Friction is a force that acts against forward movement. It creates noise, it creates heat, it transforms the kinetic energy of forward motion into something else. Friction is something that takes energy and effort to overcome, and when an object is at rest, can add to the inertia to make it harder to get things moving.
It seems like this is just physics, but it is also the underlying problem of so many businesses. Without even realising it they are adding friction to their business processes and slowing down performance. Friction that is converting positive energy into unwanted byproducts, and requiring massive amounts of additional effort to be put in by customers and staff to overcome the inertia that this friction generates.
Simply put, a customer experiences ‘friction’ every time the process of doing business with you is slowed or impeded by your rules, habits or inefficiencies.
Or a staff member experiences ‘friction’ every time their efforts to advance the business are impacted by rules, culture, ineffective processes or politics.
Decreasing friction always serves as a competitive advantage, regardless of the market conditions.
Consider when a customer does business with you:
- How hard is it for a customer to place an order?
- What about getting a refund?
- How hard is it to find and interact with a knowledgeable staff member in the store?
- What payment options or delivery processes are not available for that customer?
So many sales are lost because the customer encounters ‘friction’. The simple act of being slowed, and having their forward purchasing momentum halted can be enough to lose you significant business. Even ‘inspired’ customers can be worn down and lost by unnecessary friction that you add to the system.
Take a moment and reconsider your business from the customer perspective:.
- Where do you encounter friction?
- Where is the process not inspirational or seamless?
- Where does the customer have to ‘work’ to get to spending their money, rather than flowing effortlessly forward?
Friction builds over time
Most of the time, we set up our processes and systems to be effective – and then times and circumstances change. Not keeping up is like letting sand build up on the tracks. Without doing anything, friction increases over time. “Sorry sir, I don’t accept Apple Pay”. “No, Madam, we don’t do delivery in 24 hours”. “I’m sorry, if you want to speak to a consultant, you will have to wait 45 minutes, because we are busy”.
What was ‘acceptable’ in terms of business practice and process change. What your customer expects changes. What they (and you) are capable of also changes. And yet, as you stay fixed and your customers move, all of a sudden significant ‘friction’ has evolved in your business. Being open to noticing friction building up in your business, and actively pursuing ways to remove it, is critical to evolving.
So often people want to do good for your company, however there is so much ‘friction’ they are kept entirely in the status quo. We destroy all the forward momentum and turn it into heat and noise. Think about the processes, rules, culture and politics in your business. Imagine if a junior employee had a ground breaking idea – how hard would it be for it to be accepted and approved? If a customer service rep wanted to make life easier for an important client, how much latitude do they have to do that?
Over time, there are so many points of friction that unconsciously evolve in businesses (mainly through ‘fear and habit’ – “We cant do that”, and “we have never done it that way”….) that they become ‘black holes’ absorbing all the positive energy of its staff.
Culture and politics are key aspects of ‘invisible friction’, whilst your processes structure and policy manual are very visible ones. How long has it been since you have really checked where the friction lies inside your business?
What you can do:
Take a moment and consider your business – not from your normal point of view, but from the standpoint of a customer or staff. Where does the ‘friction’ lie that stops forward momentum, and requires ‘work’ to get things moving? Now take another moment and consider what would happen if that friction was removed?
Often the key to a great business is not what you add, but rather what you can remove.
Remove friction, and see what a frictionless business can achieve.
If you want to find out more about removing friction from either side of your business, then contact Phil Owens of The Bigger Game, now.