Are your customers in for a bumpy ride?

I can tell you exactly when I swore off wooden rollercoasters. It was mere seconds into my last ride on the Coney Island Cyclone. The constant jerking, bumping, and shaking seemed to go on forever. As soon as I placed my feet on solid ground, I swore I’d never do it again. It had been a few years since I’d been on any sort of coaster, and I’d forgotten the huge difference between wooden and steel. No matter how harrowing the turns, twists and loops, steel coasters at least offer a smooth ride. That experience made one thing clear: when barreling along a track at 60-plus mph, friction is bad.

It’s also bad in business.

It was a recent comment by tech venture capitalist Roger McNamee that made me recall the pains associated with that day at the amusement park. In a discussion about how we should be developing technology that makes our lives easier, he said the goal is to “take the friction out of the system.” His example was POS. Currently, any time you want to shop at a new online store, your excitement at procuring your find hits a speed bump at the store’s checkout system, which requires you to create an account, enter your credit card information and provide your mailing address. McNamee foresees a time when he’ll be able to zoom through this process by using a universal login on his smartphone. And as a brand with ecommerce or an online store, you should be championing this convenience too since according to SeeWhy, 7 out of 10 transactions are abandoned at the shopping cart stage. It’s a great example of how one little friction point can derailed sales.

And POS is just one example of how your business can go off track. Companies unwittingly disincentivized their customers all the time. The good news is, in most cases, we don’t need to wait for a technological breakthrough to solve the problems. We can grease the wheels to increased sales by simply thinking like our customers and closing the gap between how our businesses function and how our customers wish our businesses functioned.

Here’s a recent real-world example for you. I’m currently in the process of redecorating my living room. Picking colors and a theme has been fun. Finding the pieces to bring this vision to life has been less so—and this quest has been further complicated by underwhelming customer service. Since I’m not often in the market for housewares, I’ve been buying from retailers I’ve never dealt with before. One in particular has shockingly bad service, which I learned after buying a pillow that online looked like the answer to my decorating dilemma but in person detracted from the look I was going for. I had to call (call!) their customer service twice (twice!) to get the return information for my item. Two phone calls? Really?

Talk about a bumpy experience. Had this store simply included a preprinted return label in my delivery, I could have avoided the rough ride through their customer service department. Instead, they allowed the friction points in this interaction to spark my ire. And, needless to say, the likelihood that I’ll ever shop there again took a huge nosedive the minute I had to pick up the phone a second time.

So, with this in mind, look at your business from your customers’ standpoint. Are you unnecessarily jerking them around? How easy or difficult is it to work with your brand? What if a retailer simply needs to place a reorder or a consumer needs fit info? How many steps do they have to take in order to get answers to common questions? Remember, even the smallest hurdles could be enough to turn consumers off.

Take a spin through your processes, marketing collateral, web site and social media. Are you using each to its best advantage? The less convenient you are to work with, the less likely you’ll close the sale or retain the customer. And conversely, the smoother the system, the more willing they’ll be to come along for the ride. —Caletha Crawford

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