The paradigm shift in form analytics (the form as a contract)

Interacting with forms is often the most sensitive part of a customer’s interaction with our digital properties. As brands, when we present the consumer with a form, our implicit expectation is that the consumer will provide us with truthful answers – and will do so willingly and happily.

However, the consumer also has expectations, stemming from a successful marketing campaign, a review they read, or even a previous experience within a brick-and-mortar store. These expectations are subjective, and unique to each individual. They entail past experiences and assumptions about future interactions, and the reciprocal exchanges they will have with the brand.

The psychological contract

Professor Denise Rousseau (an expert in Organizational Behavior at Carnegie Mellon University) has eloquently coined the term ‘Psychological Contract’ – perfectly referencing exactly these subjective expectations.

Indeed, when we present the consumer with a form – we are actually asking them to fill out a contract, a binding contract that will initiate (or prolong) a relationship with the brand. And this is the paradigm shift referenced in the title of this blog – we need to re-examine how we conduct analytics on this most sensitive part of the customer experience. 

This relationship can be short (a one-time transactional exchange), or long (lasting decades). And as in any relationship, and mainly a transactional one, the consumer will be interested in two things:

  1. That their expectations are met, and are not violated (this would break the psychological contract they are making)

  2. That they are being seen in the best possible light (paying attention to the impression they are making and being able to trust the brand)

Some examples to help explain these points:

  • Restaurant chain: A customer is on the restaurant’s website and wants to see a menu, but instead is being served with a form asking for their full address. The expectations of what is relevant or reasonable to the situation are violated, and the customer will have a poor experience.

  • Insurance company: The customer is looking for a home insurance quote, and is asked to answer not only if they have a pet, but also what breed. They will be concerned about whether giving the true answer (or any!) will increase the cost of their premium, and that they are seen as a trustworthy customer.

The conflicting expectations of the brand and the consumer mean it is important to measure the consumers’ implicit behavioral cues, their digital body language, that really reveal not only their experience, but also their expectations of the brand.

Measuring experience sensors

In our research into the human experience of using forms, we measure a variety of experience sensors that enable me to identify the areas in the form that cause friction. That is, they either increase violations of expectations (the breaking of the psychological contract), or decrease the trust in the brand. These experience sensors also allow me to measure the consumers’ overall willingness and motivation to share and disclose personal information.

Among the many sensors that can define whether a specific field in the form is problematic, or if consumers are not willing to share their data, I look at hesitation sensors - for example, the time it takes consumers to start typing in each specific field, or their typing speed. The longer it takes, or the slower the typing speed, the higher the probability that the user is unwilling to provide the information, or that the question is deemed irrelevant (as in my insurance example earlier), or the answer is not readily available.

Regardless, the time factor here is clearly an issue, and the problem is still relevant whether the consumer continues and finishes the form, or not. Indeed, customers can complete the form and add a (seemingly positive) conversion. However, their experience could be so poor that their relationship with the brand is short-lived and they never return.

Increasing lifetime value

So, in order to increase the lifetime value and improve the digital experience for customers, we need to rethink how we look at forms, and treat them as an inherent contract with the customer – on a psychological level as much as on a financial or legal level.

For more insight into how innovative brands are using form analytics and experience sensors to inform their customer experience strategies, watch this webinar featuring Spring Venture Group, Avis, PepsiCo and TIAA.

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