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Selling to the Frictionless Consumer

Selling to the Frictionless Consumer

Source : linkedin.com

In physics, friction is the enemy of efficiency. It bleeds energy out of a machine or system, generating heat and noise. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy always increases) means that some friction is inevitable, but the less friction a system generates, the better. Friction is absolute waste. It has no redeeming attributes.

Friction (or rather, the lack of friction) is the real secret behind Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea. The reason it would be less expensive and more efficient than high-speed trains or even airliners for medium- and long-range travel is that it minimizes friction. A near vacuum in the transport tubes in which the maglev-suspended capsules travel means that they could travel twice as fast as airliners without having to waste energy overcoming air resistance, for instance.

In a consumer’s life, friction plays a similar role, bleeding energy out of the customer experience. The wasted time required to hold on the phone or wait in the queue before speaking with a service rep is “friction.” Friction is the time and money spent getting an item repaired or replaced when it breaks or runs down. It is the cost of gasoline used, when driving to and from the store for groceries. Even the time and effort spent online trying to figure out whether Product A or Product B is better constitutes friction.

To both the physicist and the consumer, in other words, friction is the enemy; it is an absolute waste, with no redeeming attributes, and the less friction generated, the better.

But for your business, the inevitable existence of consumer friction represents opportunity. Every time you can reduce the friction in your customer’s experience, you are adding value, eliminating waste. So identifying and eliminating the kinds of friction your customer encounters can be very beneficial when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage and improving a customer’s loyalty and lifetime value.

When JetBlue automatically credits your account with the value of a refund due to a delayed or canceled flight, without requiring you to go through the hassle of mailing your boarding pass in to a central processing office, or logging on to their website with your ticket number, they are adding value by eliminating friction. And one of Amazon’s latest initiatives, according to CEO Jeff Bezos, will be to send a refund to a customer in advance of the customer even having to request it, whenever a service situation would normally call for a refund.

When Safelite AutoGlass emails you a picture of the repairman scheduled to come to your house on a service call, in advance of his arrival, the company is adding value to your customer experience by removing friction. (And LinkedIn member Aldo Bergamasco points out that his brother’s pizza restaurant in Brazil has been emailing ahead the picture of its delivery drivers to home-delivery customers since 2009, by the way!).

When Ally Bank clearly displays its toll-free number on every page of its website, along with the estimated wait time before speaking with a rep, it is removing friction from its customer’s experience.

The highest quality customer experience is one that is as frictionlessas possible. So what are some of the opportunities your own business might have to gain a competitive advantage by eliminating consumer friction? Here are just a few ideas, to start your thinking:

  • Simplify your pricing
  • Reduce the complexity of your “terms and conditions,” including privacy-protection assurances, refund requirements, warranty conditions, and other service rules
  • Allow your customers to post objective product reviews on your own website, comparing brands without having to search elsewhere
  • Improve your customer data system so that a customer never has to repeat information to you (my favorite gripe: you’re required to key in your account number when you first connect with the call center, and then when you finally talk to a live human, the first question is “what’s your account number?”)
  • Design a smartphone app allowing customers to accomplish routine tasks without having to wait for your participation (depositing a check by emailing its photo, for instance, or locating your store, or checking on a package)
  • Train and empower your service employees to make non-routine decisions on their own authority, when it comes to minimizing customer service problems

These are just a few of my own ideas, more or less off the top of my head.

But what additional suggestions do you have for reducing the friction in a customer’s experience?

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