Friction is the one thing between you and more sales

Friction is anything that slows the customer down when buying your stuff, and we can choose to introduce it or not. But just remember, friction costs you money.

frictionApparently there has been a shift of power from the brand to the customer. We once could dictate how the customer engaged with us, but now there are complex decision journeys and we must reach consumers in the way they want to be reached. It’s all about purpose, engagement, stories, content, likes, interaction, conversation, sharing and what have you.

All fine and dandy. But, let’s get bit a more basic here. Have you ever had to battle to give somebody your money? Ever had to deal with the sort of ‘take it or leave it, this is what you have to do to deal with us, this is the service we condescend to give you’ approach?

Surely the not-so-hidden iron law of marketing is that we should make it easy to spend money with us. Anything that gets in the way of a sale should be avoided. But this piece of common sense appears to have evaded many retailers, banks and petrol stations in particular.

READ MORE: Why US brands are crushing the UK on customer experience

For many brands, marketing is not really about AIDA (awareness, interest, desire and action – for the young people out there). In many cases, it’s FAF: friction, typically followed by anger, and collapsing in frustration.

Friction turns consumers off

Let me tell you about a few experiences I have had recently – and see if you think they are in fact, universal experiences.

I went to the bank to get a mortgage. There were lots of positive vibes face-to-face, but then came the inevitable multi-page mega-form, plus more background information than President Trump would require from you to move to the USA.

Forget the fact that I have been with this bank since I was 18. Forget that my salary has been paid into said bank since the first day I started working. Rules are rules. Faced with the onslaught of paper, I shed a tear of frustration and gave up. I would rather run up Oxford Street naked than fill in a form.

Nobody cares about your your reasons for introducing friction. That’s your problem. What people care about is themselves.

Next, I went to my regular petrol station, who now wish to charge me £1 to fill my tyres with air. Doubtless, there was a meeting where the finance folks groused about the cost of the air pumps and their maintenance. But doubtless, too, there is also now a station manager getting his head bitten off because his takings are down £80 every fortnight, plus the add-on coffee, newspaper and pint of milk I buy there.

Not one person at the senior management meeting will make the connection between the friction caused by the decision to introduce a charge for air and the drop-off in fuel revenues from yours truly – not to mention the high-margin coffee and calorie-laden muffin.

Speaking of cars, who decided that car keys were a bad idea? Aside from more form filling, the main reason I am afraid to go into a car showroom is the humiliation of trying to work out the Kafkaesque interplay between pedals and obscure buttons that starts the engine. I much prefer to get into a car, put the key in the ignition and, you know, turn it. Just like every car since the 1920s.

And don’t get me started on passwords. There is a reason why we give Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple all our money, making them the highest valued companies in the world: they don’t ask us every day to remember a bizarre concoction of letters, number, hyphens and funny symbols. They worked out that the average person has a lot more on their mind than remembering passwords for every single thing they have ever signed up for.

READ MORE: Brands unclear who should take responsibility for customer experience

Apple have even figured out how to eliminate friction from the retail experience. Long queues and clunky, inefficient point-of-sale systems are more the rule elsewhere. To compete, maybe others could start by having more people on the floor. You may argue, ‘we can’t afford to have more clerks’. Maybe I just don’t understand the economics, but when customers like me abandon so many purchases in frustration due to queues, lack of stock or inane arbitrary ‘rules’, can they really afford not to capture the sale?

Friction is a choice

The real problem is that the above purveyors of friction are not incentivised to remove it. The reasons given for this are usually around security, compliance and cost.

Let’s look at the banks. They talk about the complexity of financial service products, but they are not really that complex: loans have been with us since 3500 BC in Mesopotamia. Mortgages, loans and credit cards are not physical products so do not require a complex distribution process – it’s the application process that is complex, and that’s a choice. Banks are unable to empathise with the customer and don’t recognise the friction points.

Perhaps if they were forced to have the same experience as us mere customers, they would change their model. There’s a thought.

Away from their self-inflicted wounds and woes, there is a reason why Uber offer us a glimpse into the future – and for that matter, Airbnb. There is no friction: no queues to check out, no looking for the right change, no panicky moments when you realise the cabbie does not accept credit cards.

Let’s be clear about a bigger point. Nobody cares about your rules or your reasons for introducing friction. That’s your problem. What people care about is themselves, and what they are trying to do. Friction is toxic for brands.

Customers will go where they want; the choice is theirs. These barriers we put in front of them are our choice and make a joke of the words ‘customer experience’. How often do you hear about what a great experience friends and family had with a brand? Stories of frustration tend to take precedence.

Friction is anything that slows the customer down buying your stuff, and we can choose to introduce it or not. Remember this: friction costs you money. Removing friction will make you money.