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How to remove friction from the customer experience

Photo by Sam Lion

Highly successful businesses share a common trait: They’ve made the customer experience effortless. And we’re not just talking about the transaction. They optimize each facet of customer interaction. Things happen so smoothly that the customer doesn’t even notice how great their experience actually was. It feels natural, and that keeps them coming back.

Why? It’s simple. The easier customers can acquire goods and services, the more—and more often—they’ll buy. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, you can stand out from the competition by removing friction from the customer experience. Here’s how to make it happen in your business.

Take a different view

Before changing anything, look at your operation from the perspective of your customers. You likely have sticking points that drag down their experience. See where you could make those points friction-free, then make a plan to put some grease on those wheels.  

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

1. How are customers finding you and is it easy for them?

You can’t make a sale if people don’t know you exist. Maybe you’re not using the right channel to spread the word about your business, or perhaps you’re not customizing your messaging based on the platform and target audience.  

The first step is identifying how customers are currently coming to you. Here are some examples of ways you may be getting new clients: 

  • Personal referrals
  • Walk-in traffic
  • Social media and digital marketing strategies

Be sure you’re marketing your business in all the places your target audience frequents. Avoid relying on just one avenue and don’t be afraid to try new channels—you can always adjust your efforts depending on what works best. 

No matter the method, figure out if customers are easily finding you. If they have to work at it or you’re relying on blind luck, it’s unlikely you’re going to gain their attention and business. 

2. What does it feel like to interact with your business?

Once you get a customer’s attention, how do you encourage them to give you their hard-earned money? What may prevent them from working with you? Do all customer-facing facets of your business provide a sense of ease, or are you causing unnecessary stress, anxiety, or effort?

In this step, look for areas of opportunity to smooth out the overall customer experience. Key places to focus on are: 

  • Product or service information
    • Access to a list or menu of offerings
    • Easy-to-understand item details
    • Clear options that encourage quick, confident decisions
  • Customer interaction
    • Access to and expedience of customer service
      • Live chat for websites
      • Automatic replies to email inquiries
      • Training programs for on-site and virtual staff
    • Convenience of scheduling appointments, ordering products, etc.
      • Online booking
      • Shipping options and curbside pickup
      • Yelp Business Page tools
        • Yelp Guest Manager (Waitlist and Reservations)
        • Request a quote
        • Virtual consultation availability
  • Assurances and guarantees
    • Readily available FAQs, reviews, and testimonials
    • Policies around price match, warranty, cancelation, returns, etc.
    • Identity and privacy protections
    • Secure financial transactions
  • Final purchase process
    • Updated sales technology (both in-house and on-line)
    • Payment methods
      • Cash and/or check
      • Credit cards
      • Digital wallet apps/payment providers
        • Apple Pay
        • PayPal
        • Google Pay
      • Digital currency
    • Purchasing avenues
      • On-site (at a brick-and-mortar location, farmer’s markets, conferences, etc.)
      • Branded website
      • Online and social media platforms
    • Incentives used to overcome customer hesitation
      • Free or reduced shipping
      • Limited-time discounts
      • New client specials
      • Buy one, get one free deals
  • Customer retention
    • Automated customer information acquisition
      • Email, phone numbers, birth dates, favorite color, etc.
    • Email or text announcements
      • Targeted deals and discounts
      • New product announcements
      • Early-bird specials
      • In-person and virtual events

Think of all the ways customers interact with your business and assess how pain-free each experience is. Which ones hurt a little or maybe even a lot?

Tip: If you’re worried about objectivity, ask others to give you their unvarnished feedback. You could even employ the services of a professional, like a secret shopper or business consultant, for a more formal analysis of your company’s strong and weak points.

3. What is your bridge from browsing to buying, and who’s involved? 

You’ve now reviewed how customers currently find you, as well as the nuts and bolts of their overall experience. Next, ask yourself how you guide those same customers from window shopping to dropping coin?  

This step ties back to some of your work from question two—paying special attention to how you get customers to finalize their purchase and how to make it better.

Put yourself in their shoes and run through the process of a typical transaction: your buying bridge. Depending on your business, you may have more than one (online, in your shop, at fairs or festivals, etc.). Look at them all. Is the buying process natural and effortless, or are there snags along the way? What protocols are in place to create a consistently positive purchasing experience?  

Take a physical retail business. Do you begin with greeting customers at the door, asking about their particular needs and wants, providing information on your products and services, offering an upsell, then ending with a thank you for their visit?  

How about a digitally based business? Is your website easy to navigate, professional-looking, and bug-free? Do you make the entire transaction seamless, preventing customers from losing interest and abandoning their shopping cart?

Once you’ve identified your buying bridge(s), think about who is responsible for making the sale. Are you a brick-and-mortar business with in-house employees handling the shopping experience, a digital retailer with automated customer service, or a solo-preneur interviewing and landing potential new clients?

Again, take a good look at how things operate. Is your buying bridge sturdy and easy to cross, or are there some issues you need to fix?

Photo by Liza Summer

4. Do you have any other business-specific steps to review? 

Is there anything unique to either your industry or individual company that could influence the customer experience? Do you have clients sign a contract or statement-of-work? Are you bound by legal requirements requiring health releases or privacy policies? Are wire transfers or other less-familiar financial transactions a normal part of operations?

These unique steps can throw your potential customers off-track, preventing them from finalizing their purchase. Give these steps special attention. See if you’re making them as painless as possible.

Work out the kinks

Now that you have identified the sticking points in your customers’ experience, it’s time to come up with solutions.  

While specific issues call for unique actions, the steps below are a good starting point to help you smooth out the bumps you found in the road:

1. Get organized

Take all the friction points you identified, and prioritize them for action.

Which ones will give you the most bang for your buck if fixed? Are some tied to others, where addressing one will lead to a cascade of positive change? Which can wait, and what is the trigger for their implementation?

Decide what you want to address and in what order, then suss out how you’re going to make it happen.

2. Make a plan

If you want any change to be successful, you need a plan. Take your prioritized friction-point fixes and break them down into actionable steps.

Create your  initial framework by using the list of interactions above under question two. List each fix under its main category, then build out the steps needed to make it work, including who is responsible.

3. Write it down

Turn your outline into a how-to guide for yourself and your team. It doesn’t need to be a novel—just a simple, repeatable set of steps for each fix. Even if your entire team consists of only “me, myself, and I,” write out your protocol, then follow it.

4. Bring everyone on board

The purpose of writing out your protocols is to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them and follows them accordingly, every time. You can’t expect great results if you don’t provide the tools to make them happen. You need to remove the friction from your (and your team’s) experience, as well.  

Photo by Amina Filkins

Take action

Now that you have your plan in place and team at the ready, put that baby into action! Once you take it live, be sure to periodically check in to ensure everything is working. Review things on a regular basis, and adjust what isn’t giving you results.

Here is a good method for checking the effectiveness of your friction-point fixes:

1. Test your methods

Before you take that shopping cart live or roll out a new POS system, be sure to run some tests first. There will be glitches in your fix, and you’ll want to correct them before you unleash it into the public sphere.

2. Monitor and measure

That which is measured is managed. It’s key to ensuring the success of any action. You need to know if your fix is truly working, and you can’t know unless you monitor and measure it over time.

3. Be consistent

This is a big one and the underlying reason for creating a how-to guide for you and your team. Correction takes consistency, both in method and effort. If you drop either ball, you’ll end up with the same (if not worse) customer experience issues. 

4. Tweak as needed

As the old saying goes, the only constant is change. Even if you’ve created the most water-tight fix for your customer experience friction-points, situations change and you’ll need to adjust.  

Here’s where the above “monitor and measure” step fits in. When something stops giving you the results you desire, it’s time to fix the fix.

Let everyone know

You’ve identified where the friction-points were in your business, figured out how to smooth them out, and made some great customer experience improvements.  Now it’s time to let people know! 

Did you improve the appointment setting process and want to fill your client calendar? Shout it from the social media mountaintop, and don’t forget to provide the link.  

Was creating or updating your customer engagement protocol on your list? Have your employees implement it and provide feedback on the fresh customer experience.  

Offering takeout and delivery options through Yelp? Share that with your customers.

Be the beacon your customers are looking for

Customers long for businesses that make them feel at ease and well taken care of. Removing friction from their experience is an excellent way to turn your business into the beacon they seek. 

Going through the above steps can help make it happen, giving you a serious advantage over the competition.  

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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