people can use. I especially like the fact that you guys show real world examples. Thanks for the stats on the load times on a website, that really made me think about what I need to do. By the way, I recently started to use your “Tell A Friend” page for my webinars based on a post that you put up a while ago. Thanks for the great info and I always look forward to reading what you guys put up.

  • Mark C

    This is the type of post I call a “keeper” because it’s so good I print it to PDF and save it just in case it goes away! Lots of value here. Love it!

    • Thanks, Mark! Glad to hear you found it valuable.

  • Great information to chew on Will! I definitely believe that what Marketers do with a potential customer’s anticipation is huge. One suggestion I’ve given some retailers to try out is providing valuable information during the waiting time on a phone call, instead of a monotonous and irritating feedback loop.

    • Great example, Jason! That’s one I hadn’t thought of. I’ve sat through enough hold recordings to know that’s an opportunity many business are missing out on. 🙂

  • Hi Will,
    Do you recommend hosting the site on leadpages rather than on my own website? Does that usually turn out to be faster?

    • Hey Arijit, great question. I’d recommend using the LeadPages-generated link as much as you can. Granted, there are some situations where it makes more sense to host it on your website, but most of the time it’s more advantageous to go with the faster option (usually the LeadPages link).

      If you haven’t checked it out already, I think you’ll find this video that was referenced in the article interesting: http://blog.leadpages.net/faster-server-hosting-higher-conversions/

      • Hey Will, just checked out the video! Thanks for sharing.

        I was getting a 56% opt in rate earlier (which is awesome) but was getting fewer people coming to the landing page (which is surprising and contradictory).

        I think the problem was abandonment due to load speed.

        Changing the hosting is definitely on my agenda today!