We all have our own story of dealing with friction. Hours spent on hold, inefficient systems and arbitrary rules all play a role in making many customer experiences unbearable. The only outcomes of systems such as these are higher costs, confusion and irritation.
For this reason, removing friction and pain points for customers should be at the top of the list of a business’s priorities. Friction relates to the things that make it hard to engage with a business or brand. While flashy slogans and clever advertising can work wonders in drawing customers in, the things that will keep them are well-designed, intuitive systems that make life easier, not harder. As obvious as this may be, businesses all too often neglect this need.
One way of uncovering friction is to become your own customer. I was working with the marketing team of a large bank recently and one team member named Gary shared how much he learned from being a customer of the company he worked for.
Having opened a new account, Gary tried to log into the account only to be greeted by a pop-up window asking him to enter a security token number. Having no idea what a security token number was or how to get one, he rang his own company’s customer support line. After waiting to speak to someone for well over 20 minutes, the help desk assistant informed him that he would only receive a security token number after he had logged in for the first time. “We get this question all the time,” the help desk assistant admitted. “I wish they’d just put a note on the website to let people know to click the button to skip the security token window for their first login.”
The next day at work, Gary tracked down the person in charge of the company’s customer website and shared his 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.
While becoming your own customer can be a significantly enlightening and important experience, identifying friction is often easily achieved through empathy. In uncovering the pain points of their culturally diverse customers, empathy was crucial for the Chinese electronic manufacturer Transsion.
Arif Chowdhury, vice-president of Transsion, has suggested that listening to the needs of local consumers has been far more than just a marketing slogan – it is an approach that has given the brand a tangible competitive edge over rivals.
“Big companies which sell smartphones in more than 100 countries are too global to care for one single market,” Chowdhury said. “The core strategy for us is to become the favourite mobile phone brand in emerging markets.”
In less than 12 months, Transsion went from an unknown phone brand to being one of the top 3 selling vendors in India after noticing that the local custom of eating with your hands made it difficult to operate a smartphone with oily fingers. In response, Transsion developed phones that could be unlocked using an oil resistant fingerprint recognition feature.
It was a similar story when the entering the African phone market. Rather than approaching this new market with the same consumer assumptions that had applied in an Asian context, Transsion set out to identify the key friction points for African smartphone users.
The first discovery they made in this process was that African consumers tended to carry around multiple SIM cards in order to avoid making expensive out-of-network calls. The second insight was that existing smartphone cameras often struggled to highlight the facial features of people with dark skin tones.
It is ongoing concern for customer needs, and genuine prioritisation of their experience that enables the reduction of friction and the trust that this results in.
Armed with these insights, Transsion released a range of dual SIM-card smartphones which featured cameras that boosted photo clarity by allowing more light exposure. It paid off. To date, their success has been breathtaking with Transsion overtaking both Apple and Samsung to become the number one and most trusted player in Africa’s fast-growing smartphone market and the world’s 4th largest phone maker.
Transsion’s engagement with customers reveals that first impressions are not enough to sustain lasting loyalty. It is ongoing concern for customer needs, and genuine prioritisation of their experience that enables the reduction of friction and the trust that this results in.
According to Nobel Prize winning professor Daniel Kahneman, our last impression of a product or brand is extremely important in shaping our memory and perceptions of the experience. Customer Experience expert Adam Toporek suggests that businesses and individuals would be mad not to incorporate these insights into the way they craft customer interactions. “One of the best techniques is to try to manufacture the emotional peak purposefully, to create it by design.” In other words, design customer journeys that finish with a bang in order to create an experience that makes your customers feel emotionally positive and remember you fondly.
However, a last impression can only last if it is supported by a positive overall experience. We have all experienced the moment of peak frustration when, after dealing with high levels of friction in a business, we are asked ‘How was your experience today?’ Following a customer experience that was at best poorly designed, the empty optimism of these questions feels almost patronising. Bookending the customer experience with positivity is empty if the process in between was riddled with pain points.
For customers to end on a genuine high note, the entire process of the experience needs to have been designed with them in mind. Marketing and customer reviews are important, but they become fruitless shortcuts if the genuine concern for customers and the painless design of systems is not there. Businesses that build lasting loyalty in customers are those that prioritise the last impression, as much as they do the first.
 Lin, L. & Strumpf, D. 2017, ‘Two Simcards And Better Selfies: How China’s Smartphones Are Taking On Apple’, The Wall Street Journal, 8 June.
 Tao, L. 2018, ‘How An Unknown Chinese Phone Maker Became No 3 In India By Solving The Oily Fingers Problem’, South China Morning Post, 12 January.
 Wong, J. 2019, ‘China’s Mobile-Phone Giant in Africa’, The Wall Street Journal, 19 April.
 Drumond, M. 2018, ‘Understanding How The Peak-end Rule Defines Customers’ Experiences’, Medium, 11 May
Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen. Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.