Do you really want to create a frictionless customer experience?

Amazon Go

One of the items rising up the customer experience agenda at the moment is the objective of creating a frictionless experience.

Now, I’m a fan of removing the ‘grit’ from the customer’s experience. You know…the little things that makes things hard or uncomfortable.

But, to completely remove all the ‘friction’ from the customer experience?

Is that wise?

Consider a few examples:

  • Digital design agency, Huge, is developing a coffee shop concept based on a new “anticipatory design” philosophy, which concentrates on designing and delivering products and services that essentially eliminate choice and focus on delivering “flow not friction,” “convenience not choice,” and “efficiency not freedom”. The coffee shop, on the ground floor of their offices in Atlanta, works like this: baristas are alerted by a piece of technology, like an Apple Watch, when a customer nears the store, they then commence making the customer’s favourite and usual drink and then hand it to them as they approach the counter. Payment is then taken automatically via the customer’s credit or debit card details that are stored on the system.
  • This is a similar idea to Amazon Go, Amazon’s new convenience-store concept that they are testing in Seattle. It is currently only open to Amazon employees but they are expecting to open it up to the public in the early part of this year. In their concept, Amazon is using sensors and other technology to automatically detect when a customer picks up or returns products to shelves, whilst keeping track of ‘taken’ items in a virtual shopping cart. When a customer is done shopping, they can then just leave the store and they will be then be automatically charged via their Amazon account.
  • Ida Auken, a Member of Parliament in the Danish Parliament, wrote a piece for the World Economic Forum recently called “Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better”. In the piece which looks further into the near future, she talks about shopping and it’s death. She goes on to say “Shopping? I can’t really remember what that is. For most of us, it has been turned into choosing things to use. Sometimes I find this fun, and sometimes I just want the algorithm to do it for me. It knows my taste better than I do by now.”

These examples are fascinating and I am sure there are others.

Moreover, they might be friction free but where is the lasting and meaningful experience?

Let’s re-consider Huge’s coffee shop concept. Yes, at first, it will be novel. But, then will it become routine? Will it then be in danger of becoming forgettable and subject to competition from someone or something that will offer to do it faster or better or cheaper. And, once the baristas are replaced by robots, like in the case of Cafe X, will it not become no more than a 21st century vending machine?

So, if we eliminate all of the ‘friction’ do we not eliminate the opportunity to create a meaningful and lasting experience?

After all, what is experience if not the opportunity to create a series of memories? As Morris Pentel, the Chairman & Founder of the Customer Experience Foundation, says: “Experience ends in memory”.

If frictionless customer experience is to be the new norm will that not put us inexorably on the path to convenience and price competition?

Now, that may be OK for someone with the deep pockets of Amazon. But, for others?

Surely, the point of investing in, developing and improving customer experience is to differentiate ourselves and stave off price competition.

 

 

 

This article was originally published on my Forbes.com column here.
Photo Credit: Seattle Department of Transportation Flickr via Compfight cc

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