The Dangers of the “Real Time” Expectation Gap

By Ginger Conlon | 4.16.18

Like many marketing terms, “real time” is situational. Marketers may think of real time as milliseconds, or seconds, or even “near real time” batches. But for most consumers, real time means one thing: immediacy.

In fact, 71 percent of 2,000 U.S. consumers polled define real time as immediate, according the study “The Psychology of Waiting: The Business Impact of Diminishing Consumer Patience,” by VoltDB and Vanson Bourne. And real time is what they expect from digital customer experiences:


  • 83 percent agree that speed is one of the most important aspects of the customer and user experience today;

  • 52 percent say that waiting even a few seconds for something they expect to happen immediately is annoying; and,

  • 63 say waiting negatively impacts their experience with a brand enough to consider switching providers.

But consumers don’t just want “fast,” they want “accurate” and “relevant,” as well. Eighty-six percent of consumers polled agree that accurate information is another one of the most important aspects of a positive customer and user experience. Relevance — in terms of content and timing — is also essential, especially when it comes to serving digital ads:


  • 64 percent of consumers say they get annoyed when online ads are irrelevant to them

  • 63 say they get annoyed when online ads are poorly timed (e.g. being served an ad for something they just purchased)

  • 78 percent say they won’t click on an ad, even one that’s relevant, unless it’s served at the right time (e.g., during the purchase process)

Fortunately, when done right, relevant real-time offers do get consumers clicking:

  • 82 percent of respondents say they notice personalized ads;

  • 56 percent say they’ve taken advantage of real-time offers online; and,

  • 75 percent have taken in-game offers.

Closing the gap

In this environment of impatience and high expectations, what’s a marketer to do?


Madhup Mishra, VP Product Management at VoltDB, has several recommendations:


Say what you mean – “Everyone talks about real time and hardly anyone means it,” Mishra says. “If you say it, mean it.” If you tell customers you’ll be there for them in real time and you’re not, you’re going to deliver what they’ll view as a subpar customer experience.


Be on time – “Customers want immediacy in terms of receiving an offer or other marketing message,” he says. “It had better not be when the moment has passed.” That expectation will only increase as the adoption of 5G devices grows.


“There will be hundreds of thousands of 5G devices that let marketers reach consumers wherever they are,” Mishra says. “Real time will become pervasive in the next two to three years. It represents a huge opportunity.”

Move faster –  Speed has become critical, Mishra points out. “Seventy percent of respondents to our survey are already receiving real-time offers, whether they’re targeted well or not,” he says. “If you’re not focused on speed, it’s time to start.” It’s likely that

your competitors are sending real-time offers and communications, Mishra add. If you’re not, it could cost you business.


Aim better – “Speed is critical, but it’s never sufficient,” Mishra says. “If you’re fast but throwing spaghetti at the wall, it won’t be interesting to today’s buyers. Your messages need to be accurate and relevant.” Real-time but irrelevant messages and offers will tarnish your brand and cause consumers to tune out, he warns.


“Of course, personalization of marketing messages is not a new concept,” Mishra adds. “What’s new is the melding of getting those personalized, relevant messages to prospective customers right away.”


Make an offer they can’t refuse – Use tools such as AI and machine learning to analyze historical and real-time data together, Mishra advises. This approach will allow you to make the offers so relevant, timely, and on target that customers won’t be able to resist them.


“The technology is available to import streams of data into big data analytics systems, bring insights to bear, and take action in real time,” he says. “And because that offer is relevant and accurate, it will be something consumers can’t pass up.”


Think beyond technology – Focus on people and process, as well as on technology, around how can you ingest data about consumers, draw meaningful insights on who they are, their interests, what they buy and like, and make intelligent decisions in real time.


Be awesome – “Reacting to customers in real time isn’t just about being able to make more money; it’s also about the intangibles,” Mishra says. “People will think poorly about your brand if you’re presenting information they think is stale or irrelevant.


“If you’re not living and breathing real time, you’d better start now,” he adds. “The sky is the limit to learn about your customer to help add to your bottom line and also to have an awesome brand.”

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.