3 Keys to Identifying Friction in Business
By: Michael McQueen
Nothing turns a customer off more than friction. In fact, nothing turns an employee off more than friction either. If businesses are to remain indisruptible in the years to come, identifying friction is paramount, so here are 3 key questions to help you find it.
1. What is creating frustration?
One of the reasons businesses cannot ignore frustration-driven friction today is that experience is king. Read any consumer review site and you’ll see that the most common posts and ratings relate to a customer’s experience – not simply price or quality. While attributes like price comparability and value certainly matter, today it is the experience a business creates that can make or break them.
Companies like Amazon have set the friction-free customer experience bar pretty high. Jeff Bezos famously once said “We don’t sell products. We help people make purchase decisions.” And he has lived this out. For Amazon, the customer experience is everything. Features like personalised product recommendations, easy-access buyer reviews, and the newly launched try-before-you-buy Amazon Prime Wardrobe have transformed and permanently raised customer expectations. On top of this, they take first place when it comes to speed, in both online access and delivery.
If you want to get a clear idea of what is creating frustration-driven friction for your customers, try becoming your own customer.
Working with the marketing team of a large regional bank recently, I recall one audience member sharing an experience of making an account as a customer with the bank she worked for. Having just set it up she tried to log in, only to be greeted with unclear instructions, irrelevant pop-up windows and a 20-minute wait to talk to a helpdesk assistant who told her that her point of confusion was a systematic error in the first place.
The next day at work, this employee tracked down the person in charge of the company’s customer website and shared her experience, urging the IT team to clear up something that was a simple oversight but was causing immense frustration to the people they ought to value most – new customers.
Becoming your own customer is a foolproof method of getting into the heads of your customers, beyond merely conducting surveys or empathising with them. When it comes to alleviating friction, it is well worth the time and effort it if it means reducing the frustration of your customers.
2. What is creating inefficiency?
Speaking with the admin manager for a large law firm recently, I was shocked to hear just how stuck in the past the legal profession often is. In this manager’s company, there was a policy stating that every email to a client must be read and approved first by a partner, detrimentally impacting the speed of response and adding unnecessary costs to the firm.
The reality is that friction in an organisation impacts not only on the customer’s experience but also the business’s efficiency. Red tape, paperwork and bureaucracy truly are the unholy trinity of friction. And while we like to point the finger of blame at government regulators or corporate hierarchies for the red tape we get so easily bogged down by, there’s every chance that the bureaucracy slowing things down most on a daily basis is entirely of our own individual making.
This is what global business advisory firm Deloitte discovered in late 2014. Researching many thousands of SMEs, Deloitte found that the majority of individual managers spend up to eight hours per week complying with self-imposed red tape — at a cost nationally of $134 billion every year.
Failing to deal with inefficiency will dangerously intensify the friction experienced both internally and externally in a business, setting it on a collision course with disruption.
3. What is creating complexity?
The third driver of friction in many organisations and industries is complexity. While the world of commerce is always going to be inherently complex, many businesses and industries have exploited and expanded the complexity of their products and services in order to prop up margins and maintain control.
Take the medical billing industry for example. This highly lucrative industry pulls in $55 billion each year but its inner workings are remarkably and unnecessarily complex. In the US for instance, customers rarely have any real idea what something will cost until they receive a bill months down the road. In an effort to address this complexity, medical billing start-up Eligible has set out to make it easier for customers to know how much they are paying before they step into the doctor’s office. While electronic medical claims processing is far from a new idea, existing systems are stuck in a pre-cloud and pre-data-sharing age. As a result, patients at a doctor’s offices have had no way of knowing if their health insurance will cover the procedure or whether a more cost-effective treatment covered under their insurance plan is available. Eligible will address this gap.
If complexity adds friction, the key for any business or industry hoping to be indisruptible will be to strive for simplicity. This is not to say that you need to naïvely ignore the complex realities of life, but rather to aim to make things as streamlined as possible.
For many years, brand consulting giant Siegel + Gale have produced an annual Global Brand Simplicity Index which evaluates how streamlined, accessible and simple a business is to engage with. In recent years, Google have consistently taken out the number 1 position in the index. This should come as no surprise when you consider that the company’s primary search gateway has remained extraordinarily and intentionally simple – a clean, white home page featuring no more than 30 words along with a cheery, six-character primary coloured logo.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Just as it slows down objects in the physical world, friction is the most significant inhibitor to an organisation maintaining agility and momentum. Smart leaders realise that ignoring friction will not only give disruptors a foothold but that it’ll also significantly impact the all-important customer experience. Dealing with friction does not need to be too difficult; all it takes is a good measure of empathy, a willingness to actively observe, and a commitment to keeping things simple.
 Young, Y. 2017, ‘Why Can’t My Bank Be More Like Amazon?’, The Globe and Mail, 4 August
 Buhr, S. 2017, ‘Eligible Founder Katelyn Gleason’s Plan To Upend The Billion Dollar Medical Billing Industry’, TechCrunch, 25 March
 Kortleven, C. 2016, Less is Beautiful, p. 115
Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.
About the Author: Michael is an award-winning speaker, social researcher and best-selling author.