Friction is Pain in the Customer Experience

Customer experience today is the fluid dynamic between two bodies in motion: your brand and your customer/prospect. As a brand you likely have invested significant amounts of time, energy, and resources (i.e. money) into a sales process, nurturing program, and engagement strategy to deepen and drive loyalty. In parallel your customer has perfected their own pattern of buying (filling the needs they have in their life), and over time, and through the augmented help of their peripheral technology, they have their own idea of efficiency and what it takes to navigate the multitude of daily demands, decisions, and diversions that occur.

Great design across the customer journey closes the gap between these two parallel, but interdependent, goal-seeking entities. There is one dramatic difference, however. You cannot survive without your customers. But your customers can survive without you, even if they face the temporary disappointment and frustration of having to invest time into finding a new solution to their problem.

The number one killer of customer delight, and eventual risk factor to continued loyalty, is how much friction you put in the way of their process to achieve their desired interaction with your brand that given day and in that given touch point. Friction shows up differently in B2B vs B2C businesses, but the net result is the same. Friction is the unnecessary speed bumps that cause the buyer to ‘resist’ the course you have set before them because they would prefer to transact or get to a decision phase differently than you have set forth.

I will illuminate this with one of my biggest everyday pet-peeve examples –– this is friction at its worst. Pain point number one in residential real estate shopping is when you visit a real estate broker’s website to see active listings, most of the time in order to see pictures of the house and an address you are forced to opt-in to their email drip list. There is no context on how serious you are about purchasing, or whether you are just looking for design ideas and comparables to kill an hour on a Saturday afternoon.

Naturally, there is a resistance to opt in by anyone who has bought a home in the past, because you realize you don’t want to lead the realtor on with a promise of future representation just to see pictures that are on Google or Zillow, etc. There is no value creation built between the realtor brand and the user on why this real estate brokerage is different than every other one out there. All that exists in this scenario is unnecessary friction that blocks the user from a fluid experience of clicking on a house they are drawn to and seeing what it looks like on the inside before they decide their next choice in the journey.

To continue on how friction shows up in other points in the journey map, let’s stick with real estate. You and your partner are driving by a house for sale that’s not open, but you want to know if you can get in to see it. A quick call to the number on the sign to confirm the house is vacant, but the realtor is busy with other appointments. All you want to do is view the inside while you are in the neighborhood together. In the day and age of electronic lockboxes, doorbells with cameras and other smart technology, why should you have to come back another day to view a house you are not even sure you are interested in? Why should you have to be followed around by someone telling you a bunch of information you may not find interesting to decide whether the house ‘feels’ right.

Houses sell themselves and realtors just process the paperwork. Friction. Friction. Friction.

Most users would gladly trade their photo and some personal identifier to unlock the door from a smart device for a period of time to walk around the house with a time-stamped entry and exit. This would save them the pain of rescheduling when it isn’t convenient and save the realtor gas and a wasted hour end-to-end with someone who is the majority of the time just looking around.

Removing friction in scenarios like this is not just good visual or technical design, but sales process and operational design. Find where the friction is along your customer journey and make removing it your competitive advantage and you will stand out from the pack and win more customers away in competitive market spaces.