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Reducing Customer Friction During a Pandemic


Any customer experience professional can tell you that a key to business success is reducing or eliminating points of friction for your customers. It’s really a pretty simple concept. Any obstacle or inconvenience between your customer and completing a sale is a point at which your customer could abandon their purchase...or in fact their entire relationship with your business.


In ‘ordinary’ times waiting in line could be a source of frustration. In the era of COVID-19, having your customers wait in line could expose them and your staff to a dangerous illness.


There’s no single answer for what it will take for you to keep your customers safe and your business healthy, but the saying goes “luck favors the prepared”; and Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Many business will not survive the impact of this pandemic, and there are no guaranties that innovative solutions will work. It's safe to say though that these are not ordinary times, and ordinary measures will not suffice.


We’ve outlined some of the common brick-and-mortar friction points and ways you might reduce or eliminate them.


1. Potential friction point---waiting to enter business:


While some organizations are almost known for having long lines (e.g. the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office), managing a customer queue is a new phenomenon for many businesses. While all business facilities have had capacity limits (usually set by the fire marshal), few retail establishment (barring the hip new nightclub in town) generally enjoy level of popularity; and therfore aren't used to managing it.


Enter new restricted capacity limitations and social distancing ordinances.


Now many small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and large enterprise organizations are having to actively monitor the number of people in their establishment---as well as additional customers waiting to enter---and in so doing are occasionally incurring a customer queue.


The Journal of Consumer Behaviour study on Customer's perceived value of waiting time for service events states that the pre-process cycle has the greatest influence on how customers perceive waiting times and service quality.


Ways to smooth:

  • Smart mobile queuing: [Disclaimer: We’re a bit biased, because we have developed and market a smart mobile queuing app www.SafeW8.com.] Allowing your customers to wait in line virtually---and comfortably nearby---can provide a boost to customer satisfaction, while improving your customer’s and staff’s safety, and improving your customer load balancing.

Smart mobile queuing works by letting your customers join a ‘virtual’ line via their smart mobile phone. Your customers don’t need to be physically present until it’s their turn to enter the business.

  • Service your customers before they even get to your place of business: Even if your products lend themselves to an ‘in-store’ and/or local experience, there is an opportunity to complement the sales process with online information. Helping to walk your customers through the shopping process online can help reduce their time spent on site and interacting with your sales staff. Expediting the decision process with online information (even if you don’t implement full e-commerce capabilities) can reduce your customer’s time in the store, and can allow for better customer throughput.

2. Potential friction point---understanding product/making purchase decision:


Let’s face it, some products are more difficult to shop for than others. If the products you sell involve: try on, technical complexity, or an experiential component, the ‘in-store’ experience might be a vital component of the shopping experience.


Ways to smooth:

  • Supplemental online information: Informing your customers about their options prior to them visiting your business can help expedite the time needed within your business space.

  • Singular shopper navigation: Well before the current pandemic, IKEA home furnishing stores implemented a system whereby customers are directed through the stores in a specific route and in a single direction. This system provided multiple benefits pre-COVID, and arguably more now:

  1. More relaxed shopping environment.

  2. More efficient shopping. Customers are routed by all merchandise and then directly to the cashier. They spend less time aimlessly wandering the store.

  3. More customers can be routed through the business during the hours of operation.

  4. As customers are routed by items only once (generally) customers are more psychologically prepared to buy items when they have the chance.

This approach could be implemented in the COVID-19 era to ease customer shopping stress, improve social distancing safety, and make businesses run more smoothly.


3. Potential friction point---transaction processing/checking out (paying, bagging, etc.):


By the time you’ve gotten someone to the register they are pretty committed to the purchase, but you still have an opportunity to delight or disappoint them with the experience. It would be a mistake to think of this process as purely ‘transactional’ and not as a customer service opportunity. This may be a good time to rethink your traditional processes now, with heightened sense of safety. Perhaps a fee that you had discouraged you before may be more justified if it makes your customers feel (and actually be) safer. It maybe a good time to examine your POS system.


Ways to smooth:

  • Seamless payment: There are a lot of good payment solutions available these days, and many factors to consider. Key elements to consider from the standpoint of reducing customer friction (and improving safety) are speed, and contactless.


4. Potential friction point---post transaction processes (product pickup, etc.)


Some businesses require pickup after purchase (e.g. items that need preparation, assembly, or alteration). In many businesses this is an afterthought. While some effort may be made to smoothing the process up to the purchase, businesses often overlook the impact this last step has on overall customer satisfaction. In fact, it’s our opinion that a company which inadvertently communicates that customer service only matters up to the point where they collect the money is short sighted and not putting enough emphasis on repeat purchases and long term customer loyalty. Removing friction at this point can certainly help build the long term loyalty that most businesses will need to survive turbulent times.


Ways to smooth:

  • Smart mobile queuing with pickup notification: By notifying your customers when their product/order is ready, and communicating with them throughout the process, you increase the likelihood of completing the transaction with a satisfied or even delighted customer. Utilizing a location aware app (so you know when they are approaching your business) can help you be prepared to wow them on arrival.


Hopefully this customer journey method of looking at potential customer friction points in your business process is helpful. Are there other friction points that you think need ‘smoothing’?


Please let us know your thoughts in the comments; and follow us via the social media links below.

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Why we started SafeW8

Our mission at Amberjack Labs is to build apps to make the world a better place. When we realized that COVID-19 was shaping up to be a serious global pandemic we turned our energies to figuring out ho