smooth sailing
Eliminating friction is the newest place for brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors PHOTO: Sophie Sollmann

One thing quickly becomes clear when speaking with the digital leaders who are delivering new experiences and driving engagement strategies for major brands and organizations: the push to eliminate friction between customers and brands is more important than ever before. 

It’s turned into a major battleground in the war to win with customer experience.

Differentiating on Speed and Convenience 

This new reality is not isolated. My E-Z Pass gets me through tolls without slowing down, Apple Pay lets me checkout at the store instantly. Customers are demanding less friction everywhere they go, online and off. 

It’s spanning industries as more customers adapt the “don’t make me think” mindset. Amazon, of course, is king of eliminating friction. From one-click ordering to same-day delivery, customers simply have to press a button for near-instant satisfaction. 

Companies like Lyft and Uber are applying the same efficiency to something as simple as hailing a cab. Speed and convenience — not just price and brand — are differentiators in a world competing on customer experience.

The pressure is on. These frictionless experiences are moving from novelty to mandatory. Customers want this whether it’s a mobile experience, website, app or Alexa. Amazon and Lyft aren’t simply leading the way due to technical innovation: they’re entirely reshaping consumer expectations by applying technology — available to all companies — innovatively. 

It’s more than an engineering tweak or invention, it’s a holistic way of reimagining how interactions between people and brands can, and should, happen. 

Drivers of Customer's Heightened Expectations

One driving force behind changing expectations is the powerful capabilities embedded in consumer devices today. The iPhone has become a platform that purposeful applications leverage to every app user’s benefit. Lyft leverages capabilities tied to the phone and the cloud: maps, real-time geolocation, billing, payments processing and more — all to get you from point A to B.

Another driving force changing expectations is the rise of disruptive content interaction models — specifically ones that support the “new normal,” such as voice interactions via Amazon Echo or Google Home. Want to order new Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones? Just tell Alexa. They’ll be here by noon tomorrow.

Conversational interfaces are filling in for humans to reduce friction and boost experience, providing quick answers and/or making offers and information available in different contexts. The State of Georgia, for example, is building an Alexa integration that will enable people to ask questions to access specific government services and initiatives. Talk to Alexa when it's time to renew your driver's license? Yes, you can do that now.

Chatbots are ramping up fast, ready to become your instant new best friend. Under President Obama, the White House launched a Facebook Messenger bot that answered citizen questions. Ask a question, get an answer — your government at work, 24/7. Can your brand say that?

Marketers, naturally, are making hay out of chatbots. See Casper Mattress, the disruptive online bedding merchant which created a chatbot to “talk” to insomniacs — along the way creating a community of people up all night who want a little company or humor, and so what if it’s coming from a bot.

3 Tips to Smooth Out the Bumpy Spots

Any leader working on new customer experiences has a mandate to address within the next 12-18 months: reduce friction from customer interactions or risk being left behind by your customers, or disrupted by competitors who’ve learned to smooth out the rough spots. You can stay ahead by adopting these three key trends.

1. Embrace Individual Customer Journeys

Today, customer interactions are continuous, contextual, highly personalized and ever-changing, no matter if the customer is on an iPad, talking to Alexa, or entering a  subway station.

I’ve said it before, but your customers are on the move, and it’s up to companies to meet them wherever they are and, most importantly, wherever they’re going next. When you start to build digital experiences around your consumers’ actual lives, and stop thinking in one-time purchases, you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors. Removing friction? It starts by being where your customers want you and need you to be.

2. Harness New Personalized Communication

From buying music or milk via Alexa to asking Google Assistant about your morning commute time, it’s no surprise static web sites are long gone. Today, there’s more value in adopting new modes of interaction than simply for the buzz-factor. 

With 35.6 million people using voice-enabled speakers in 2017, Alexa, Google Assistant and others are making their way into homes around the world to simplify traditional customer interactions. Now, that leading edge of adoption is changing behaviors and expectations across every industry. When personalized information and services can be accessed from the comfort of your living room sofa, and purchases can be made hands-free, what will consumers expect from your brand?

3. Look Outside Your Comfort Zone for Inspiration

The path to eliminating friction and increasing engagement may seem daunting. Digitalization doesn’t stop at your website or mobile apps. It involves customer-facing interactions and, often, how your business operates on the back end. 

But challenging your organization to look outside its comfort zone — even look outside its industry — is a critical step forward. Creating on-demand services shouldn’t be left to Uber and Lyft, and offering in-app augmented reality (AR) features shouldn’t be limited to Snapchat or PokemonGo. 

So think beyond your typical industry standard to find inspiration and ideas to stay ahead. 

How might an electric utility or cable provider leverage push notifications or chatbots to smooth out the customer experience or solve customer service issues more quickly for frustrated customers? How could a financial services firm tap augmented reality or simpler mobile interfaces to better engage with their customers or upsell products? 

The technology itself won’t be your savior. But good things happen when you leverage technology, take a risk and innovate, with the result being better, frictionless customer experiences.

A Clear Mandate

These ideas may seem a bridge too far for your particular company or brand today, but here’s the reality that you and your executives must grasp: This sort of innovation and a rabid focus on great, smooth customer experiences is the new normal. And if your customers are going to walk across that bridge one way or another, it may as well be you building it.