Okay, quick stats for you. In 2016, 4.6 trillion dollars of merchandise was left in abandoned ecommerce shopping carts. If you’re a business leader, that statistic should give you nightmares. According to science-based marketing and our next guest, business expert Roger Dooley, they illustrate the real and growing threat of friction, which he defines as the unnecessary expenditure of time, effort or money in performing a task. Simply put, they’re making it too hard for us to just buy our stuff and go.
Roger is the author of Friction, and he’ll talk to us today about empowering frank conversations, getting ahead of friction, optimizing the customer experience, building a frictionless corporate culture, and so much more.
Roger Dooley: It has its origins perhaps my first book, Brainfluence,that focused on using a behavioral science and a little bit of neuroscience to do better marketing. I ended up talking to a lot of conversion experts at conferences and at meetings. People who were very focused on taking the website traffic or app traffic they were getting, and improving the number that would order a product or turn into a sales lead, whatever their objective was.
To that end, I ran across the work of BJ Fogg, the professor at Stanford, and I created my own little framework based on his work called The Persuasion Slide.
The concept is pretty simple. It uses a children’s slide as a metaphor for any kind of persuasion or behavior change process. We don’t have to get into the details of it. There’s gravity, and the angle of the slide represents a couple of kinds of motivation, and the little shove that the kid gets at the top is the nudge.
The fourth element was, for me, the most interesting: friction. That’s what happens when a slide is poorly maintained and the child either goes down slowly or you get stuck halfway through. That’s friction. And in our persuasion process or behavior change process, it represents a difficulty that ends up slowing or preventing whatever you want to happen and we see that on websites where the checkout process is overly complex or confusing or there are long forms to fill in and so on.
This translates to friction, and that’s why there’s such a problem with conversion and why there are all kinds of companies around the world that do nothing but help clients convert better by eliminating some of this friction and doing other things too.
So, that’s what got me interested, and the more I started focusing on friction in that sort of narrow realm of web conversion and app conversion, I realized that it was actually everywhere in our lives. It was affecting much more than that. I found that there is a separate sort of body of academic and business research that looked at a friction in the corporate world in there it was called different things. Obviously, common terms like bureaucracy and red tape. But also, a more formal term called organizational drag.
There’s a Harvard Business Review article that estimated that that organizational drag, that wasted effort inside companies because of rules, procedures, meetings, emails that aren’t really necessary has a price tag of three trillion dollars per year.
It staggered me. Even looking at the macro level, looking at the difference in the economic growth in China and India. This isn’t certainly a secret story, but in the last 30 years, China’s growth has been about eight times as fast as India’s. Thirty years ago, those two economies were the same size, and today, China is eight times bigger. There are a lot of reasons for that. They’re different government systems, different cultures, but one big reason is that India’s bureaucracy and red tape, what some people called the License Raj at one point in history, made it so difficult for people to do business that Indian entrepreneurs really had two choices.
They could either leave the country and start their businesses elsewhere or they could just simply do it in the underground economy, do it without formal paperwork, so they didn’t have to deal with all the regulations, but that inherently limited the scalability of these businesses. There’s no way they could grow into really large enterprises that way.
The last story I looked at was even in our personal lives, how we encounter friction. And this is kind of a positive part of the book, right? It’s the fact that we can manipulate friction ourselves to improve our lives, to break bad habits and to adopt good ones, all by making the things we don’t want to do a little more difficult and the things we do want to do easier.
What is Friction
Rae Williams: How do we go about identifying if we have friction in our business, what that friction is, and how to even fix it?
Roger Dooley: Well, I think that the first thing to do perhaps is to develop a friction aware culture within the business. Obviously, the first thing you want to work on is customer friction. Are you making things unnecessarily difficult for your customers?
There’s some amazing statistics. One is that annually, about 4.6 trillion dollars of merchandise is left in abandoned ecommerce shopping carts. That’s more than twice the two trillion dollars in annual ecommerce sales. Just a crazy number. When you think about all of the money that went into generating that traffic, all the pay per click ads, the social media advertising, the content marketing, the SEO. All of the web design, everything that went into getting those customers to the website, getting them to the point of where they’re looking at the products, they put the products in their cart to buy and then failing to get them across the finish line.
It’s just a huge, huge waste of money.
And if you look at the reasons people leave stuff in their shopping carts. Most of those are frictional in nature. They’re a complex checkout process. Long forms to fill in. The need to set up an account, all of these things just add extra effort to the customer checkout process, and people drop out before completing it.
Another area that is huge for many businesses is customer problem resolution. If you have a regular customer, chances are, at some point, they’re going to have a problem. They’re going to get the wrong items, something isn’t going to be as expected, it’s broken. Whatever. Perhaps it didn’t arrive at all.
The difference in the way companies handle that, and the effect on customer loyalty, is enormous. In some research done by part of the Gartner Group, only 9% of the customers who had a low effort experience were likely to be disloyal compared to 96% of customers who had a high effort experience, that’s a 10 to one difference in customer loyalty and all it has to do with the effort that these customers had to expand to get whatever was going on resolve.
The effect is kind of similar on repeat purchasing. 94% of all effort customers repurchase compared to only 4% of high effort customers. And then of course, in these days of social media and reputation management and all of that, their numbers are equally astounding there. 88% of low effort customers are likely to say something bad about the company, where just this tiny fraction, just 1% are likely to say something bad if they experience low effort.
There is so much of a difference that companies can make by focusing on the effort that customers have to make both to interact to buy products and services and then also to resolve problems. What happens is, in my experience, once a company start thinking about customer friction, they start seeing it internally. Once you start seeing friction, it’s very hard to stop seeing it, and they realize that they have their own procedures, their own wasted efforts and so on.
And by eliminating that, organizational drag can be reduced and people will be more productive and more engaged because there’s nothing more frustrating as an employer, a team member. If you’re spending time doing something that you know is not going to help the customers, and it’s not really essential for the company getting its job done. Or you have to do it because that’s a requirement.
It’s really once companies develop this friction awareness. It’s going to benefit them externally and internally too.
Identifying Internal Friction
Rae Williams: Do you recommend starting internally and making sure your procedures there have no friction—and how do you identify those?
Roger Dooley: Sure, you know, I think that many companies may actually start focusing on the customer because management may not be willing to accept their own internal procedures or not the best possible ones but there’s not a magic formula.
Clearly it has to be addressed on the customer side, as quickly as possible because that’s what’s going to pay the bills for the company. Improving things internally may help a little bit, but it won’t help that much if the customers are not having a great experience.
But nevertheless, internally, there are a lot of things that can be done – some of the simplest ones that I’ve seen work – well, first of all, having meetings and asking people what they’re doing that could be eliminated without harming anything and people may have ideas that surprise me actually. Sometimes managers don’t even know that people are doing things or doing them in a certain way that doesn’t seem very efficient.
But people either are following a rule or they’re following what they think is a rule, but isn’t. That’s one of the funnier things that I’ve read about where people think that there’s a rule and they’ve been doing it for years that way, but when a consultant comes in and says okay, “Which rules don’t make sense?” They find out, “Hey, that’s not a rule.”
Having meetings, brief meetings to have people suggest stupid rules or mickey mouse rules that they’re following, but don’t really seem to make sense. That’s a real easy way, because often, these are not rules like I just mentioned, or there are things that a manager can just change. They can say, “Okay, well, we don’t have to do it that way,” and it’s fixed.
The BBC had a program that I described in the book for a while that empowered people to raise a yellow card has done in soccer—or as outside the United States, people call it football—which is a warning.
If there was some bureaucratic procedure that was getting in the way of serving their customers, somebody could hold up the yellow card in a meeting and say, “Okay, hey, we’re wasting time in this. This is bureaucratic nonsense, let’s not do it.” Then, later on, it was even upgraded into subsequent administration to giving a red card, which is of course how you get expelled from a game in soccer.
So, there’s no single technique that works, but just get people to talk about it. Ask people how you can make their job easier. In fact, there was a great story from a General Electric where Jack Welch is probably one of the most accomplished CEOs of all time. He transformed GE into a highly profitable business that increased its value many, many, many times over.
And one of the ways he did that was by reducing some communication friction where there weren’t as many levels that information had to travel through. But then later, also by making sure that there were no barriers anywhere that anybody could talk to anybody. A manager could talk to a worker in a factory, even if they weren’t part of the manufacturing department. And what they found was that opening up these channels of communication that previously, simply didn’t exist, produced some surprising savings and discoveries.
At one meeting, he asked, “Well, what can we do to make your job easier?”
The workers who were unionized and generally had an adversarial relationship with management were surprised that somebody would be saying, “Well, how can we make your job easier?” Because nobody had ever asked them that before.
But then one machine operator said, “Okay, there is something that would make my life a lot easier. I’m handling sharp metal all day, and I use work gloves. Every week or so, I have to get a new pair of work gloves and to do that, I have to leave my workstation, I have to actually leave my building, go to a different building where the gloves are stored, fill out a requisition form in the tool crib, find a supervisor to approve that and take that back, get the gloves and then come back to my machines. Depending on how quickly things go and how easy it is to find a supervisor, that could take as much as a couple of hours.”
This was a rule that had been established, because at some point, some manager was afraid that workers were going to steal gloves, so they established this procedure for doing it.
And the quick solution under Welch’s new program was to put a box of work gloves by the guy’s work station and not worry that he or other people were going to steal gloves. This saved hours and hours of productivity every month. It eliminated this frustrating activity that was pointless for the individual worker. So, it was just a win all around, but the only way that happened was by asking the question, “How can we make our job easier?”
Rae Williams: What are some of the other things that happen when we are not reducing this friction within the workplace, within our cultures and just in the customer facing sense too, what else can happen?
Roger Dooley: Well I think ultimately if you are making your customers or your team members work harder, they will be less loyal and they will leave. It is that simple. If you are putting people in a situation that frustrates them, particularly as employees, folks may tolerate that for a while, but particularly when there are plenty of job opportunities out there, they don’t want to do that. They will find some place that they think will be a better environment.
One the other hand, if you are responsive and making things easier, making them more productive, and ultimately not only making them feel like the work they’re doing has meaning, because it is not just following procedures, filling out reports, and so on that nobody is going to look at. Then it makes them happy. It makes them more productive. More gets done because there is less wasted time, and the company becomes more profitable.
Sources of Friction
Rae Williams: Why do you think we have a lot of this bureaucracy and red tape and friction in the very beginning?
Roger Dooley: Well there are a lot of reasons, some of it is just historical in nature. Management practices have changed over the last century, from being top down authoritarian, where people made decisions at the top, and then those decisions sort of flow downhill to the lowest level. Over time, they become a little bit more team oriented and less hierarchical, but some of that residue still remains.
And I think, on the customer side, a lot of it comes from the fact that nobody has actually looked at customers doing what they are expected to do. I am sure you’ve had this happen, where you are on a website, you are using an app, and you are trying to figure out what to do. It is so frustrating because it is not obvious, and you just wonder, “Did they actually ever observe a new customer trying to do this?”
If you designed a website to click to accomplish certain things where if somebody new comes in there, they are going to have that knowledge.
If you don’t follow the norms of the other websites that they use, they won’t know what to do next. And it seems like there is a disconnect because the developers just say, “That’s easy. You just have to click this one button here.” But the new visitor may not know they have to click that one button.
There may be several buttons. It may not be obvious. So, I mean just lack of observation is one thing, beyond physical observation like watching people do stuff.
Today we’ve got such tremendous analytics tools. You can see how long people are on the site or on the page. You can see where they click. Are people clicking on stuff that is not clickable? That is pretty common, where there is a graphic element that people are trying to click because it looks clickable or it looks like it might take them where they want to go, but it is not anything at all. It is just a graphic element, and by looking at the data, you can see where customers are spending their effort.
Another way you can look at disconnect is, I was just recently at a conference in San Francisco about behavioral marketing, and one company there uses behavioral science to help customers solve their problems. One of the first things they ask, looking at an ecommerce site or a site that requires a checkout process, is to ask, “Well how many steps are there in your checkout process?” And invariably the customer whether it is a marketing person or a developer will think for a second and say, “three.”
When they go in and actually study what customers have to do, counting every time they click, every time they have to scroll, every time they have to advance from one form field to the next form field, they find out that it is more like 20 or 30 steps.
So, there is this disconnect in perception. Because the people in the know, those would be the marketers and the developers and other folks inside the company, they know what to do.
So it seems very simple, but for other people, it is not that simple.
Rae Williams: And actually, as you are saying that, I thought of a great example and it is actually with the iPhone. They had this new thing where you had to actually double click. It says tap twice in order to certify that you wanted to download an app, and no one could figure out that it is actually the side button that you had to click. So people were tapping the screen. I stopped downloading apps for a while, which is exactly what you are saying. What happened is customers are driven away. Now in their most recent update they actually show you, they actually give you a graphic of double clicking that side button so that you know exactly what to do.
Roger Dooley: I think it is kind of a sad thing that your example comes from the company that frankly invented smooth user experience. I mean that was what the early days of Apple are all about. Taking these sort of complex techy tools and turning them into something that people could easily use. And then for them to make what seems like a very elementary mistake in their user interface, where it could have been done multiple ways…They could have allowed you to use both methods to download the app.
They could have made it clearer that you have to do the other thing by showing your little graphic or something or if you tapping and it wasn’t working, they could say, “Hey you might want to do that.” I think one good example is today, many sites and apps if you are trying to enter a password with your caps lock key on, they will alert you that your caps lock key is on.
I know in the early days of computers, I actually co-founded a business that sold computers and computer products, and one of the most common things is people would say, “I can’t get it because my password isn’t recognized.” And the first thing you would say is, “Do you have your caps lock key on?” And people will come back and say, “Oh yeah that was it. Sorry.” But it took years before companies would actually warn you that your caps lock key was on.
Instead they were creating all of these calls to their service department or other tech support entities because that is sort of simple mistake because it is pretty easy to accidentally bump that and find that, “wow, hey my password has been recognized,” but you can’t see that because it is just a series of dots.
The Production Power in Reducing Friction
Rae Williams: How much more productive or more business can we get if we are reducing our friction both internally and externally?
Roger Dooley: There is no single compilation of that, but just from the statistics of it, throughout the 4.6 trillion dollars in the band of merchandise and that is not really looking at all of the wasted effort in expense in marketing there, plus the three trillion dollars in organizational drag, which probably you can never eliminate completely, but it is clearly a multitrillion dollar problem and it is not going to be eliminated all at once.
And unfortunately, as you discovered, it keeps getting introduced back in. You know you knew how to use your phone and you didn’t have a problem and then they made a change, and suddenly it added unexpected friction. So, it is not something that can be entirely eliminated, but on the other hand, you can be aware of that then you can prevent a lot of those mistakes.
If Apple would just have done some user observation with that new iPhone protocol and just said, “Okay you were going to watch 100 different users try to go through various simple processes, send an email, download an app,” They probably would have discovered that, “Oh hey, this is confusing the people because it is different than what it used to be.” But apparently that didn’t happen.
A Challenge for Listeners
Rae Williams: If you had to issue a challenge in terms of reducing friction, what would you challenge them to do?
Roger Dooley: I think the first thing to do is simply get people across functions to start thinking about friction. We can see that it changes behavior in just about every sphere. So that is one, overriding point of the book, and the reason that it goes in a couple of different directions as opposed to saying, “Okay this is how you create this seamless customer experience,” is because I wanted to show that every aspect of human behavior was affected by friction and once you start with that philosophy.
Start thinking about it and challenging the people in an organization to think about it. They will start seeing it too. I start the book with a little fable about some sort of magical friction goggles, and it is a fun way to start. It is not your typical business book approach, but I wanted to do that because my objective was to give every reader a metaphorical set of friction goggles by the time they finish the book. That they would start seeing friction everywhere.
I have seen this happen at conferences, right? I have done some speeches that focused on friction, at least partially if not mostly, and after just interacting with the attendees and watching their behavior, I’d see people randomly yelling out “friction!” when they encountered some kind of difficulty. They are out of forks in the lunch line or something and the people are having to hunt around for the silverware. Then you suddenly identify that as friction where before they would not have.
Once you start seeing it, you see it everywhere, and once you see it that gives you the opportunity to reduce it or eliminate it.
Rae Williams: How can people contact you if they want to learn more?