Creating a frictionless customer experience is currently high on many company agendas. Do it successfully and you increase customer loyalty and create a powerful differentiator that frees your business from always having to compete on price.
The secret lies in identifying and removing any hassles and pain points that arise when customers interact with your organisation so you can save them time, effort, and aggravation. It might include introducing self-service systems to avoid customers with routine questions being left waiting in endless contact centre queues. Or launching voice assistants and artificial intelligence bots to understand and address customer queries, by either routing customers quickly to the right department or even answering the questions themselves.
However, you need to be careful to avoid creating fresh problems – possibly sparking more friction in new areas. The real challenge lies in enhancing your customers’ preferred way of interacting with you. With this in mind, here are three important rules for anyone developing a frictionless customer experience strategy.
1. Remember: friction is a relative concept
One person’s friction can be another’s handy or pleasant way of doing things. So when introducing new technology or removing steps in a process, think carefully about how individual customer segments will react to the change.
For example, while most people appreciate the ‘frictionless’ benefits of receiving bills and statements online (you can check them on a smartphone whenever you want and there’s no risk of losing bits of paper), there are some who still prefer physical documents. Many business customers, for instance, continue to have accounts payable processes geared towards receiving paper invoices.
By the same token, not all customers will have the up-to-date technology that’s necessary to take advantage of frictionless strategies based around mobile apps, geo-location, or QR codes.
If possible, try offering a choice. Allow early adopters to immediately embrace the new way of doing things, while letting others continue as before until they are ready to change.
You also need to plan for the right promotion, training and support when introducing new initiatives to ensure that there are no unwelcome surprises. The customer benefits of your next chatbot or self-service function need to be clearly explained so that it is viewed as a genuine change for the better rather than just a cost-saving exercise for your company.
2. Avoid becoming a ‘faceless’ enterprise
While automation and self-service can remove friction by cutting the number of steps in a process, they also reduce opportunities for human contact and can potentially distance a company from its customers.
It’s therefore vital that when customers do interact with a human, they feel that they are getting something extra, something more personal. When they phone your contact centre, for example, you can take the opportunity to impress them by demonstrating how well you understand their needs and by offering a service that is tailored to those needs.
This type of personal service relies on accurate, up-to-the-second information. Agents need a single customer view, including a history of all transactions, interactions and communications – not forgetting all those anonymous automated and self-service exchanges.
If the customer has been having a chat conversation or an exchange with an AI bot for instance, your agents need to know about it and have access to a transcript so they can pick up exactly where the customer left off. Likewise, if the customer is waiting on a delivery or has lodged a complaint, the agent should have all relevant documentation to hand.
Automation can and should support human interaction, not just reduce it.
3. Don’t lose the flexibility to produce ‘wow’ moments
Companies create their strongest customer advocates when they are able to help people with unusual requests, or exceed their expectations by going beyond the norm. So it’s important that the process of reducing friction does not sacrifice flexibility by introducing a rigidly standardised approach – which can work against staff using their own initiative to deliver excellent service.
Ensure you build in process flexibility to allow staff to do things differently when needed. Technology, training and company culture should all work together to underpin that approach. Customer-facing staff need to know they are trusted to own the customer’s problem and find a way to solve it, and won’t be sanctioned for bending the rules a little.
Training should focus on knowledge and empowerment – making the most of your agents’ personalities and humour – rather than always adhering to rigid scripts. You also need to ensure that customer feedback is used positively to support staff learning and development.
Done well, a frictionless strategy has the potential to deliver a sea change in customer service, free from the traditional frustrations of form-filling, waiting on calls, and being passed around departments. Technology may be the starting point, but adaptable processes and a ‘can do’ culture are just as important. Most of all it’s essential to leave space for the human touch.
About Lynda Kershaw
Lynda Kershaw is marketing manager at software and services company Macro 4, a division of UNICOM Global. A marketer with over twenty years' experience, Lynda helps organisations use technology to personalise customer interaction, improve customer experience and make a painless transition to digital communications. www.macro4.com