Do you want friction with that? The limits of ‘frictionless’ experience

Following my earlier post on my experience with BT replacing my WiFi router (all gone well, the new router appears to be an improvement) I came across an interesting article from InnovationBubble on whether a frictionless service means a meaningless service and a less valuable relationship as a result.

To avoid wasting money investing in a frictionless service it’s worth understanding what it is your customers want – or more precisely, what outcome they are trying to achieve.

From good to great

In my previous post, I wondered whether the service BT offered to fix my broadband could have been even better if they had been able to detect the fault with my router and replace it automatically. (I’ve written to BT to suggest this – it required me to raise a complaint since there’s no obvious way to just provide feedback – and I’ll keep you posted on the result.) This would be a good example of an almost ‘frictionless’ experience – my time spent with BT would be minimal and, more importantly, the service would be great.

However, as article author Simon Moore suggests, frictionless experiences can be meaningless ones as we don’t spend enough time with the experience provider to develop a real relationship. He cites the example of the travel sector as one where people want to spend more time searching for a holiday as this builds anticipation and excitement that adds to the experience.

I think – and this is reflected in the article as well – that it’s about understanding where friction is advantageous e.g. in the search phase of a holiday booking journey, and where it isn’t e.g. in the actual flight and hotel booking and payment stage.

Speaking of payment, one of the other findings is that too-slick payment processes build distrust and nervousness amongst the payers (presumably less so than the payee) which might inhibit take-up. I had a recent client working in the payments sector whose customers – or some of them at least – would inject their own friction into the process of making international payments by making ‘is it there yet?’ style enquiries. Providing better explanation of the process in the web interface was the approach we implemented to reduce the number of these inbound queries.

Customer journeys, travelling hopefully

The key to understanding friction – or its absence – is to understand the customer journey and the nature of particular touch points on that journey. But what you need to understand is the outcomes those customers are seeking when embarking on the journey. Those seeking a straightforward transaction – book me the flight and hotel and be quick about it – will want the experience to have as few stages as possible and for all payments to be sorted reasonably quickly. Those who don’t know what they want will want touch points that provide suggestions and add value to the experience. (I’m rubbish at holiday planning so I fall into that category and find most travel websites don’t cater for the ‘reluctant tourist’.)

My sense is that the drive to reduce costs points organisations towards a digital-first, frictionless approach, but providing a the channel equivalent of fast and slow lanes might gain a better overall experience for more customers, and more revenue as a result.

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