By Stewart McCoy


Timing is everything

This is a tangent from my series about using rhetorical principles to develop effective communication in your web project. I’ll be following up Rhetoric is the New Grid and Discovering What to Say with a post about the rhetorical principle of arrangement. For the moment, let’s consider the timely rhetorical concept of kairos.

I recently purchased flowers on FTD.com for a French girl studying English in the States; I wanted to make sure she enjoyed a traditional American Valentine’s Day. And earn brownie points. After selecting an order of roses and entering the delivery date and destination zip code, I clicked continue. I would normally expect a form to enter shipping and billing information. Instead, the next view presented me with options to add a greeting card, chocolates, teddy bear, or balloon to my order. FTD seized upon a window of opportunity and thoughtfully reminded me to send a greeting card with a personal note along with the roses I was ordering.

A screen capture of of the checkout process during a purchase of roses on FTD.com offers the users optional add-ons like a greeting card or chocolates

During the checkout process, FTD presents users with an option to add a greeting card or chocolates to a flower order. So kairotic.

Effective communication is not only about what you say and how you say it, but also when you say it. In classical rhetoric, good timing is referred to as kairos and takes into account how context both calls for and constrain’s one’s speech. On the web, you can apply this concept to timeliness of interaction.

In the FTD example, the concept of kairos is important because it helped increase business. In the following Netflix example, kairos helps to prevent loss of business.

When a friend tried to cancel her Netflix subscription, she was presented two options: to cancel or to suspend for three months. Netflex knows it’s easier to keep customers than to sign up new ones. She suspended her account to save money while she was too busy to watch movies, sticking with Netflix in the long run.

A screen capture from Netflix shows the subscription cancellation process with an alternative to suspend the service

During the subscription cancellation process, Netflix presents users with an alternative for account suspension and effectively capitalizes on a crucial user interaction that could result in a loss of business.

In both these examples, the key element is timing. FTD and Netflix both communicate messages in light of users’ context, and do so in a way that retains or increases business. When designing interactions you need to recognize kairotic opportunities—key moments to present users with important messages that improve the user experience.

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