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This article was published on July 19, 2018

Why reducing customer friction is the new customer loyalty

The only way to really win with today's customers is to find friction points and eliminate ASAP.

Why reducing customer friction is the new customer loyalty
Jeremy Goldman
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Jeremy Goldman

Jeremy Goldman the founder and sold Firebrand Group (now Proponent), the award-winning digital marketing and creative firm based out of New Jeremy Goldman the founder and sold Firebrand Group (now Proponent), the award-winning digital marketing and creative firm based out of New York City. A frequent keynote, he is the author of Getting to Like and Going Social.

Customers, as we all know, are a fickle bunch. Considering how customer loyalty is far from abundant these days, there are many ways to lose a customer, but the biggest turn-off for today’s consumers is an experience in which friction isn’t kept to a minimum. On some level, we’ve known that for years, right? The marketplaces that are winning loyalty from today’s consumers are doing it by focusing on reducing customer friction points.

“Brands are trying a lot of things to reduce customer friction points,” Augie Ray, the renowned Gartner Customer Experience analyst, tells me. Ray cites how Amazon has reduced customer friction by instituting new features such as one-click buying and Amazon Prime. He also gives the example of Starbucks’ mobile app, which makes it easy for caffeine addicts to quickly use the brand’s loyalty points system and check up on their points. “Lyft and Uber have made on-demand transportation so much easier,” says Ray. “Instead of walking to a busy street, standing out in the rain or heat, and waving your hand like a lunatic until a cab stops, you can call transportation to your location, track its progress, and complete the transaction without exchanging cash or swiping a card.”

Kate O’Neill, a keynote speaker and noted customer experience expert, has observed quite a few companies ​looking for ways to anticipate ​points of friction and using tools to ​ease it​. O’Neill points out that those companies that need to build plenty of top-of-funnel awareness but still see most customers convert in person (ie. auto companies) also need to find ways to improve their online listings in order to reduce customer uncertainty about the product. Uncertainty itself can be a friction point, and the better your online content and photography, the less uncertainty there’s likely to be. “Sometimes the backend work that supports better content or more robust and consistent metadata is just as important to the customer experience as something more overtly in the customer’s purchase path,” explains O’Neill.

Her example is something I’ve witnessed firsthand: My own company has worked with an online medical care appointment booking service, over the past few years. As we work to get new doctor listings online, I have been able to observe how properly edited photos reduce customer friction and allow them to consider booking a doctor that much faster. Often, reducing customer friction points becomes easier when your employees are also your own customers. Case in point: O’Neill, as someone who is constantly irked about how women’s clothing doesn’t always have pockets, recently noticed that fashion platform Rent The Runway had added the ability to search for dresses that specifically have pockets. That feature was built by two of the platform’s software engineers, Hindi Kornbluth​ and Madeline Rae Horowitz​, because it was something they themselves wanted.

Similarly, Way, a marketplace for lifestyle services such as parking, restaurants, movies, and events I’ve recently become familiar with, offers up another perfect example of how to reduce friction. Way knows that its users don’t want to worry about what to do, and where to park once they do it. Business owners list their businesses on Way and attract demand; customers browse through various related services.  The marketplace is an opportunity for both buyers and sellers to browse and transact conveniently, and for Way to do that effectively, they need to reduce customer friction points as much as possible.

Way’s biggest focus is to ensure that customers have a consistently excellent experience on the platform. Providing convenience is how they believe they will get there. After all, when you have satisfied consumers, you usually also have satisfied partners. Those satisfied customers are staying that way because they seem to be finding what they want on the platform quickly and easily. According to internal Way data, their average session duration is 2:05; a downward trend from January to June. In the old days of web analytics, keeping visitors on your platform for less time might be seen as undesirable. But, what if that’s not the goal? What if the goal is to help them find exactly what they’re looking for in the minimum amount of time, so that you raise customer satisfaction and increase the likelihood that that customer will transact with you in the future? In fact, that’s exactly what Way is experiencing: 38% of the platform’s customers are repeat customers for that same January to June 2018 period.

The end result of removing friction for the end user? Month over month, Way’s average order value has increased by approximately 11%. Reducing friction is the single goal that all successful brands and platforms need to be focused on in today’s economy: when the end consumer sees friction reduced to a minimum, metrics such as average order value and repeat purchase rate all seem to head in the right direction.

Augie Ray does think the current obsession with reducing customer friction runs the risk of being misplaced, in part because “it often gets confused with efforts to lower costs.” In fact, the examples Ray gave me – Amazon, Starbucks, and Uber/Lyft- invested quite a bit of money in reducing customer friction points. Many brands focus on reducing customer friction by providing self-service alternatives, but if these changes are in the name of reducing their own business’ call volumes/headcount/costs, then that often becomes apparent to the end user.

As companies like Lyft, Way, Uber, and Zocdoc demonstrate, there’s a clear benefit to reducing customer friction points: it improves the bottom line. But there’s an even more critical reason to do it, according to O’Neill: it requires the organization to think deeply about alignment, and how the company’s goals can be carried out via their products and services. “The brand can’t stop at the obvious,” says O’Neill. “The more they think through the layers and layers of opportunity to surface nuances of value between the company and customer, the more fully the company will be delivering on its own purpose as well as providing more meaningful experiences for customers.”

Reducing customer friction points isn’t the kind of thing any organization can do overnight. But at the same time, it’s increasingly the only thing a brand, organization, or marketplace can do to win ongoing customer loyalty. At the end of the day, doesn’t that make it worthwhile?