Friction occurs when two things come in contact with one another. In UX, it occurs when the customer interacts with the interface. Ideally, this experience is smooth and effortless. The reality, as we know, is that unnecessary friction occurs smoking, heating up and even burning the customer. Sometimes, so much heat it drives customers away. They bounce. They don’t buy. They abandon. The expectation is a smooth, seamless, and effortless experience. Experience that create positive emotional connections and the happy endorphins that go with them. And, unfortunately, customers are quick to move on if the heat is too much.
That is why we need to be hyper focused on eliminating friction and improving the entire experience. But this requires a tight integration of all the critical disciplines to collaborate in addressing customer friction — analytics, research, development, design, strategy, etc. Design often leads the charge with the recent rise of design thinking methodologies. And, there is also a growing recognition on Design (big D) and its effect on the bottom line and organizational structures. Design has moved beyond its traditional or aesthetic focus and is now recognized for its ability to thoughtfully and intentionally organize, structure, and present complex systems focused on customers.
Designing happy endings, not mysteries.
One tool to help identify points of friction is the customer journey. This is their story of all the interactions — positive and negative — experienced while interacting along the journey. Hopefully, we’re designing happy endings and not mysteries or thrillers. And, most of us can relate to confusion or concerns as we’ve interacted with various products and sites.
Typical story structures and customer journeys share many similar events and emotions along the way. Even within phases of a customer journey there often are “short stories” that need resolution before the journey can continue. Usually, a story begins with an opening that engages, orients and sets the context. A series of decisions or crises arises that resolve along the way until arrival at the climax. The climax is ultimate emotional peak of the journey. It may be a decision to buy. It may be a submittal of information. It may just be a decision that completes the ultimate task. The journey concludes with a satisfying resolution and emotional buzz.
This is a great framework for writers to create the next epic movie, but how can it address friction in the experience? Well, we need to uncover and understand both the overall story as well as all the “short stories” that occur throughout the customer journey. We need to pinpoint the pain points. Fortunately, we have a suite of user research methodologies ranging from behavioral and attitudinal to qualitative and quantitative to help identify them. But which ones work best? Well, there is no silver bullet to killing off pain points. But in my experience, I’ve found that there is a silver stew. Generally, an integration of these methodologies applied constantly over time can help build out the customer journey and identify the pain points to remove. And, as more and more data are uncovered, sophisticated data analytics, predictive modeling, and AI capabilities can then be applied to further optimize the customer journey.
The journey is always different. Customers and the journeys they take constantly changes over time requiring continual monitoring. A major driver of these changes is, of course, technology. As it evolves, the journey evolves. Swipe, tap, hover, and other touch interactions enhanced how we interact. Gesture interactions have taken touch into 3D space. And, the rise in sophistication of voice technology eliminated the pain point of keying in information. Bio-metrics are also creating experiences customized or relevant to the specific customer. A side benefit of these interactions is they also make them more human (and humane) creating emotional connections and experiences. The application of these real and emotional human interactions will help break down the pain and the friction that occurs as customers attempt to interact with a flat 2D interface. The world is multi-dimensional, and our interactions and experiences should be as well.
Spark joy, not friction
It is not surprising that Marie Kondo and her cult of tidying up has taken over our lives with such sweet fervor. The evil partner of friction is clutter. We have bloated screens and apps. We have over-integration of features. We have a jungle of links to navigate. These do not spark joy. Joy is what we seek in our interactions. Joy is the reason we will return for more. Joy is the ultimate journey. Removing clutter also aligns with one of the foundational tenets of modern design – simplification.
But friction is not all bad. Sometimes friction is a good tool to use for slowing down the customer to ensure data is entered correctly, terms are acknowledged, or destructive interactions are clearly understood. Although, I appreciate that Mail Chimp requires me to type out DELETE in all caps whenever I want to remove a list or contact, it still drives me nuts. Customers tend to ignore friction if they are ultimately getting what they want. Like relationships, if we have built up enough investment and value in them, we tend to ignore the dirty dishes of the experience.
Friction and pain points are not going to go away. As long as humans interact with things, we’re going to find some pain and a lot friction. We need to constantly identify, refine, and optimize to eliminate pain and friction along the customer journey. We can also use friction as a catalyst for innovation. Identify the hot spots and use them as opportunities to improve the experience. In our inter-connected digital world, this requires a constant, multi-disciplinary focus on friction to create positive, emotional experiences for our customers.