Stop Promising Frictionless CX: An Homage to the Sage Advice of Sara Feldman and Vanilla Ice

Stop Promising Frictionless CX: An Homage to the Sage Advice of Sara Feldman and Vanilla Ice

At a recent meeting for the Consortium for Service Innovation’s ongoing initiative, Understanding Success by Channel, Sara Feldman executed a one-two punch at claims of “frictionless” or “seamless” CX that had me cheering in my seat.

To paraphrase, Sara said that we need to get real about providing a frictionless experience because they are impossible to provide. Further, Sara advised being cautious about the language we choose to describe our desired customer outcomes. If we promise the impossible, we lose credibility. Our words cease to have meaning. Our promises are empty.

Friction here is synonymous with Effort. At the foundation of Sara’s argument is the question of effort and whether it makes sense to eliminate it from our customers’ experiences. Does it not stand to reason that if a customer is knocking on your self or assisted-service door, they’ve already experienced friction? More than likely, they were either unable to accomplish a task because they didn’t understand how to do it, or they encountered an issue that prevented them from completing it.

Isn’t reaching out to a business an effort in itself? And don’t we want our customers to come to us when they have an issue?

In a follow-up piece that Sara published in her LinkedIn newsletter, Cross-Functional CX, she added a third dimension to the argument:

“Effort isn’t inherently negative! Especially in business environments, the effort can signify specialty skills or other types of value. We can aim to lower cognitive load for low-value activities such as wayfinding or making the best choice while leaving space for effort where it adds value to the customer.”

With these statements, the Education arms of organizations everywhere are not only cheering in their seats; they are jumping up and down. And who among us, with the purest of intentions, hasn’t inadvertently made it impossible to go to the right place at the right time to find information that the customer needs?

If friction, or effort, is unavoidable, and in some cases desirable, and we want our customers to come to us for help, then let’s provide an experience that is worth the effort. Let’s make sure that, when effort is required, it will lead to something that the customer wants, rather than to confusion and frustration.

So how, you ask, do we accomplish this goal? By temporarily transitioning from Sara Feldman to the wisdom of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby;” though, instead of “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen,” we will Stop, Listen, and Collaborate (because you need to listen before you take action). The transposition ruins the funky flow, but it’s sage advice for businesses who want to retain their customers. And if you sprinkle in steps for evaluating, measuring, and iterating, it’s as exhilarating as a convertible ride down a beach highway.

Step 1: Stop

It’s in the title, but it bears repeating. Stop making claims about frictionless/seamless/effortless experience. It’s unachievable and arguably dishonest. If your product makes a task go more quickly, reduces the likelihood of error, or enables a physical or mental feat that a human simply could not manage alone, then it will be worth the effort to learn how to use it. Similarly, if the user gets stuck, the promise of what your product will do for them will make seeking a solution to move past the obstacle worthwhile.

Step 2: Evaluate & Measure

Identify where in your customer journey you’re creating friction and whether that friction is worth the effort. If it’s too overwhelming to think about documenting ALL the friction points, pick the top 10 things that customers most often do (and even the top things they would like to do) in your product, the top 10 things they search for and navigate to in your Support Portal or Community, and the top 10 issues for which they create cases. Turning the call to action above into a question, ask yourself if the effort ultimately leads to a desirable outcome, such as easily finding the answer to a question or the solution to an issue, or does it lead to confusion and frustration, say, because the answer is nowhere to be found?

When you have these friction points mapped out, put numbers on them.

  • How much effort are you requiring of your customers?
  • How often are they prohibited from using your product because of defects or limited functionality?
  • What percent of the time does the content customers search for surface in the top 3 results?
  • If navigating instead of searching, can popular content be found in 1-2 clicks?
  • How many issues must a support agent handle, either because content doesn’t exist or because the issue can’t be self-served? How much is this potentially costing the business?
  • How many resolutions to issues could be automated, but aren’t?

Equally important is understanding what friction points you don’t have insight into.

  • Do you know what you don’t know?
  • Which activities can’t be tracked?
  • What value can’t be measured?

Finally, taken with Step 1, Step 2 scans delightfully with the original Vanilla Ice lyric and restores the funky flow of this framework. But I digress.

Step 3: Listen

Now that you’ve acknowledged the reality of Effort and have baselined your Customer Experience against it, reach out to your customers to hear from them firsthand.

  • What are they proud of at work?
  • What mandates have they received from the business?
  • What challenges are they encountering trying to meet their goals?
  • Are you making their work lives easier, and more difficult?

The crucial point here is that the conversation must be about the customer. If you focus on them and actively listen, you will have a better understanding of who you’re serving, the jobs they’re doing, and how you can help, both with your product offerings and your Self-service and Assisted Support experiences.

Step 4: Collaborate

Compare what you found in your own evaluation to your customers’ expectations and needs. Create a plan to help meet them. The plan will inevitably involve multiple functions across your organization, such as Product, Business Systems, Content Teams, Marketing, Success, and Support.

The outcomes will be as follows:

  • Minimized “bad” effort
  • Increased product and self-service value

Align your plan with C-suite objectives to ensure you have support at the highest level. Relay the product challenges and ideas to the product team and get a ballpark on where the improvements might fall on their roadmap.

Pick 2-3 metrics that will help you tell the story. When you implement improvements, leverage marketing, success, and support to get the word out and drive traffic to the new experiences.

Step 5: Iterate

It goes without saying that CX improvement projects are never done. Monitor your numbers and make adjustments as needed. Address the next most pressing friction points on the list, and broadcast customer-driven product improvements far and wide! Again, Marketing, Success, and Support will be instrumental here.


Thank you for rollin’ with me! Moving forward – which is made possible by the force of friction – let us be honest about Effort and try for experiences that minimize the frustration and highlight the value.