Fact: Your Customers Demand Seamless Experiences

Whether you’re in a business, a government agency or a nonprofit organization, chances are you are continually asking your customers or constituents to engage with you on your terms. But what if the first step in designing or enhancing a product, service or process started with the question: “How will this make life better for my customer?” 

This way of thinking is what drives digital disruption. 

Disruptive companies often build off perceptive observations of real-life experiences to develop radical ideas for removing friction within our daily lives. Friction refers to any interaction that adds time, energy, resources, etc., to a process. Consider the time wasted calling, leaving messages and checking answering machines via landline telephony. Smartphones, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and social media have disrupted the communications industry, making it easier to engage in rich ways instantaneously and with fewer hassles.

Or think about the experience of renting videos before online streaming was introduced. You would drive to the video store only to find out that the movie you were hoping to rent was out of stock. Netflix and others have disrupted that business by removing massive amounts of friction from the video-renting process, enabling digital access to entertainment, delighting customers and subsequently disrupting brick-and-mortar providers.

Unless you are part of a new start-up, you likely have existing customers. And in today’s world, you have all the tools to create the same sort of painless experience for your customers as Netflix does for its users. Products and services at the push of a button and anticipating customer needs — that’s what digital transformation and the frictionless customer journey are all about. 

To get started, evaluate your existing consumer experience, plotting every step and noting any areas with the potential to cause friction. Take, for example, a customer booking accommodations for a trip. The journey might look something like this:

1. Search several online booking sites to compare prices.

2. Change dates to accommodate blackout periods for mileage points.

3. Select hotel, flight and rental car separately, entering payment information three times.

4. Call hotel to request an early check-in time.

5. Wait for three separate confirmation emails and manually compile an itinerary.

6. Manually add trip information to calendar.

7. Wait in line upon arrival to check in and receive your room key.

And that’s just a simplified list. Now imagine what a frictionless experience could look like: 

1. Log on to a travel app to see several options tailored to preferences, each of which represents the best price available for accommodations of that type.

2. Book lodging, transportation, restaurant reservations and activities simultaneously.

3. App syncs with payment accounts, including PayPal, Apple Pay and travel points, enabling one-click booking.

4. Early check-in time is automatically requested based on flight information.

5. Receive confirmation email with easy-to-read, integrated itinerary.

6. App syncs with calendar to automatically add itinerary, updating as needed.

7. Wi-Fi-enabled beacons or geo-positioning recognizes you as you approach the hotel and automatically creates your room key.

Customers will soon expect this kind of tailored, omnichannel experience for every type of interaction across every industry. Some companies are already delivering it to them:

  • Personal financial management services such as Mint.com and Toshl Finance help customers automatically track spending, follow budgets, manage investments and meet financial goals. 
  • Apps such as GrubHub and Foodpanda enable customers to order delivery from restaurants that don’t offer delivery service themselves. 
  • Meal delivery services, including Blue Apron and Plated, sidestep the supermarket and restaurant industries altogether by delivering recipe cards and portioned ingredients to transform cooking at home into an effortless experience. 
  • BlaBlaCar facilitates long-distance ride-sharing in 22 countries, making road trips more affordable and easier to plan for travelers. 

Although examples of online frictionless customer experiences abound, they’re not limited to the Internet. Take parking garages, for example. Parking attendants have been all but replaced by automated ticketing and payment kiosks. Parking spaces are monitored by cameras to track vacancies, with signs alerting drivers where to go to find an open spot. Soon, sensors will feed data to your smartphone and use GPS to guide you to an empty parking space from the moment you enter the garage. Such technology could even be integrated into your navigation app of choice, which could then notify you whether the parking garage is full before you get there or even hold a spot for you based on your arrival time. Taken one step further, this experience could be bolstered by links to services your car might need while it’s parked, such as a wash, detail or wax.

As you can see, no industry is immune to the changing shape of customer interactions. Reducing or eliminating the areas of friction in your customer experience could be as simple as redesigning a Web page and automating a point of interaction or as complicated as rethinking your entire value chain.

It’s important to note, however, that creating a frictionless customer experience is not a “one and done” venture. You need to constantly chip away at customer friction, as the perfect customer experience doesn’t exist — yet — and there will always be room for improvement.

That said, effective digital transformation doesn’t need to change your entire business model. It helps to think like the disruptors, but only insofar as focusing on customer experience. The key is to look for areas in your customer journey where digital technology could help your organization reduce friction to create a seamless, effortless experience that lives up to the high expectations of tomorrow’s customer.

Think Like a Consumer

Reducing friction in the customer journey starts with identifying where the friction occurs.

  • What makes it hard for your clients and prospects to complete transactions?
  • What gets in the way of their desire for instant gratification?
  • What existing resources could you leverage to replace cumbersome interactions with seamless ones?
  • What processes could you put in place to continually improve the customer experience?