All kinds of businesses, including small-town auto shops, digital startups and global conglomerates, have some degree of friction in customer interactions. Lowering friction removes obstacles and makes it easier and more pleasant for customers to find what they want and complete a purchase. Ultimately, reduced friction means speedier sales, fewer complaints, more repeat business and a customer delight experience for your patrons.
What is friction in business?
Friction is anything that slows the customer journey at any phase. Anything that causes your customer to hesitate, wait, or become frustrated or confused is friction.
Friction can come in many forms:
- In-person friction. In-person customer friction includes standing in line at the checkout counter or waiting for someone to help at the service desk. It can be finding out that a business doesn’t accept your preferred payment method. Friction can also arise when navigating a crowded parking lot or a store packed with other customers – things that, on the surface, can seem like a good problem for brick-and-mortar retailers. From limited business hours to waits at the doctor’s office, thousands of potential sources for in-person customer friction exist.
- Phone friction. A particularly frustrating source of customer friction is when a customer service rep places a caller on hold. This is especially harmful to your sales process if you’re dealing with someone who isn’t yet a customer. Dealing with endless automated phone trees, being told that a customer service rep can’t resolve your issue, being transferred from department to department, or being forced to repeat identity verification information, complaints, or questions are all examples of phone-based customer friction at its worst.
Internet friction. While the internet is generally seen as a way to reduce customer friction, it can be a significant source of frustration when organized improperly. Confusing, uninformative websites are a perfect example. Poor site navigation, overly long landing pages, disconnected marketing messages, and slow loading times can all cause friction that drives customers away.
Tip: The best website builders and design services can offer seamless self-service software or full-service design capabilities to ensure an intuitive business website.
How does friction hurt your business?
When customers experience friction, they tend to go somewhere else. If they’re constantly put on hold, can’t get basic information from your website, or deal consistently with uninformed or unhelpful sales representatives, they’ll find another place to spend their money.
Business owners must understand just how badly customer friction impacts sales and revenue. High friction can result in devastating losses for a business.
Here are some facts and stats that illustrate how critical a smooth customer experience is for a business:
- Consumers prioritize service. According to research by CGS, 50% of U.S. consumers say that COVID-19 has increased their prioritization of customer service as a factor when deciding to do business with a brand. And data from Microsoft shows that 95% of Americans say customer service is important or very important for their brand loyalty and choice.
- Bad interactions with a company can be disastrous. Zendesk found that after a single bad experience, 61% of consumers said they would switch to another brand. If there were multiple negative interactions, this number goes up to 76%.
- Customers share their negative experiences. When customers have a negative experience, they are unlikely to keep it to themselves. In fact, customers who have a bad experience are two to three times more likely to write a negative review than customers who had a great experience are to post a good review. Bad reviews can do a lot of damage. They can cost you a significant amount of customers and in turn take a significant number of positive reviews to counteract the effects.
- Customers think service is an afterthought. Almost half (47%) of American consumers surveyed by Zendesk said that it feels like customer service is an afterthought for most businesses. Nearly 60% agreed that companies need to improve the training of their customer service representatives.
Did you know? Whether good or bad, responding to all online reviews is critical. Answer positive reviews with gratitude, and handle negative reviews professionally and thoughtfully.
How does a zero-friction approach make money?
When you create a zero-friction environment, your business will reap the following benefits:
- You’ll see increased sales. A frictionless buying process makes it easy for customers to purchase their products or services. E-commerce brands will have fewer abandoned shopping carts, and brick-and-mortar companies will complete sales for more visitors. Here’s what a frictionless buying process means:
- It’s easy for customers to find what they want.
- They can access all the necessary information about their items quickly.
- You accept their preferred payment method.
- The payment process is quick, pleasant and error-free.
- Customers are more likely to follow through with their transactions.
- Customers will feel valued. Your customers feel valued when you make life easier for them. They know you value their business and their time. Hassle-free interactions and help from an empathetic human customer service rep go a long way toward building strong customer relationships.
- You’ll build your customer base. A customer’s positive experience with your business leads to repeat business, positive reviews and recommendations, helping you sell more and expand your customer base. As new customers have positive experiences with your business, they’ll also post positive reviews. You’ll see exponential growth with continued adherence to your zero-friction strategy.
- You’ll retain customers. Each customer is valuable, and customer loyalty is crucial. In fact, it costs between five and 25 times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keep one you already have. It makes good economic sense to keep your customers happy. If you provide an excellent customer experience, 78% of customers, according to Salesforce, will forgive you and continue doing business with you even if you make a mistake.
Tip: Use social media to boost customer retention. Start by creating valuable social content, and then engage with followers by responding to comments and customer service inquiries.
How can businesses create zero friction?
Through common sense and hard data, we understand that a positive customer experience – one with zero friction – is crucial to your company’s success. Here’s how to create a zero-friction environment.
1. Meet customer expectations.
The best approach is to match company offerings with customer expectations. Zendesk research reveals customer expectations:
- 66% of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company.
- 54% say they expect a company to share information so they don’t have to repeat themselves.
- 56% say they expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them.
- 54% say they expect all experiences to be personalized.
Almost two-thirds of B2C customers expect you to know their unique needs and expectations, and 76% of B2B customers feel the same. If you’re unsure about what your customers expect, gather customer feedback via survey data. Then put those insights to good use by making changes where needed.
2. Identify your company’s friction points.
Identify areas of friction that currently exist in your business. Examine your sales process from the beginning (marketing and advertising) to the end (which, if all goes well, should be customer repurchasing).
- Examine your marketing efforts. Identify any friction areas that might stem from your marketing efforts. For example, there could be a disconnect between your marketing materials and the actual services or products you offer. Ensure customers have the necessary information to make the right decision for their needs, and be sure your website and landing pages properly reflect your business.
- Look at your sales funnel. Examine your company’s sales funnel. How does a customer go from informed to interested to purchasing? Are there multiple forms they must complete? Do they have to contact numerous representatives for basic information on your products? The more steps you can eliminate for the customer, the more you reduce friction.
- Evaluate your payment processing. Payment processing can be a point of friction for numerous shoppers, including B2B and B2C customers. If needed, implement more convenient, efficient ways for a customer’s dollar to become your dollar. For example, consider accepting credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay or even cryptocurrency.
- Get your staff on board. A dedicated staff may be your most vital resource for reaching zero friction. Show your team that, by reaching zero friction, they’ll help create a stronger organization. A staff dedicated to zero friction may also be the most crucial aspect for maintaining a strong foundation of loyal customers.
Tip: When identifying friction points, consult your frontline customer service reps. These employees often have excellent insight and valuable ideas about how to reduce friction.
Why frictionless service is the present, not the future
The concept of zero-friction service isn’t an upcoming trend. It’s a vital, present movement. Customers want zero friction from the businesses they patronize, and the companies excelling today have eliminated barriers and made life easier for their customers.
Clearly, the time to eliminate friction is now.
Scot Wingo contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.