I have been working as a global Customer Experience consultant for nearly twenty years. Never have I ever heard a customer say, “I just wish I could be hassled a little more.”
We don’t like it when things aren’t easy in a Customer Experience. It takes too much time and energy for us to respond to tricky or difficult challenges. Moreover, if we are at a state of cognitive depletion, where we are too tired to make good decisions or use rational thought to figure out a solution, we are likely to walk away from a complicated experience—a result that isn’t doing your bottom line any favors.
These moments are what we call “friction.” We discussed friction’s effect on Customer Experience in a recent podcast. Our guest, Roger Dooley is an international speaker, Forbes contributor and author of Brainfluence and his new book Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage. Dooley describes his book as a grand unified theory of friction. He discusses Customer Experience and how companies can disrupt an entire industry just by making things easier for customers.
Dooley says Amazon is the prime example (!) of an organization that is successful at disruption. In 1997, Jeff Bezos was talking about frictionless shopping. Amazon patented one-click ordering while other companies were just dipping their toes in eCommerce.
The whole history of Amazon shows an organization eliminating friction, he says. In packaging, ten years ago, Amazon saw that customers were often struggling with retail packaging, blister packs or heat-sealed packs you see on the shelves at a big box store, that is very difficult to open without tools.
By the way, I Googled How to Open a Blister Pack, and this is what I found:
Unlike a brick and mortar store, Amazon is neither threatened by shoplifting nor do they have to ensure a customer can see the product on the shelf through the packaging. So, Amazon implemented frustration-free packaging, packing things neatly in cardboard boxes.
Not only did this make it easier for the customers to open, but also the negative comments about products went down around 70 or 80 percent on products with frustration-free packaging, Dooley says. By changing the opening experience, Amazon changed people’s perception of the product itself.
It’s No Mystery Why “Main Street” Can’t Keep Up
Frustration-free is something that some experiences lack, as I am sure we can all relate. A few weekends ago, Lorraine and I took a broken clock to a clock repair shop that was open until five. However, when we arrived at five to five, it was closed.
Undeterred by the irony, we knocked on the door. A woman answered. Upon hearing our request for a repair, she asked us if we knew what time it was. Now, to be fair, our clock was broken, but I set that snarky comment aside and answered politely that it was five to five.
“Well, what have you been doing all day?” she retorted.
I was a bit gobsmacked, to be honest. However, I recovered quickly and apologized in my most British way for my inconsiderate behavior. When our business at the clock shop concluded, and we were walking out to the car, I had to wonder why it was that people were complaining that the main-street-mom-and-pop shops are dying. I will tell you, it’s so much easier buying something on Amazon.
Why Organizations Struggle to Reduce Friction in Their CX
Clearly, the whole area of friction is massive. Many organizations struggle with reducing friction for two main reasons, per Dooley:
- Organizations don’t observe customer behavior, either in person at retail locations or digitally for online transactions. They don’t have the data to make a proper analysis of where friction occurs in their experience.
- Organizations think they put the customer first, but they don’t; they put their business interests first. Around 90 percent of companies say that they put the customer first, but if you ask their customers, you get a much lower number, around 20 percent.
Creating a Frictionless Experience
So, how would you go about creating a frictionless experience? Dooley says the best way is to test, to observe customers using your product, your interface, your website, or your app. You need to know what customers will respond to even if they can’t explain it. In fact, asking customers is not sufficient because often they cannot articulate what they want. Instead, you must observe what they do.
Next, Dooley says you should create a friction-aware culture in the company. You want everybody in the organization from the customer service people to the web designers to accounting and so on thinking about friction and how to reduce it.
Dooley says doing so will have multiple benefits. First, the customers will benefit if your people are thinking of it from the customer’s point of view. Employees will do what is best for customers, even if it is not what you have always done or how they were told to handle things. Another benefit of that is your people will examine their internal procedures and recognize the problems inherent in it.
Also, improving the friction in Customer Experience could improve the frustration in the employee experience also. Dooley says a great example of this comes from GE under the leadership of legendary CEO Jack Welch. In his overhaul of the company that he was streamlining and improving, he and the management team met with their manufacturing employees at one of GE’s plants and asked the group how management could make their lives easier.
One fellow spoke up. He was a machine operator handling sharp metal parts who wore work gloves to protect his hands. About once a week or so, he would wear out a pair of gloves. To get a new pair, he would need to leave his building, go to another building where the tool crib was to fill in a requisition form for a pair of gloves, and then, find a supervisor to approve it. After that, he carried the signed requisition out back to the tool crib, picked up the gloves, and then finally returned to his workstation and resumed work. The whole process took from one to two hours.
The solution was simple. Management put a box of work gloves by the guy’s workstation. With that small change, the company saved hours per month of lost time and productivity.
Dooley says what the glove story shows is a significant point about friction: you don’t always see it. What’s more, you get used to it, especially when it is part of your day-to-day job. These moments of friction in a Customer Experience, or, in this case, the employee experience, have hidden costs. Sometimes it’s productivity, like the fellow in the glove story. Sometimes it’s revenue.
The Value of an Outside Perspective
When management put the box of gloves there, they introduced a new way to handle that moment of friction. However, Dooley says many times the solution comes from an outside perspective, and sometimes to the detriment of your organization. Dooley’s objective with the new book is to help people start seeing friction before somebody comes along and disrupts their business model by showing it to them.
Often, a tangential view from a person not necessarily familiar with the process can see new ways to handle moments that cause friction. Across all industries innovation often comes from outside because somebody doesn’t know how things have to be, Dooley says.
Uber disrupted the cab industry by improving the payment experience. Before Uber, everyone assumed that the best way to pay for your ride was to handle it upon arrival. It was just how things were done, and everyone accepted that paying when you arrive was the best way to handle the payment process.
Uber discovered a new way to pay. As a result, you hop out of the car and go on your merry way when you arrive—a vast improvement over the taxi experience.
The reason Uber came up with that was their outside perspective. They didn’t accept the rules of paid transport and looked at it in a new way.
However, you don’t have to be an outsider to have an outside perspective. By stepping to one side and looking at things from the perspective of an outsider or watching what customers do in your experience, you will see the friction. It will lead to questioning everything in your experience.
Dooley encourages looking at things from the customer’s perspective. The idea/moment/convention that everyone may accept as a given may, in fact, not be that great. Are there other ways of doing it?
For my part, I believe in watching customers and gaining perspective on what they do. We have had a recent podcast on facial recognition and facial expression to see how your customers feel in a moment. Seeing their faces in a moment with friction could be an invaluable insight to help you design a new way to approach that part of the customer process.
I need to wrap this up now. I have to go pick up the clock. It’s almost 3:30 and I don’t want to be scolded for frittering away my day by the clock lady.
To hear more about Creating a Frictionless Experience in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
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Hear the rest of the conversation on “Creating a Frictionless Experience” on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX