The question of ‘timeflow’, or the pace of the customer experience, has long impacted consumers’ perceptions of products and has been capitalised on by companies and researchers to improve their services. Yet despite this, little is currently know about just how this such experience is shaped, what factors moderate and influence it, and how temporal experience may function as the key to successful marketing.
Joonas Rokka sets out to explore these issues which can have such a vital impact on the success of a business, and can so strongly inform market research. We know that consumers may lie happily on the beach for hours despite (or perhaps because of) the uneventfulness of the activity, but be impatient and frustrated after mere minutes of waiting in line. So what, exactly, dictates a successful temporal experience?


Could companies be doing better?

Companies’ failure to properly optimise ‘timeflow’ is impacting their services. Because these temporal experiences are intensively felt by the customer, designing a timeflow which is too fast or too slow is likely to negatively impact enjoyment and could even lead to the permanent loss of a customer. If an experience rushes past, consumers can feel frustrated and stressed, yet a lag can lead to boredom. This will affect the quality, attractiveness and distinctiveness of the customer’s enjoyment as a whole.

In order for companies to be successful in this area, they must envision the customer’s holistic timeflow, or likely string of events, in advance, and tailor it to enhance enjoyment. Another aspect that they must be aware of in order to maximise the success of their product or offering is the potential for disruption, and businesses must work to be equipped against these instances. The easiest way to achieve this is by examining where a positive temporal experience might break down, and integrating responses for these situations such as an efficient queueing system.

Why extreme sport is a good example

We used extreme sport as our focus, as due to its high intensity, participants were far more likely to easily recount the smallest details of their experience. We found that all consumers seek an optimal timeflow where certain consumption practice elements align. In freeskiing, for instance, a ski jump trick will require not only the appropriate bodily skills and expertise, but also optimal skiing equipment, weather conditions and an understanding of what a good jump looks like. Unsurprisingly, however, instances such as this are rare, and it is more likely that the consumer will be subjected to a timeflow which is either too fast or to slow.

It is important to remember that these experiences can differ dramatically between individuals. Because freeskiing exhibits a very specific temporal flow, episodes can both flash by in an instant or even stand almost still at the most intense of moments. Yet a worker supervising the safe operations of the snow park in which the freeskiers train will experience temporality very differently, since it has most probably become part of a boring, repetitive routine.

Why we could all learn from fast food outlets

An interesting example of timeflow being incorporated well into the customer experience could be the growth of ‘slow food’, like New York’s popular Craft restaurant, and ‘fast food’, such as the hugely successful McDonald’s. Both of these experiences have been designed entirely around the temporal concept – not only the duration of the meal but the food itself (think how fast food rarely even requires cutlery). In the case of McDonalds’s, for example, care has been taken to shorten the customer experience as much as possible to suit the consumers’ temporal needs – even down to details such as a ‘drive through’ to eliminate the need to leave the car.

Where else is this applicable?

This implications of this theory are broad and can be applied to a number of industries where temporal experience is important – think motor, gaming, entertainment, tourism, etc. As well as this, timeflows can be managed to make market offerings or retail spaces more attractive and accessible. It is surely an issue that companies must consider if they want to stay ahead of the curve and win custom.

Joonas Rokka, emlyon business school

Joonas Rokka

Consumer researcher by training, I am a Finnish associate professor of marketing specialised in studying consumer experiences and culture and how they are mediated, impacted, and shaped through digital media. In my research I put emphasis on and develop creative audiovisual methods including videography in order to address the complexity of experience including temporality, space, movement, embodiment, affect, and materiality. I was the recipient of The Sidney J. Levy Award (2015) for my dissertation research. I have professional experience in marketing and business development in a leading Finnish FMCG company, Valio Ltd. and running my own company specialised in management training and consulting around the issue of customer experience. I also run the Lifestyle Research Center at emlyon business school.

More information on Joonas Rokka:
His CV online
His ResearchGate page
His Academia page

Further reading…

  • Woermann, N., Rokka, J. 2015. Timeflow: How Consumption Practices Shape Consumers’ Temporal Experience. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(6), 1486-1508. DOI: 10.1086/680668.
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