Instant gratification: to experience pleasure without delay – it sounds like an impossible demand, even unreasonable. Yet, thanks to social media, online gaming, and real-time services, our brains have been trained to expect instant gratification whenever our attention is given. Since fulfilment of instant gratification begets demand, customers are only going to become increasingly frustrated by wait times, perceived delays in service or a poor customer experience.

Everytime our needs, wants and urges are satisfied, we are stoking the pleasure center of our brain. Conversely, if we feel deprived of what we have come to expect, we feel anxiety and tension. Unsurprisingly, our devices (and their ability to allow us to connect and transact anywhere) have become the means by which instant gratification is delivered. Marketers and experience designers have been able to find ways to deliver instant gratification based on some of the most common and fundamental ‘wants’:

  • Desire to be recognized for actions or abilities
  • Desire to connect socially
  • Desire to be appreciated
  • Desire to improve oneself physically or intellectually
  • Desire for social status

What we can learn from the gaming industry

The online gaming industry is particularly masterful at fulfilling the desire for instant gratification, so much so that online gaming addiction is now recognized as a mental health condition. Gamification software frequently delivers points, trophies or badges for making it to the next stage of a game. The idea behind such rewards is that you acknowledge the user for doing well thereby motivating them to continue on in the game. Once motivated, they are more easily persuaded to complete another task (whether that’s sharing content on social media or inviting friends).

If we were to follow the psychology of online game design, then we should be rewarding and encouraging our customers as soon as they perform some activity or interact with our brand. The interaction could be transactional or it could be posting a photo on Instagram or leaving online feedback. Setting up a reward loop for such behavior encourages people to stay in the experience by continuously rewarding the brain’s pleasure center. This is a distinctly different scenario than when customers feel forced to spend long periods in the experience because of wait times, long distances, or trouble finding what they need.

While it’s not uncommon for businesses to ‘gamify’ the customer experience – think about the Nike+ Run Club app or Taco Bell’s ‘Live Mas’ – businesses should also think about their standard customer exchanges and interactions and find ways to make the gratification more instant. Improvements might be:

  • Setting maximum response times for questions on social media
  • Offering continuity of support by minimizing the times customers are transferred to other people
  • Receiving email and SMS notification as soon as a request or order has been made and providing delivery/response ETA
  • Offering customer support through web chat
  • Offering tailored product/service recommendations to returning customers.
The best way to offer instant gratification is by staying focused on the customer ‘need’. Is their primary need to relax? To impress with the latest gadget? To appear smart to the boss? To appear popular? To have an unforgettable evening? Once you’ve established what their needs are, continue to reward and motivate them along the path to purchase – a path made shorter as the point of engagement and the point of purchase continue to converge.