On Being Frictionless
by Kathi McKenzie

  • Customer Experience Optimization
    First, let me state that as a consumer, I’m a big fan of the frictionless customer experience. It seems that I’m always short on time and patience, which I’m sure are personal failings, but let’s leave that discussion for another time, shall we?

    By definition, a frictionless customer experience removes the “grit” from the experience. It removes that which slows a customer down or rubs him or her the wrong way. It makes it easy and undemanding to buy from that channel. It should offer something the customer wants, provided by a company or service the customer trusts, and presented in a way that offers value.

Lately, there have been a number of articles written about whether a company should aim to be truly frictionless, or if perhaps the ability to offer the consumer a memorable experience is somehow at odds with being frictionless. In other words, does being frictionless equate to being invisible?

I am going to argue no to that notion. Come on! Friction is what gets on our last remaining frayed nerve, so let’s have less of that, please! As a test, think right now how many transactions take place in your life that you’d like to be faster and easier. Got that number? Great. Now, how many would you like to be slower and require more effort (and let’s think outside of romance, please!). My guess is that faster and easier wins by a landslide.

So, the question marketers need to ask is, how do we make frictionless memorable? Below are a few thoughts:

  • Anticipation and discovery: Some critics fear that a frictionless experience limits a consumer to repeating the same old transaction over and over. Back in the 1990s Amazon captured me as a customer by knowing what I wanted to read before I did. Since then our relationship has had a few bumps, but Amazon is still able to surprise me with finds I didn’t know I needed. Discovery is part of what makes shopping fun, so work to anticipate your customer’s needs and wants.
  • Amazement: Recently, I tried Walmart Grocery. I selected my items to buy and chose when and where to pick up my order. Compared to having to go through aisles and checkout lines, the process seemed pretty frictionless. Ordering was all very easy, but I assumed there would be a little “grit” at the pickup—the little hassles of arriving, asking for, and picking up an order. However, to my surprise, their app (after asking permission) tracked my progress as I drove on the way, so that as I pulled into the pickup area, my order met me at my car and was loaded in no time flat. I was so impressed, I not only used it again, but have already suggested several friends give it a try.
  • Attitude and empowerment: Finally, for those who think frictionless only means high-tech, let me offer the Ritz-Carlton as a counter example. Ever stayed at one? It exemplifies a very high-touch form of “frictionless,” because every employee you meet is empowered to make your stay smoother. While they don’t eliminate every touchpoint, they make each one exceedingly smooth and pleasant. Their motto is "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen." And, it’s not just a motto. Imagine an old-fashioned “gentleman’s gentleman” (or “gentlewoman”) who not only anticipates your needs and exceeds expectations, but does so in a way that makes you feel that it really is their pleasure to do so. Great customer service, whether in person or online, should always feel that way.

Perfecting the frictionless customer experience isn’t really a concept that’s all that new. It boils down to knowing your customers, anticipating their needs, exceeding their expectations, and reducing or eliminating the things that annoy them. Customers are more demanding than ever, and they have many, many options to choose from. Frictionless is becoming a price of entry. As more and more companies become more and more “frictionless,” you don’t want to be the pebble in your customer’s shoe.


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