Streaming delays aren’t anyone’s idea of a good time – but mobile service providers and their marketers might be surprised to learn just how distant from “a good time” they really are.

According to a recent biometrics-based study conducted by Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, a delay in loading website pages or videos can increase the average mobile user’s stress levels by around 38 per cent – roughly the same rate as taking a math test or watching a horror movie alone.

Ericsson Delay Stress Diagram 2

More importantly for service providers, Ericsson discovered that if there were no delays, users unconsciously became more satisfied with their mobile service provider, while depending on the length of a delay, not only did users develop a more negative opinion of their provider, their opinion of the competition went up – though longer delays (which lasted for up to 14 seconds under the experiment) soured their opinion of the mobile service industry in general.

“This surprising finding suggests that major delays can even cause the whole industry to suffer a loss of brand equity,” researchers wrote in the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report.

To conduct the study, Ericsson researchers randomly selected 30 Copenhagen-based volunteers ranging from 18 to 52, all of them mobile broadband subscribers who regularly browsed and streamed video on their smartphones. Each participant was fitted with pulse meters, eye-tracking glasses, and wireless electroencephalography (EEG) headsets, then issued an Android smartphone with what appeared to be a mobile broadband network connection and asked to complete 18 tasks in 20 minutes.

Ericsson Brain Diagram

Unknown to the subjects, they were divided into three groups, each one set up with a different range of pre-determined delays that hindered them from completing their tasks, which involved navigating through news articles and YouTube videos:

  • Group 1 – No delays
  • Group 2 – Medium delays: 4 – 6 seconds of web page load time, two seconds of video load time, and three video pauses of three seconds due to buffering events;
  • Group 3 – High delays: 10 – 14 seconds of web page load time, six seconds of video load time, and three video pauses of three seconds due to buffering events.

To measure the consumers’ unconscious responses to their mobile service provider’s brand, each was shown a series of images including mobile operator and content provider logos, and asked if they would willingly recommend their mobile broadband service provider.

Predictably, having a time limit to complete each task increased the participants’ stress levels in the first place, with even the control group experiencing 13 per cent stress, while each delay increased their stress exponentially. When watching videos, an initial delay could increase participants’ stress by up to six per cent, while a pause during the video increased their stress by an additional 15 per cent.

Ericsson Delay Stress Diagram 1

So what’s the takeaway for mobile service providers and marketers?

“When consumers turn to their smartphones to find information quickly, they want an instantaneous response,” the researchers write – and by meeting that want, service providers and their staff stand to gain a great deal.

Otherwise they risk losing customers – and public perception of their industry along with it.

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