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Unconventional Wisdom Two: struggling with CX? Just add friction

Technology & Data

Unconventional Wisdom Two: struggling with CX? Just add friction


In his second instalment of Unconventional Wisdom, Dane Smith prescribes a little bit of friction. When brands do it right, making customers’ lives only slightly harder can improve CX and catapult returns.

Welcome to part two of Unconventional Wisdom – a marketer’s guide to bad economic decisions which make great psychological sense. If you haven’t already, click here to read part one.

Dane Smith 150 BWA tonne of customer experience (CX) workshops tend to go the same way:

  1. You trawl through as many customer journeys as you can to identify moments of friction or inefficiency.
  2. You make a plan to cost-effectively eliminate these ‘pain points’ as soon as possible.

All in all, this is a pretty good process. It allows you to speedily smooth out clunky or duplicate processes and find new opportunities to make CX much less irritating.

However, in its blinkered quest to remove all friction, this kind of workshop ignores an important question: where might it be good to add some element of friction into the mix. To stop people in their tracks. To make them wait a bit. To make the final transaction slightly harder.

These are all valid considerations. Raise them in a meeting room however, and you will likely trigger eyeball rolls or accusations of contrariness. But their value really shouldn’t come as any surprise to us; they are after all, intrinsically connected to the concept of… value.

It’s pretty simple: things that are mindlessly easy do not feel particularly valuable. Or as Thinkerbell founder Adam Ferrier puts it, brands who continue to push the boundaries of seamless and frictionless experiences are also robbing themselves of meaning – they become like Teflon, sliding in and out of consciousness.

Not ideal. So practically speaking, how can you suggest ‘adding friction’ in your next CX workshop without getting fired? You back it up with real science.


What if we made things harder?

When someone pours more effort into obtaining a good or service, they instinctively perceive its quality as being higher. This mental shortcut is called the ‘effort-reward heuristic’ and explains why ‘effortlessness’ may not always be a healthy brand association for which to strive.

Betty Crocker found this out when their groundbreakingly-convenient ‘just add water’ proposition failed to loosen wallet strings. By throwing in a superfluous step involving a previously redundant egg, the famous cake-maker was able to bake quality and pride back into its easy-made treats.

Next up, IKEA. Those tiny spanners and Allen keys may invoke traumatic flashbacks, but assuming you ended up finally completing that FJÄLKINGE shelving unit – good luck ever letting it go. The surplus effort you put into every Scandinavian lounge addition is IKEA’s secret sauce for quick emotional investment and long-term satisfaction.

Ever heard of Domonique Ansel Bakery? To the uninitiated, it may sound like some kind of idyllic morning experience. If however, you’ve spent several rainy hours squeezed betwixt hundreds of hungry strangers all pining for a signature Cronut, a different adjective may spring to mind. First opening shop in 2011, the French pastry house has spent years making breakfast fiendishly stressful for punters  – an FAQ on their website is actually dedicated to educating you on how to attempt buying a Cronut from their store (no guarantees made, of course).

Recommendations include: queuing up at least one hour prior to opening, dodging scalpers and keeping noise levels to a minimum. Poor CX? The Cronut continues to sell out every day and was named alongside Wireless Electricity in TIME’s ’25 Best Inventions of 2013′.

Domonique Ansel Bakery


What if we made things slower?

For the most part, improving operational speed is an undeniably big plus. However, when it comes to perceptions of good value, it can sometimes pay to slow things down.

Michael Norton and Ryan Buell, researchers for Harvard Business School, first demonstrated this pearl of unconventional wisdom by presenting people with two different flight-search experiences. One version surfaced the user’s search results instantly, while the other introduced an artificial 60-second wait. Curiously, the lag-heavy option was consistently preferred, so long as it looked like the website was busy scouring different databases for deals.

Now called the ‘labour illusion’, this effect shows that people will not only willingly wait longer, but also pay more for things they have to wait for, if they believe this delay is connected to someone (or something) working harder on their behalf.

On the travel website Kayak, this delay looks like an exhaustive flick through each individual airline it searches. For Domino’s, it’s a pizza tracker that gradually pushes you through an elaborate (and supposedly personalised) cooking process.

Dominos real time order


What if we made things less inviting?

Being held back from something can make us want it even more. Known as psychological reactance (or more casually, ‘playing hard to get’), there is real psychological value in strategically deployed restriction.

In the lead up to Black Friday sales in 2011, Patagonia instructed people: ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. While the ad urged people to spend less and think about the planet more, it was swiftly followed by four years of double-digit growth for the brand. Yes, people bought the jacket.

Patagonia 'Don't buy this jacket'

Short of telling people not to buy your product, there is another, more common type of restriction in our toolkits: terms and conditions. Most offers have them, but few marketers actually use them. A few years ago, we ran a value campaign for hot chips, where an existing disclaimer – a maximum of four packets per person – became our main headline. Not only did we successfully increase sales, but also stoked a new desire to cheat the chips overlords and buy five.


Go forth and make friction

Don’t hastily go breaking or cluttering your customer experiences, but do consider how deliberate moments of friction or mindful engagement can shift perceptions of brand value and distinctiveness for the better.

Next time on Unconventional Wisdom: sabotaging part of your product to make it even better.

Dane Smith is a behavioural and brand strategist at Ogilvy Australia.


Further Reading:




Image credit:Bobby Stevenson


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