Guest Post: How to Identify Good (and Bad) Friction In Your Customer Experience

Colin Shaw is an official LinkedIn Influencer where he has recognized as one of the ‘World’s Top 150 Business Influencers.’ Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy LLC, has been selected by the Financial Times as one of the best management consultancies for the last two years. Colin has written seven bestselling books on Customer experience is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast.

“Our customers say our experience is not easy!”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard this.

They are, of course, referring to the ‘friction’ in their customer experience and normally, this friction is bad. However, there are some kinds of ‘good friction’ in experiences that build value, and this is missed by many companies when designing their experience.

Let’s look at what makes good – or bad – friction, and how you can use this idea to improve your experience for you and the customer.

What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Friction?

‘Good’ friction has two characteristics:

  1. Valuable: Good friction in an experience creates an added benefit for customers consciously or subconsciously, which either drives value for the customer or the organization. Consider joining an exclusive club, which may be ‘hard’ to get into, but that is part of the attraction. There is friction at the beginning which has been deliberately built into the experience.
  2. Deliberate: As you will see from the above example, good friction is not an accident, but instead part of a strategy.

Think of buying a coffee. This used to be simple. Starbucks then introduced a great deal of complexity! Now buying a coffee is full of friction. It now requires a lot of specifications.

While the learning curve to determine what you like was challenging, customers bought into this and are willing to endure it. When I order a “grandé, soy, no foam latte,” I have a feeling of belonging, being special, and enjoy the personalization. The customer wins, and the company wins as they charge for this experience!

Getting it exactly how you want it is the reward and the part of the experience you value.

Good friction can also take the form of:

  • Waiting in lines behind velvet ropes outside of nightclubs to see if you can get into the best party in town, as it builds anticipation and shows that you are part of the “in crowd.” It also helps the organization as long line provides them with social proof and creates FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
  • Waiting months when making a reservation for 10:30 pm for a restaurant that is notoriously hard to get into.
  • Going to a fee-for-service medical or dental professional that doesn’t take your insurance because you think that means they must be the best, even though you must wait longer to see them.

Bad friction has none of these qualities.

Instead, it happens by accident, incompetence, or, even worse, apathy and lack of customer-centricity of the organization. In my experience, bad friction is often the result of an internal operational focus where the organization is siloed with no one looking at the end-to-end experience. Typically, they are not customer focused.

Examples of bad friction can be:

  • Complicated return processes that frustrate and defeat customers with their complexity.
  • Complicated assembly or unclear instructions that frustrate and defeat customers with their complexity.
  • Long hold times because call volumes are high and staffing in the call center is low.
  • Installation arrival times that have large windows of time and keep customers waiting.

However, many organizations have challenges reducing bad friction. So why does this happen?

Typically, it boils down to three reasons:

  1. They don’t know about it. If companies don’t have the data to analyze where friction occurs in their experience correctly, they can’t fix it.
  2. They don’t act on customer feedback. The number of organizations that collect customer feedback and then do nothing with it is criminal. Sometimes the friction can mean a significant change is needed and they avoid making the tough decision to act. Again, this shows they are not focused on the customer, but themselves
  3. They don’t put customers first. Most companies will say they always put the customer first, but customers rarely agree that they do. Placing the business interest above customers’ interest is almost always the culprit for this misalignment.

Creating the Right Kind of Friction in Your Customer Experience 

So, how do you take advantage of good friction and eliminate bad friction? There are a few things you can do:

  • Be deliberate: This is critical. You have to think through your customer experience and only introduce friction to achieve a positive goal.
  • Know your experience inside and out. The best way to create a bad-friction-free experience is to observe customers using your product, interface, website, or app. Knowing how customers respond to your experience can help you see where you have a bad friction problem. At Beyond Philosophy, we often have clients participate in the experience as if they were customers, to know the experience from the outside looking in, rather than the inside looking out.
  • Create a feeling of scarcity.  Scarcity is often the concept behind good friction. Scarcity is the psychological explanation of why we think things are more valuable when they are hard to get. The feeling that you might not be able to have it can inflate your demand for it. It’s also why the club with no line doesn’t seem like the place to be, waiting to see the new movie for a couple of extra months seems like an eternal wait, and going to see the doctor that takes your insurance is disappointing in a way. These solutions eliminate the friction, but also diminish the value of the experience you get.
  • Create a friction-aware culture in the company. From top to bottom and everywhere in between, you need to create an environment sensitive to the two types of friction and how they both affect customer behavior in different ways. If everyone on the team is on the lookout for good and bad friction, you will have a much better chance of identifying what is working (good friction) and what isn’t (bad friction). Another excellent benefit of a friction-aware culture is when your team has a much better understanding of what in the day-to-day procedures causes bad friction and can be the best resource for ideas on how to fix them.

Your first imperative is to make things easy for customers by reducing bad friction moments. However, it would help if you also looked for opportunities to create good friction moments strategically that create value for customers.

Think of it this way – all friction is not good for your customer experience, but some good friction might not be all bad.