Responsiveness and overall performance are critical to the user experience of online services, particularly for media and entertainment experiences. A recent study from Limelight Networks suggested that over half of respondents thought that high performance — streaming without buffering or waiting for pages to load — was the most important expectation for user experience, ranking it above the availability of new content. The author of the report, and a recent book on improving engagement with digital audiences, spoke to informitv about the importance of performance for user experience.

Over three quarters of those surveyed for the study ranked performance as the first or second priority for a great online experience. 52% ranked performance as the most important aspect, while only 39% regarded fresh and updated content as a top priority.

60% of those surveyed indicated they were unwilling to wait more than five seconds for a page to load, and over a third of them said they would leave a site if it did not load in three seconds. With many users now accessing services on phones and tablets, over 40% of respondents expected them to be equally fast, whether on mobile or desktop.

“With the advent of faster networks, better devices and more choices for consumers online, there’s little room for slow or sluggish website performance,” said Jason Thibeault, senior director of marketing strategy at Limelight Networks. “Creating a great digital experience for your audience is hard. Performance is at the core of success for online businesses and should be a top priority.”

The report recommends that if businesses want to win and retain business, they must provide a digital experience that exceeds consumer expectations for performance. Businesses need to educate themselves on the challenges and intricacies of delivering a high-performance digital experience to avoid unnecessary delays disrupting user interaction with the brand.

Naturally, Limelight Networks, as a content distribution network, has solutions for reducing latency and improving streaming performance. However, the obvious observation is that providing video that people want to watch online is only one aspect of the overall user experience.

Traditionally, while media companies have liked to think they understand their audience, they have had only limited insight into the actual experience of their users. Even pay-television companies have been generally limited to a billing relationship with a household.

Digital media provides the opportunity to measure and improve the performance of service delivery. Yet this function has not necessarily had a key role in the structure of many media companies, which tend to be more interested in reach and usage than satisfaction.

Jason Thibeault is the co-author of a business self-help book on delivering digital experiences that people want to share. He believes that generations that have grown up with broadcast television have become tuned to instant gratification, expecting an immediate and consistent response when they turn on their receiver. “Anything that does not work as well as broadcast television is dissatisfying,” he said.

Interestingly, the internet originally delivered largely asynchronous experiences, like email, but is increasingly being used to deliver real-time responses and synchronous experiences, like live video.

He said that adaptive streaming over standard web protocols had “changed the game” in online video delivery, improving consistency of delivery, but any interruption is likely to lead to irritation in increasingly impatient users.

He emphasised the importance of paying attention to the operational aspects of the digital experience, as well as design and the technology of delivery, and using real user measurements to assess and improve performance.

Transactional companies, such as retailers, tend to be more focussed on these aspects, as it directly affects their bottom line. Many media companies recognise the issue but have been slow to change the ways in which they operate to focus on service delivery.

Jason suggests that immediacy and consistency in performance are more important than other aspects of quality, such as resolution, as far as consumer satisfaction is concerned. There may be diminishing returns in delivering higher definition, particularly if other aspects of quality cannot be assured.

Refreshingly, Jason does not talk about technology as much as the emotional aspects of building relationships with users. It is all about relationships because however we choose to interact, we are all people.

In the Recommend This! book he co-authored, he writes about the importance of stories, being authentic, delivering consistency, maintaining credibility, being helpful, nurturing communities and delivering on promises.

These are all themes that should be central to the values of many media organisations, yet such brands may seem remote or even indifferent to many of their users. Which makes the book recommended reading.

The State of the User Experience white paper is based on a survey of over 1,000 people and is available from the Limelight Networks web site. Recommend This!: Delivering Digital Experiences that People Want to Share by Jason Thibeault and Kirby Wadsworth is published by Wiley.