AmazonGo is a chain of brick-and-mortar stores that does not require customers to queue for a cashier after shopping. Soon after, Walmart announced its plans to deliver a frictionless customer experience by 2022.
Everywhere you look, organizations big and small are trying to reduce friction and remain competitive. During times of economic uncertainty, eliminating friction is crucial for restoring predictable revenue.
A frictionless buying decision is effortless for the customer. It feels like a natural, wonderful experience, where every detail has been considered and no thinking is required on the part of the customer.
Why it makes sense to run frictionless
Conversely, friction slows the customer from reaching their goal, and equally slows the sale. Friction is an obstacle preventing a customer from making a buying decision. Further, friction points are where customers get stuck in a buying process, either because they don’t understand what to do next or what is being demanded of them is too time-consuming.
All of us have experienced moments when a company’s efficiency is prioritized above our goal. In trying to serve the company’s own goals, companies introduce friction.
A client I once served tells a story where he visited a department store to purchase a television set. He had the product in his hand, the money in his hand, and he said to the salesperson ‘I would like to make a payment and leave’.
The salespeople serving couldn’t understand that he needed to be put into an express lane. Instead, the salespeople took him through a long-winded journey and made him start the process from the beginning.
Paradoxically, organizations like Walmart and Amazon which serve the customer’s goal first, over time satisfy the company’s goal of profit and efficiency.
This is because friction and sales are negatively correlated. When you eliminate friction, you stand to not only improve customer experience but simultaneously improve sales. The difference is how the two goals are prioritized, to begin with.
In the department store story, we told earlier, customers were not the only victims of friction. Salespeople experience friction trying to sell the television set.
Customer: “These salespeople are not listening to me.”
Salesperson: “I’m spinning wheels trying to sell this television.”
During the course of researching and writing the book run_frictionless, we discovered some startling facts about friction. Here are five facts you need to know if you decide to build a frictionless customer experience.
- Friction is an organizational problem
- Friction has a quotient
- Friction accumulates
- Friction causes drop-off
- Friction has levers
Let’s begin with, friction is an organizational problem.
1. Friction is an organizational problem
Friction is not a sales problem, or a customer service problem. It is an organizational problem. No matter how talented people who work in the organization, the greater the friction, the more difficult it is for your people to create and serve a customer.
Many organizations try to solve sales friction by hiring more and better salespeople. However, the best salesperson in the world will perform mediocre if their platform is lousy. Think of salespeople as actors performing at a theatre. To put on a great show, they need a solid script, stage direction, lighting, and terrific props.
TIP: Friction can creep into the customer journey, and slow the customer from reaching their goal. Create a culture where everybody is rewarded for hunting and eliminating friction. Eliminating friction is less concerned with the individual efforts of your people, and more about the design of a company’s processes.
To make it easier to understand friction, it can help to group all your customer interactions in one of three stages. Early game, middle game, and endgame. Go to work reducing friction in all three stages in order to overcome friction.
The definition of the early, middle, and endgame will differ from business to business. Generally, the early game handles first-time interactions with a customer – customers who complete an online web form, call in via phone, decide to live chat, or drop an invitation to talk on Twitter.
The middle game is a gestation period, a time when the customer is evaluating competitors, including the option of “sticking with the status quo.” The middle game, as the word suggests, sits in the middle between the early and the endgame, and normally contains the largest number of customer interactions.
The endgame is where the customer has shortlisted suppliers and is preparing to close out their buying decision.
2. Friction has a quotient
Friction can be indexed and therefore, organizations from competing spaces can benchmark each other. The larger the index, the higher the friction. For example, let’s say your organization achieved a score of 3.6, and the industry average was 3.8. In this example, your organization has out-performed the industry average.
When designing a frictionless customer experience, you need to achieve a low friction index.
TIP: Carry out regular ‘friction tests’ to understand how your company fairs in comparison to your nearest and furthest competitors. You can do these yourself or hire people to mystery shop you and your competitors.
In the graph above, assume you achieved a score of 3.6. Make it the goal of the company to close the distance between your company and the friction leader.
3. Friction accumulates
Customers remember the friction they experience from one interaction to the next. Friction is more than a single point in time, but a sum of experiences.
Let’s draw a parallel between friction and the proverb ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. In this proverb, it was not the weight of the straw that crippled the camel, but the weight of objects that came before the straw, that caused the camel’s demise.
I am astounded how often the CEOs and business owners I meet do not know what it feels like to become a customer of their business. Whether you are standing in the early, middle, or endgame, you need to know if you are adding or subtracting friction to an interaction.
TIP: Measure the customer’s temperature as often as possible. An SMS after a massage therapy. A telephone call after an online class. Whatever it takes to collect feedback and monitor a customer’s net promoter score. Try to automate the collection of this intelligence. That way you can control the precise time the request is sent and maximize response rate.
4. Friction causes drop-off
Think about a difficult interaction you’ve had as a customer. A poor experience causes you to quit, walk-off, and forget you ever wanted the product. You experienced ‘drop-off’.
Drop-off is when a customer delays or abandons their goal, due to overwhelming friction. The effort required outweighs the perceived benefit of the product. As a rule of thumb, you can avoid drop-off by ensuring your organization satisfies this equation.
If you followed my advice earlier and grouped all your customer interactions into an early, middle, and endgame, you can calculate the drop-off rate at different stages of the customer journey. If you have a healthy sales system, drop-off rates should fall over time.
For example, if you have 20 prospects who enter the early game, and if the drop-off rate is 50 percent in the middle game, and 20 percent in the endgame, your business acquired 7 customers.
Nowhere is drop-off or ‘cart abandonment’ more pronounced than in e-commerce. The Baymard Institute recently calculated data from 41 different studies and found that the average cart abandonment rate is just under 70 percent.
That means roughly seven out of every 10 shoppers will drop-off making an e-commerce transaction.
Chris Swallow, Founder and Senior Marketing Consultant of CTRL, a Sydney-based marketing agency, builds e-commerce experiences for clients. Chris believes check-out pages served during the transaction of online purchases are plagued with fiction.
“I advise my clients that they should continue selling the product, even after the consumer has clicked ‘buy’ and started the check-out process,” says Chris.
Unlike bricks and mortar retail, where the customer can continue asking questions right up to swiping their card, online shoppers are often presented with a sterile web capture form. It is very easy for online shoppers to have second thoughts or to get distracted before completing a purchase.
TIP: Chris suggests online retailers can try adding messages pertaining to the product, including images, reconfirming key benefits, and highlighting after-sales service.
5. Friction has levers
In an MIT paper written in 2000, titled A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers, Brynjolfsson and Smith explained that the internet is not the frictionless medium we all expected.
“We conclude that while there is lower friction in many dimensions of Internet competition, branding, awareness, and trust remain important sources of heterogeneity among Internet retailer.” In other words, brand and credibility are ‘levers’ organizations can use to reduce friction and differentiate online.
In addition to Brynjolfsson and Smith’s brand and credibility levers, our research uncovered another five, bringing the total count to seven levers of frictionless customer experience.
Here they are in no particular order.
- Product knowledge
- Product augmentation
- Response time
- Customer profiles
Between 2014 and 2020, run_frictionless rolled-out over 30 sales systems from companies ranging from traditional medical firms to internet-only businesses. When we focused on these seven levers, we were able to help organizations overcome friction and reach double-digital growth.
In the chart above, notice how this industry performed well in response time and customer profiling but lagged behind in credibility, product knowledge, and firestarters? If you are a startup or an existing player in this industry, you can use this intelligence to guide where to spend your marketing dollars.
More about the seven levers of friction here.
By understanding these five facts, you are in a better position to design and build frictionless customer experiences.
This post was written by entrepreneur Anthony Coundouris, who created the 4Qs framework. The author has rolled out the 4Qs to countless organizations that have enjoyed double digital growth. Now this framework is available as a do-it-yourself book titled, run frictionless: how to free a founder from a sales role.