Stimulating Thoughts on Reducing Customer Friction

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Image by Thomas Breher from Pixabay

Who doesn’t love a good workaround? A system doesn’t work as expected, so we contact customer support and they say something like, “install this free plugin” or “click this button over here” or “stand up and spin around five times” and so on. I kid…mostly. But the truth is that we’re no stranger to workarounds en route to solving problems. 

If you’ve worked in customer service, you’ve no doubt walked your fair share of customers through some pretty creative workarounds. Yes, they are normal in the life of a business, but problems can occur if we fall into the rut of saying “that’s just the way things” are. At that point, it becomes less about a workaround and more about poor design that’s adding unnecessary friction to the customer experience. 

That reminds me of a recent experience. Like many Americans, I was a recipient of a stimulus payment from the government and it’s a sum of money for which I am grateful. Please keep that in mind in the article that follows so as not to misconstrue what I’m about to say as a complaint. What follows should be read as an observation and a lesson for how we can design better experiences for our customers.

The Experience

This recent experience was different than the first round of stimulus payments. Rather than sending payments via check or direct deposit, we received a preloaded debit card from a bank. We could either use that card at stores or sign on to the bank website and transfer the money to our own bank account.

Opting to transfer the money, I signed on, entered my bank account information, and requested to transfer the full amount. When I clicked on the submit button I received a nondescript error message. I must have verified my information half a dozen times and received the same error each time.

Trying to figure out what was going on, I decided to poke around the bank’s website and eventually stumbled upon the daily transfer limit that just so happened to be slightly less than the amount I was trying to transfer. Armed with that information, I went back and successfully transferred the maximum daily allotment and then set a reminder for myself to log in the next day to transfer the rest. 

As I reflect back on this workaround, while I was ultimately successful, the added friction caused me a small amount of aggravation and probably made the whole experience take 10-15 minutes longer than it otherwise should have. There has to be a better way. Here are the three lessons we can learn from this experience.

1. Understand your personas and what they are trying to accomplish

I could be wrong, but I have to think that a good portion of stimulus recipients would want to transfer the money to their bank account. Had the bank done some work ahead of time to understand customers and their goals, they may have recognized that it would be a good idea to increase the daily transfer limit.

When we think about the various personas, or people interacting with our brand, taking the time to understand the problems they are looking to solve allows us to innovate the most efficient solutions possible. It’s also not a bad idea to pay attention to voice of customer feedback, both by speaking with customers directly and surveying them, to better understand their goals.

2. Pay attention to error messages

While I didn’t end up contacting customer support, I wonder how many customers did because they were unable to understand the error message or come up with a workaround of their own. It would be a shame to have to spend valuable customer support time addressing this problem when I’m sure the bank deals with much more complex customer inquiries. 

Ideally, the error message on the bank website would have said something like, “This transfer amount exceeds the daily transfer limit,” saving me the aggravation of resubmitting as many times as I did.

Are you keeping track of the various error messages customers encounter on your website or using your product? If such error messages happen in the checkout process on your website, how many potential customers are abandoning altogether rather than contacting support to find a workaround?

I’ve long been a fan of tools like FullStory where you can view customer sessions on your website to gain insight into what’s working and what isn’t. If you don’t have a cool tool like this, pay attention when customers report these errors.  It’s entirely possible that for every one customer that reports it, nine are choosing to take their business elsewhere. (I just made that stat up)

Customer service leaders, ask your contact center agents about such error messages. It’s entirely possible that somewhere along the way they got tired of speaking up because it became clear that no one was listening to them. They will happily list many such workarounds and aggravations if you take the time to listen and make a commitment to act.

3. Determine what there is to gain (or lose) from certain policies

I can only speculate as to why the bank didn’t adjust its daily transfer limit. 

  • Were they hoping I’d somehow remain a customer? 
  • Does this really prevent fraud and abuse in their system?
  • Were they ignorant to the needs of various personas receiving stimulus payments?
  • Do most customers read better than me so the bank didn’t see it as an issue?
  • Was this small amount of friction just accepted as “normal?”

I don’t really know the reason, but when I think about the company I work for and the customers I serve, failing to evaluate bugs and policies that add unnecessary friction to the customer experience means: 

  • Increased support costs
  • Increased customer churn
  • Reduced customer satisfaction
  • Increased negativity on social media and review sites
  • And more

The point is to pay attention to these things and decide if you can live with the consequences of this added friction or if it threatens your ability to grow and thrive as a business.

Finally, as I said earlier in the post, workarounds and customer friction are completely normal. What’s the old adage? When I’m pointing my finger, there are three pointing back at me? In other words, I’m in no position to point fingers at this bank. 

The entire point of this post is to remind us to pay attention to our customers, pay attention to our staff, and never stop improving and simplifying the customer journey.

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