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Do you really want to create a frictionless customer experience? 

Adrian Swinscoe | Mar 5, 2017 530 views 11 Comments

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Amazon Go

One of the items rising up the customer experience agenda at the moment is the objective of creating a frictionless experience.

Now, I’m a fan of removing the ‘grit’ from the customer’s experience. You know…the little things that makes things hard or uncomfortable.

But, to completely remove all the ‘friction’ from the customer experience?

Is that wise?

Consider a few examples:

  • Digital design agency, Huge, is developing a coffee shop concept based on a new “anticipatory design” philosophy, which concentrates on designing and delivering products and services that essentially eliminate choice and focus on delivering “flow not friction,” “convenience not choice,” and “efficiency not freedom”. The coffee shop, on the ground floor of their offices in Atlanta, works like this: baristas are alerted by a piece of technology, like an Apple Watch, when a customer nears the store, they then commence making the customer’s favourite and usual drink and then hand it to them as they approach the counter. Payment is then taken automatically via the customer’s credit or debit card details that are stored on the system.
  • This is a similar idea to Amazon Go, Amazon’s new convenience-store concept that they are testing in Seattle. It is currently only open to Amazon employees but they are expecting to open it up to the public in the early part of this year. In their concept, Amazon is using sensors and other technology to automatically detect when a customer picks up or returns products to shelves, whilst keeping track of ‘taken’ items in a virtual shopping cart. When a customer is done shopping, they can then just leave the store and they will be then be automatically charged via their Amazon account.
  • Ida Auken, a Member of Parliament in the Danish Parliament, wrote a piece for the World Economic Forum recently called “Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better”. In the piece which looks further into the near future, she talks about shopping and it’s death. She goes on to say “Shopping? I can’t really remember what that is. For most of us, it has been turned into choosing things to use. Sometimes I find this fun, and sometimes I just want the algorithm to do it for me. It knows my taste better than I do by now.”

These examples are fascinating and I am sure there are others.

Moreover, they might be friction free but where is the lasting and meaningful experience?

Let’s re-consider Huge’s coffee shop concept. Yes, at first, it will be novel. But, then will it become routine? Will it then be in danger of becoming forgettable and subject to competition from someone or something that will offer to do it faster or better or cheaper. And, once the baristas are replaced by robots, like in the case of Cafe X, will it not become no more than a 21st century vending machine?

So, if we eliminate all of the ‘friction’ do we not eliminate the opportunity to create a meaningful and lasting experience?

After all, what is experience if not the opportunity to create a series of memories? As Morris Pentel, the Chairman & Founder of the Customer Experience Foundation, says: “Experience ends in memory”.

If frictionless customer experience is to be the new norm will that not put us inexorably on the path to convenience and price competition?

Now, that may be OK for someone with the deep pockets of Amazon. But, for others?

Surely, the point of investing in, developing and improving customer experience is to differentiate ourselves and stave off price competition.

This article was originally published on my Forbes.com column here.
Photo Credit: Seattle Department of Transportation Flickr via Compfight cc

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Republished with author's permission from original post.


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11 Responses to Do you really want to create a frictionless customer experience?

  1. Douglas March 6, 2017 at 5:21 am (1 comment) #

    The lack of choice at a micro level would frighten me off. The coffee shop idea shuts down my ability to try new things, very similar to liking things on Facebook – they feed you more of the same thing you like so you do not see or know about alternatives. Trying to find new alternatives will drive you away from the brand and create resentment at the choice limitation.
    The Amazon Go concept is great because at the micro level you still have choices (different produce brands on the shelf), though yet again the barriers to entry for new entrants could stifle choice.

  2. Andrew Rudin March 6, 2017 at 7:05 am (139 comments) #

    I can see value in ‘anticipatory design’ approach for repetitive purchases. And I don’t see consequential commoditization risk for companies that offer it. Anticipatory design seems a strong differentiator, and one that’s not easy to replicate.

    Even if the anticipatory design approach gains consumer acceptance, I don’t see it infiltrating every consumer or business purchase interaction. In many situations, customers prefer serendipity, or seek the advice of an expert. I’d never know the great experience of drinking a Negroni (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negroni) had it not been for the recommendation of a hip bartender. And when I travel, I always ask for recommendations about an interesting local microbrew.

    When I get to the bar, things would get pretty boring if the bartender just poured the same old drink.

  3. Michael Lowenstein March 6, 2017 at 7:29 am (1199 comments) #

    To build on what Morris Pentel has said, I’d add, “Experience ends in memory….if it is memorable.” Following the Peak-End Rule, for experience to be anything more than neutral and forgettable, it must stir (hopefully positive) emotions. For example, even if most of the interaction that takes place in a retail setting is removed (such as shoe buying or convenience store shopping), if the experience is emotionally enjoyable, it has the possibility of being remembered.

  4. Sampson Lee March 7, 2017 at 4:44 am (16 comments) #

    Michael, then why adopt CES? As it ultimately drives a frictionless or effortless experience.

  5. Shaun Belding March 7, 2017 at 5:09 am (47 comments) #

    Love this forward-thinking question Adrian! Goodness knows, we’ve already migrated from the manual, upper-body-workout carbon-paper credit card swiper to a simple tap. Perhaps predictive models will become the new norm in time.

    Two thoughts that don’t really relate to each other:

    1. It’s important to remember in this that differentiators can be either positive or negative. If everyone has an effortless experience, for example, and I don’t, I risk standing out in a bad way.

    2. The examples you used show reduced friction in process, but process is only part of an experience. Practices – the tactile, kinaesthetic and creative part of consuming is a very frictionfull component. So is the People part.

    Having said this, your premise still holds true. As we work to make the lives of customers easier, we can’t lose sight of the importance off making ourselves memorable.

  6. Michael Lowenstein March 7, 2017 at 8:11 am (1199 comments) #

    CES is principally about the component of service, not the entire experience. Service can be frictionless and effortless and not meet the customer’s needs, or meet them in an incomplete manner. Though effortless, it produces a negative result and negative memory. At the end of the day, any component of value deliveryin the experience must be emotionally positive and positively memorable.

  7. Bob Thompson March 7, 2017 at 8:42 am (197 comments) #

    Being “effortless” could be a part of, or the entire experience. I don’t think it’s just about customer service, although that’s the origin of the CES metric.

    Amazon has made low effort a key way to differentiate and add value. When I want to buy something, it’s easy! When I need service, it’s easy!

    But I also shop at Best Buy and many other stores. When I go there, I expect some “friction” — otherwise known as real human beings — to help me. The quality of those interactions is key in the buying experience, but when it comes time to pay, I want that fast and easy.

    I think just blindly charging ahead and assuming effortless = good strategy is crazy. Maybe it will appeal to millennials and not boomers. Maybe it will result in the commoditization of the brand — in which case whoever can create the best app and offer the lowest prices will win. Few companies can play that game.

    One of my best memories of a restaurant experience was in Colombia a few years ago. The experience as anything but effortless (long lines to get in), yet I remember it like yesterday. They made all that friction central to their differentiation.

    I’m seeing Starbucks and other premium coffee shops offer mobile orders. In the short term, could be nice for those in a hurry. Longer term, will it result in consumers saying to themselves “Why am I paying $4 for a cup of coffee when I’m not spending any time in the store to enjoy it?” Next step: drive thru?

  8. Michael Lowenstein March 7, 2017 at 9:44 am (1199 comments) #

    Bob has summarized the consumer effort vs. effortless issue very well, and offered some excellent and real-world examples. What consumers want and what will create a positive memory, whether in a component of the experience or overall, is situational. On a prioritized macro and micro basis, the goal for all companies is to figure out how to make the optimum result for customers (from the customers’ perspective) intersect with the situation. With the right research tools applied, that’s a do-able objective.

  9. Sampson Lee March 7, 2017 at 9:29 pm (16 comments) #

    When taking out cash from an ATM machine or doing a simple online transaction, customers just need a frictionless or effortless experience; 90% of the interactions with a brand fall in that category: customers merely want to ‘get the things done’. CES is the right metric for these situations.

    The remaining 10% interactions are the true differentiators of a brand – touch-point experiences that deliver their promises / values and drive customers to buy from them in the first place – like the Starbucks in-store. For brands with “Effortless” as their brand value, e.g. Amazon.com and Amazon Go, CES is the right metric.

    But for those companies, if their brand value is not about “Effortless”, then why should they take CES as their key metric for the critical 10% touch-point experiences?

  10. Adrian Swinscoe March 11, 2017 at 4:27 am (36 comments) #

    Hi everyone, thank you for the stimulating and thought provoking responses. Personally, I feel that there is a lot of ‘dominant logic’ around what many companies should or should not be doing when it comes to customer experience. As a result, my intent my this article was to question some of the talk and impact of the pursuit of a frictionless experience. Thanks again for your responses. I learnt a lot from all of them. Best wishes, Adrian

  11. Sampson Lee March 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm (16 comments) #

    Thank you for your thought-provoking piece, Adrian.

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