Friction – between you and the customer

Friction and the customer - person making payment on a phone

Friction – The New Challenge

There is much debate on how to make services and products great. Should they be packed with features, or deliver exactly what the customer needs? Maybe they incorporate cutting edge design, or have the right price for the customer, even if they come in basic packaging. Should we build incrementally, or do we need disruptive innovation? Is pull and feedback the best way to build our product, or shall we build it and they will come (a slight misquote from Field of Dreams).

Now one-click is probably the single most valuable feature ever delivered. Mostly written by one programmer. A simple idea that became a massive competitive advantage, particularly because of the patent protection (a debate for another time). Over the past year, we have ordered thousands of pounds worth of books through the simplicity of one-click. It creates an astonishing level of customer loyalty. But why?

Amazon have gone way beyond one-click, implementing tons of friendly customer features (and some, that are not so intuitive). But overall they have had a focus on how to make things easier for the customer. The vast majority of features that are built by software developers struggle to get a decent return on investment, but what sort of return has one-click achieved?

I would hazard a guess that it is in order of magnitudes higher than a finance department would dare calculate. Since it is probably in the millions of percent. You see in business cases, when we don’t know how well features will do (you will often see a predicted 100% ROI return or whatever was necessary to get the project approved), and if we think features will do extraordinarly well (you will often see a predicted 100% return). The guess on return rate has more to do with politics and approvals than actual knowledge of what will actually happen.

Our internal needs make it harder

Companies tend to think of friction as how cheaply they can deliver the service to a customer (remove call centres for example), rather than how easily the customer can obtain the product/service they require. A combination of these two factors means that projects that reduce customer friction rarely get any focus. Those annoying pesky ‘press 1 for sales, press 2 for service, press 3 if you are bored’ is a perfect example of how friction is added to the customer, whilst reducing the cost to the company of handling the call

Our focus on internal needs can add friction even when it isn’t needed. The other night, one company admitted to me that they had previously been asking customers what sex they are to be able to download music. Why? Because it might help them market more music at the customer later. This increases customer friction, and increases the chance of that person never becoming a customer.

Many websites use systems like Captcha which make you type pointless letters as you are trying to make a purchase. Here I am trying to spend money, and there you are trying to stop me. The bots are your problem, but for some reason you seemed to pass a problem to the customer to solve it.

The other day I was sat with one of my current airline clients who are doing some astonishing things to learn more about the customer, they are aiming to reduce customer friction all the time and I have genuine admiration for some of the great things they are trying to do. Their entire industry is plagued by friction, making it very hard to get what I want. As a loyal customer, I get reward points, try booking the flight I want and it seems my reward is friction.

Removing the friction

We need to constantly view things from a customer perspective and aim to remove friction. The Customer Effort Score is one possible measure for finding out whether we are making things hard for our customers. Every business will be different, but we need to examine the causes of this friction and remove them.

This could potentially be very challenging. For example, some of our highest friction comes from price (so we need to discover differing ways of pricing to lower friction), or how we would prefer to sell our services (because maybe it gives us more predictability to revenues). Over the coming months, I intend to show that removing friction usually results in higher ROI, even when it may seem very counter intuitive to our business.