Adding friction to a user experience can help your customers

Adding friction to a user experience can help your customers

One of the mantras often quoted when building a customer experience is to “remove the friction”. The theory is anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to completing the task at hand should be removed. The result is conversions and engagement levels will rise as there are fewer things standing between the customer and their chosen goal.

The vast majority of the time I’ll agree with this. We should work hard to design experiences for customers that flow and reduce the barriers between what they need to achieve and how we’ll support them in achieving it.

However…

There are times when adding friction becomes necessary or even desirable. Including additional steps in a flow or asking for a confirmation before the next step takes place can create a sense of reassurance that personal data is being protected and actions are being carefully considered. For example, on contactless payment cards after a certain number of payments in a day the customer is asked to enter their PIN. Although this can seem disruptive it provides both a check against fraud and reassurance to the customer their account is being protected.

Friction can also help when a disruptive business model is being built. Incorporating elements from “the old world” offer familiarity that can ease the customer into the new way of thinking. A B2B lender encountered this when its big data model allowed it to approve commercial loans in a few seconds of the customer submitting their application. Feedback indicated this felt uneasy (some even reported they wondered if it was a scam) as taking out a loan is an important decision for the business owner and they expected a lender to carefully consider their application.

Friction can also help when a disruptive business model is being built. Incorporating elements from “the old world” offer familiarity that can ease the customer into the new way of thinking.

Removing friction can also have negative effects, leading a business open to being a victim of abuse. Ashley Madison allowed people to use its service without verifying their email addresses, which has led to claim and counter claim around who was using their site. A little friction in the process would have prevented people from adding addresses they didn’t have access to.

I am not advocating incorporating friction into an experience to satisfy internal needs for ever more information or to incorporate “the way we’ve always done it”. Nor am I suggesting deliberately including unnecessary steps to punish the customer or prevent them from exiting a relationship. What I am suggesting is where there is a clear need to reassure the customer incorporating some carefully considered frictional elements could be considered.

Clearly our objective should be to make the entire experience for customers a smooth one and to remove barriers to being able to achieve their objectives. When we do this, however, we should remember that a little well placed friction could benefit both customer and our businesses.

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