Would you prefer more money or more time? By a two-to-one margin, Americans say they'd take two weeks of extra vacation over two weeks more pay. Scholars of happiness (yes, that discipline exists) are learning that time makes people happier than money, and that buying experiences makes them happier than buying things.

We place a premium on time because we're more likely to feel time is scarce. You can always make or accumulate more money, but you can't make more time. Experience is how we spend that finite commodity. That's why great experiences are what really build brand equity and why being speedy and responsive increases customers' happiness.

Although studies show that Americans aren't working longer hours, they feel more time pressure than they used to. Even wealthy people, who aren't pinched for cash, feel pressed for time, according to academics Sanford DeVoe and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Under Pressure

While money can't buy happiness, it can buy time. That's why people spend cash on convenience and service that they wouldn't spend on things--and why rich people fork out for servants and secretaries and other time-savers.

Time is money, so when you're thinking about how to make customers happy, think boldly about giving time back to them or making the time they spend with you more rewarding.

Design your processes to save your customers time, not just your own.

Americans waste time worth $1.5 billion a year waiting to hear someone say, "The doctor will see you now." Anyone who has ever checked out of a hospital knows that "You'll be going home today" means "Hang around till 4:00 while we finish the paperwork." The ThedaCare hospital system in Wisconsin redesigned its clinics so that patient visits are quicker and patients get lab tests results before they leave, rather than days after. Could you consolidate processes, do them in a different order, or do some of them in parallel?

Redesign customers' processes to save them time.

Research by Call Center Weekly shows that 5 of the top 10 items on customers' wish lists have to do with saving time: Don't make me wait on hold, don't take forever to fix my problem, don't take more than one call to resolve my problem, don't make it hard, and don't make me reenter information. What's true in call centers is true everywhere. A smart service designer will do customer time-and-motion studies like those that Frederick Taylor and his colleagues did with bricklayers and assembly-line workers.

Look for business models that radically change the time equation.

Quicken Loans' Rocket Mortgage is giving the rest of the industry fits because it has changed a process that took days or weeks into one that takes minutes.

Beware of false economies, including automation, that save you money but cost customers time.

If you want to return something to L.L. Bean, the company encourages you to pick up the phone rather than do it online. It's friendlier, yes; but it's also faster, less prone to error, and allows the person on the phone to learn why you're dissatisfied and, maybe, sell you something else. Contrast that to self-checkout at the supermarket--a pet peeve of ours. Even when it's faster, it feels like more work.

Recognize that time can be an investment, not an expense.

When customers enjoy spending time with you, getting them to invest more of it can be a good thing. That's certainly true at a seaside resort or an upscale spa. But also consider "the IKEA effect," analyzed by business professors Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely. "Labor leads to love," the scholars say, when the result is something customers value and feel proud of. Kids and parents who come into Build-a-Bear pay more to make their own teddy bears than they would for a similar bear whose labor costs are included.