In Search Of The Frictionless Organization

Many (or most) of the interactions customers have with companies today are filled with nerve-grating friction—which leads to share-price-sinking defection. Ending that is a win-win for shareholders and customers. Here's how to do it.

Imaging saving money—and thrilling shareholders—while creating happy, loyal customers. That’s what happens when you’re a frictionless organization.           

A frictionless organization has made its products and services so effective that customers never have to make contact for the wrong reasons. Everything works and is easy for them. By definition, the customer’s experience is without friction: it’s low effort and, at times, even “no effort.”

In contrast, many of the interactions customers have with companies today are filled with nerve-grating friction. This happens when customers are forced to make contact because:

• Products and services aren’t working.

• Information is lacking or confusing.

• Self-service doesn’t work or doesn’t exist.

• Services are late.

• Orders are late.

• Products or services aren’t meeting expectations.

Getting rid of these friction-inducing issues and problems is a win-win for everyone. It saves your organization money and makes customers happy by reducing their effort. We believe that tackling friction should be a strategic priority in most organizations, including government, because it’s unbelievably effective. It frees up time for valuable interactions and makes customers more willing to repurchase or buy other products. Reducing friction also cuts costs in a sustainable way.

Being frictionless is an imperative—and an innovator’s advantage

We recognize that no organization will ever be totally frictionless. It’s an aspiration, yet simply working toward this goal provides a strategic advantage. Across every industry, innovative new businesses are entering markets with low-friction business models. These “innovators” often disrupt the stale models of incumbents and undermine their pricing. These low-friction disruptors include Uber in the taxi industry, Aldi in retail, and Dyson in electronics. These businesses have all tried to create frictionless experiences, and they work to reduce new friction continuously through product and service design.

For instance, Uber aspires to have zero contact with its customers other than through its digital self-service bookings. As part of its business model, Uber analyzes why customers make contact by phone, email, social channels, and chat—perhaps a customer is missing items on an Uber Eats order or used the wrong credit card when paying for a ride—and then builds hands-off solutions into the mobile app’s next iteration.

Amazon also works on removing friction continuously. It’s been so successful that it’s reduced a key friction measure—contacts per order—to a level that’s one-tenth of most competitors. This low-friction model has enabled Amazon to slash prices further and win more market share. These frictionless strategies create a virtuous circle that Amazon calls “The Flywheel.”

Becoming frictionless is a team sport

Of course, becoming frictionless is harder than it sounds. It requires good data on what friction exists and collaboration and prioritization on what to tackle and how. This can quickly snowball and become complicated, as points of friction typically span the entire business. It’s a problem and an opportunity at the same time.

It’s a problem because it requires involving and incentivizing different parts of the business, as well as garnering sponsorship and alignment of metrics at senior levels. Simultaneously, it’s an opportunity to get the whole business focused on customer issues and what needs to be fixed.

For example, making it clear which problems cause the highest rates of customer contact (and run up costs) provides greater clarity than asking all departments to pitch in and “boost revenue.”

Take the case of a U.K. insurance business, which set the goal of reducing staff-assisted customer contacts. It cut these contacts by over 40%, but it took a collaboration of all of its central business units and product heads to do so. They fixed painful points of customer friction, reduced costs by an even greater amount, as these frictions were also sources of complaints and regulatory penalties, and improved the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) significantly.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

If it’s such a good strategy, why doesn’t every organization become frictionless? As we’ve highlighted, the need for senior-level sponsorship and collective focus are steep barriers. Other barriers include a lack of data and competing or contradictory measures and goals. For example, sales teams may be measured on sales conversion and revenue—not on explaining products and services well or helping customers understand how to use a company’s self-service tools.

Another barrier is complacency from organizations that have experienced success and don’t see the need for removing friction. “Short-termism” is yet another barrier we’ve observed as markets and market analysts measure quarterly returns at the expense of long-term customer investments.

Within organizations, internal continuous improvement teams (if they exist at all) are regularly underfunded, diverted to go-to-market changes, or don’t have a clear model to follow. Galvanizing these teams around a proven methodology is a great place to start.

Removing friction for customers is a great strategy. It cuts costs, rallies an organization around customer issues, and creates more satisfied and loyal customers. And what organization wouldn’t benefit from that?

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