What Happens When all the Friction has Gone?

The quick answer of course is that you slide right off.

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I am fascinated by the continuing questions of what is the collective result of us making logical individual decisions that make economic sense. Adam Smith of course would say that this is the invisible hand of the market where we all benefit from everyone acting in their own self interest.

I am constantly telling clients and conference attendees that they need to remove the friction in relation to their interaction with customers and stakeholders. Through our level of connectedness and the developments in mobile technology we are training a generation of people that they can get what they want now. Want to be reading a book? Search on Amazon and it can be on your reading device before you board the plane. Want a TV show, click on your Netflix app, want to reach someone call them on their mobile. The list goes on and on.

Friction is anything that gets in their way about the capacity to do something, and especially if they have made a decision to act rather than just browsing. This is both a customer retention strategy and a talent retention strategy. If inside your organisation people cannot get the same level of capacity to do stuff they can in their daily lives they are less likely to stay.

It is  a clear economic benefit to reduce friction and increase the likelihood that someone will buy your products or services or will stay with your organisation. There are clear first mover advantages but the question is what happens when we have all done it and response time is down to milliseconds.

My thinking on this today was prompted by an article in MIT Technology Review:

Buy buttons are coming to Pinterest and will reinvent online commerce, the company claims.

The article describes the possibility of you seeing a recipe on Pinterest that you like and the capacity for you to click on a buy button that will buy the ingredients on Instacart which has a one hour delivery service. That theoretically means if you feel like it you can scan for recipes on your train trip home, click on the buy button and have the ingredients delivered for you to make dinner. This all makes sense from an logical economic part from Pinterest who will obviously make a cut for that transaction. If you see the recipe and leave the site without making a buy decision they get nothing. There are a number of other implications to this as well:

  • It is likely to be higher margin business for both Pinterest and Instacart (and other providers that participate) because your purchase is partly an impulse buy and you are not comparing prices.
  • It is aimed at the time poor consumer as much as anybody. You may have planned to shop on the way home but a late client call or an unexpected meeting with your boss had delayed you so this service provides a way for you to deal with this problem.
  • It means that the competition to attract and retain platform users for this sort of business is likely to get even more brutal. Accessing those high margin customers who may contribute 80% of your net profit will be vital.
  • Tracking and data profiling of the customers will become even more important and probably more invasive.

More and more organisation are going to be heading down this path in order to reduce any barriers for their customers.

So back to my original question.

Once everyone has removed every possible friction with customers it ceases to be a key competitive advantage. In my work with clients on business models we differentiate between survive competencies and thrive competencies. The survive competencies are the ones that you need to have just to play in the game. Thrive competences are the ones that will grow your organisation and its success. Over time many thrive competencies transfer into the survive category. A sort of commoditisation process. My work is partly about helping people think what the future will look like so they can refine their strategy and allocate resources. Lack of friction will no longer differentiate you in the future.

So what should you do:

  • First of all by all means continue to work on removing friction. It will give you short term advantage the faster you do it and you will need it just to survive in the future.
  • Think through the sorts of organisations and platforms that are likely to capture the attention of your high margin customers or your key stakeholders. You will need to figure out how to maximise your presence there while minimising your dependence on them. If you give up your key contact to the customer to someone else you are handing over power. If you have arrangements with them like Instacart might have with Pinterest make sure that you are in a position to collect customer data.
  • Think through how you support and maintain contact with those customers who are the ones that will promote your business and recommend your product. You may even want to support them establishing profiles on sites like Pinterest.
  • Concentrate on the one enduring competency. Delighting the customer. Removing friction will help that but in the end it is the experience that the customer (in the widest possible sense of the word) has with your product or service that counts.

Tell me what you think

Paul Higgns


Why Would You Publish a Book About the Future Without a Kindle Version? (or another ebook version)

Or why you have to remove all possible friction in your customer’s buying decisions

I went to Amazon to look at purchasing James Howard Kunstler’s new book yesterday after seeing a couple of recommendations from people in my social network that I trust.:

Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation

As far as I could tell there was only the hard cover version.

I don’t know about everyone else but I have stopped buying non fiction print version books.

That has happened for two reasons.

The first is convenience. I now carry an iPad almost everywhere I go and the Kindle application works fantastically well. For non fiction books the opportunity to dip back into them and find notes that I have made is important for my work and thinking. I am also constantly referring to my favourite books and authors and the convenience of being able to open up the iPad and show people the book is a nice thing to do.

The second is the ability to make a purchase decision when I want to and have the product straight away. Particularly for the non fiction books that I purchase it is highly unlikely that they will be available locally. Therefore I have to order them in which can take quite a while. The Amazon system is great in terms of being able to order and download immediately.

The fact that I could not get the book straight away means my attention has gone away from it and I may never return. I am constantly talking to clients and in my keynote presentations that they are not competing with their standard competitors any more. Now that my attention (and my money) has gone somewhere else it might not be focused on a different book, it might be focused on backing a Kickstarter project, or making a charitable donation, or buying a new music album. The demands for my attention are myriad and are coming from all sorts of places that were not there 5 years ago.

So why would you publish a book without an easily obtainable electronic version in this day and age. All you are doing is putting an obstacle in my way of buying your product. The same applies to lots of other product and service offerings. In a modern world you cannot afford to do that for long.

Paul Higgins

ps: I still buy printed versions of fiction books because I like the idea of reading in bed with a book and the same on planes for take-off and landings. We are all dinosaurs in some part of our behaviour!