The customer experience is made up of a thousand opportunities to impress your customers — or, for things to go terribly wrong.
Depending on your perspective, this is either terrifying or amazing. Either way, if you know what to look for, you can take control of points of friction that would otherwise damage the customer experience (CX).
Unfortunately, potential CX disasters aren’t always obvious. They often start with a minor inconvenience here and a frustrating interaction there. But, pretty quickly, these negative experiences can snowball into something disastrous.
Keep reading to learn about the impact of customer friction on your business and customer relationships, how to identify common friction points, and how your business can minimize friction to save time, boost ROI, and retain more customers.
How Friction Harms the Customer Experience
The best customer experiences (online or off) are as close to effortless as possible.
Everything works the way it’s supposed to, the stars align, and — from the customers’ perspective — the whole experience is just easy.
The worst customer experiences, on the other hand, often begin with one small issue and quickly escalate as minor inconveniences add up. This is how what may seem like minor dings can snowball into a much bigger problem.
In most cases, a bad customer experience isn’t defined by a single interaction. More often than not, it’s the culmination of struggling to navigate a confusing website plus waiting on hold for too long plus getting passed to three different support agents because the first two don’t have the answer plus a series of miscommunications along the way. In short, even a little friction is the enemy of a smooth customer experience.
Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar store, SaaS provider, or ecommerce merchant; customer friction creates frustration and kills momentum.
You might see the impact of customer friction on the sales funnel in the form of a high bounce rate and frequent cart abandonment. Friction also shrinks customer lifetime value by hurting customer loyalty, getting in the way of repeat purchases, and damaging retention.
Financially, most businesses see the cost of customer friction in lost sales, lost revenue, and lost opportunities. According to an American Express Survey, 78% of customers have backed out of a purchase due to poor customer service.
Plus, customer friction is bad for your brand. Unlike satisfied buyers and users, unhappy customers don’t provide referrals. Even worse, dissatisfied customers are more likely to share their experience in online reviews — which can lead to low ratings and missed business.
What Causes Customer Friction?
Where does customer friction come from? From sales to onboarding to support, there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. Everything from your website loading speed to your branding to your prices to your site navigation can make or break the customer experience.
A bunch of small, seemingly insignificant friction points can result in an overall poor customer experience and damage your brand’s reputation. For many customers, a few annoying friction points can add up and the negatives will quickly outweigh the positives.
The most common sources of customer friction include:
- Poor customer service: There’s no excuse for unhelpful customer support agents. Whether the agent doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to help resolve a customer concern, customers can and will hold a grudge against your entire brand for a bad support experience.
- Lack of self-service content: By providing customers with self-help support content, you create an opportunity for them to resolve support issues without engaging a support agent. Whether this comes in the form of helpful chatbots, a detailed FAQ page, or a searchable knowledge base; customers who prefer self-service support will not only be grateful for the opportunity to do so, but they’ll also free up your customer support agents to tackle more difficult technical problems.
- Confusing navigation: If customers don’t know how to find the information they want on your website or in your app, they’re more likely to give up on the transaction or purchase entirely. For example, if a customer wants to buy from your online store but can’t find details about shipping costs or speed, they might get frustrated enough to look for a similar item on an easier-to-navigate competitor’s website.
- Negative online reviews: Your online reputation precedes you. Reviews and ratings on social media, consumer advice sites, and Google My Business can have a huge impact on customers’ perception of your brand. In fact, the majority of consumers (76% in 2019) trust online reviews just as much as a recommendation from a personal contact.
Smoothing Things Out: How to Minimize Customer Friction Points
Here are some ways you can minimize customer friction points on your website or in your digital product.
Create a UX Strategy That Encompasses the Entire User Journey
Developing a user experience (UX) strategy ensures you’re focused on creating the right type of experience, offering the right features, providing the right benefits, solving the right problems, and targeting the right users. It’s kind of a big deal!
Designing products and experiences in accordance with UX best practices helps smooth out friction in your digital products, on your website, in your support systems, and even in in-store experiences. For instance, creating a more intuitive interface for your checkout page or support resources can improve the product experience dramatically, which ultimately leads to increased customer retention, revenue, and referrals.
For some UX pointers, dig into our article on “5 Ways to Build a Better Experience for Your Customer” or check out “The 4-Step Guide to Building Enterprise Software that Users Love” if that’s a better fit for your business.
Pay Attention to What Your Customers Are Saying
In many cases, the best way to find out what your customers need is to just ask them!
Leverage surveys, user interviews, and social listening (more on that here) to gather customer insights and feedback on your offerings. Then, make sure these insights are documented and communicated to product designers, developers, and support agents so that the information is actually implemented when it comes time to develop updates, new features, customer service protocols, and future product mapping.
Provide Seamless Omnichannel Service
Good CX makes every customer milestone and interaction as simple as possible. That means removing any hurdles that might stop customers from achieving their goals. Nowadays, simply providing friendly customer service over the phone or via email isn’t enough. Not only do your customers want to be able to contact your team on whatever platform is most convenient to them, but they also want to be able to switch between different channels without interruption — and without repeating themselves multiple times to different agents.
For instance, if someone messages a support chatbot on your website, they want the chatbot to solve their issue (or at least help them figure out how to resolve it themselves). The last thing that customer wants is to receive a message that says, “Sorry, we can’t help you with that here. Please call this number for assistance.” Even worse is when, because of the lack of an omnichannel support system, the agent they speak to on the phone has no idea about the convo they already had with the chatbot.
Make Support as Accessible as Possible
In addition to offering multiple support channels (like live chat, email, phone, and SMS), you can reduce friction by introducing self-service support channels. By providing customers with plenty of self-service support resources, you enable them to help themselves — when and where they need it — rather than have to contact your team and wait to hear back about every little issue.
One of the most helpful self-service support resources is a knowledge base: A searchable collection of informational articles designed to help troubleshoot and resolve common issues. Here’s our knowledge base for example!
A good customer knowledge base should answer frequently asked questions and guide customers through certain workflows, like onboarding or resetting their accounts. It can cover a wide or narrow range of topics, but it must be easy to access and navigate to avoid creating more friction.
Empower Your Team With Knowledge
In order to prioritize the customer experience at every touchpoint, all of your team members must be well-versed in your product, user flows, common friction points, and of course basic customer service.
Everyone from your sales reps to your account managers to your support agents should not only be armed with technical knowledge, but also granted the decision-making power needed to resolve customer issues. It’s also important that your team knows exactly how and where to access any internal documentation that might help with customer support or service.
Better Customer Experiences = Better Customer Relationships
We live in an era of instant gratification. Your customers have come to expect quick results, fast replies, and seamless cross-channel experiences. Reducing customer friction in the digital age is vital, especially when the competition is right at your customers’ fingertips.
That said, the customer experience isn’t defined by a single touchpoint; it’s the culmination of every interaction a customer has with your brand, website, product, and team. While there are a ton of places where the customer experience might get derailed by friction, there are also countless opportunities for you to impress and win over customers.
By using the tips we shared today to smooth out as many customer friction points as possible, you can cultivate trust and build long-term customer relationships — thereby reducing churn and increasing revenue in the process.