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What kind of experience does your brand create for customers? Is it simple and seamless enough to keep them coming back for more? Or, do they find their experience with your brand frustrating, cumbersome, and time-consuming?
Today, my guest is Roger Dooley, author of Friction, which describes things that prevent customers from having a great experience with companies and their brands. Each year, about $4.6 trillion of merchandise is left abandoned in eCommerce shopping carts. Also, internal friction (i.e., organizational drag) is responsible for $3 trillion in lost productivity.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Eric: Marketers, what does the experience of your brand look like? I know a couple of companies that do this so well, like knock it out of the park. For example, Amazon’s 1-Click Ordering. Oh my goodness. I want it, I got it. One click, done. Love it, do it all the time. What about Uber? After a night with friends, you need a ride home, boom that experience is so seamless, it’s so simple, that I go back to these companies again and again. Now, we can all think of experiences on the other side of the coin, that are frustrating, that take more time that they should, that are more cumbersome than they need to be – as I’m wringing someone’s imaginary neck.
My next guest, Roger Dooley, would call that friction. That’s the name of his book that’s just releasing, Friction. It’s about the drag or what are the things that are preventing us from seamless great experiences with companies. There are $4.6 trillion of merchandise that are left and abandoned e-commerce shopping carts annually. On the flip side, 94% of low-effort customers, meaning those customers who just enjoy their experience – that are seamless, are willing to repurchase something from a company or brand if it’s a great experience.
So much data out there. What about internal frictions? According to Harvard Business Review, there are $3 trillion in lost business productivity in the US due to “organizational drag” or friction. It is all around us, in our customer’s experience, within our marketing teams, and I went digging into all this and really picked at Roger’s brain. It’s a fantastic episode. My name is Eric. I’m the Brand and Buzz Manager here at CoSchedule and host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Can’t wait to introduce you to Roger on another fun episode. Buckle up because it is time to get AMP’ed.
Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I have a fantastic guest on today’s show. As I always do, I try to bring fantastic guests on. If I ever don’t bring a fantastic guest, I know you let me know. But I’m so confident about this one. His name is Roger Dooley, and Roger has a brand new book that is launching in May. It is called Friction. Roger, welcome to the show.
Roger: Hey, Eric. This is fantastic to be here.
Eric: Awesome. I’m excited to have you on. Thanks for the embargoed copy to get a sneak peek at this.
Roger: Maybe once it releases, people boycott it. Now this was […] publicity.
Eric: There you go. I’m pumped to just talk about a lot of the really interesting things you’ve got in this book, some of the main insights that you draw out. I loved to bring on authors that because obviously you poured probably months, if not years into creating this book, so I know and it’s finally time for you to get it out there into the wild. I know you’re super excited about it. I’m excited to introduce my audience to you and this book.
If you could, Roger, I always love to start, but just help our listeners to get know you. What are you passionate about? How did you become an author? And where you’re at today?
Roger: I can’t do a full career history here because that will consume most of our show, but it started off as a young engineer, I worked my way into management, finally senior corporate management. Just as my career was taking off, I chose to bail out and become an entrepreneur.
In the early days of home computers, I co-founded a direct marketing business. I did that for a dozen years or so and moved from there to more of a much more digital realm with some other startups, co-founded a business called College Confidential which became the biggest website in the college-bound space. We sold that to part of the Daily Mail group.
Prolly about 15 years ago now, I saw the areas of neuroscience and marketing coming together. I wasn’t the only one to see that, but I began writing about it and that turned into my first book, eventually, Brainfluence which talked about using neuroscience and behavioral science to market better.
As my thinking memory progressed, I created this little framework called the Persuasion Slide. One of the elements in the slide is friction. If you ever seen a little kid get stuck halfway down a slide because it’s rusty, that’s friction. I realized that was probably the most significant element in any kind of behavior change process. That can be getting somebody to place an order on your website, getting somebody to give up their information to become a lead, it could be even changing a personal habit.
I started thinking about friction and that turned into my book which was oddly enough named Friction. It’s all about how effort, particularly extra effort or unnecessary effort, changes behavior. This is why we have literally trillions of dollars of merchandise abandoned in ecommerce shopping carts every year. It is why, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, US businesses waste $3 trillion a year in what the authors of that study termed ‘organizational drag.’
Drag is another engineering term that is somewhat synonymous with friction and that has to do with wasted effort inside businesses, unnecessary meetings, emails, procedures, reports that nobody reads but take a lot of time to prepare. All those things that require effort. That is not only a waste of productive time, but it hurts team engagement. Nobody likes working on something they know is a waste of time and is not going to serve either the customer or the organization.
Eric: Thanks for the overview there. It’s really interesting. This is definitely something that you were able to pull out and say, “I can probably really expand on this particular topic,” because I would agree, whether it’s friction through your customer experience, whether it’s friction internally, it absolutely is tons of resources that could be wasted.
Your tagline here is The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage. Knowing our listenership, we got marketers that are listening to us, we got entrepreneurs and business owners that are probably experiencing friction, but can you help make it tangible for them? Give them some examples of where they’re experiencing friction. What I’ve gleaned from the book is, how do we use friction to our advantage? How do we alleviate some of that?
Roger: In most cases, it means eliminating. If you’re trying to get a customer or potential customer to do something generally, you want to minimize or completely eliminate friction in the process. Amazon has done a brilliant job at this. Way back in 1997, Jeff Bezos was talking about frictionless shopping when most companies were just thinking about online shopping is a thing then. He saw the potential. In 1998, they patented 1-Click Ordering. At the time, I remember it seemed like a ridiculous thing to patent. How can you patent something where you click a button to place an order? But they defended it at great cost against Barnes & Noble infringing on it and they ended up winning. The patent was determined to be valid. Barnes & Noble had to add an extra click to their check-out process.
Meanwhile, Steve Jobs who had a pretty good handle on what customer’s experience was like, he didn’t mess around. He just licensed it for his new music store. He didn’t fight Amazon. He just said, “Hey, we want to use that,” and they agreed on a license.
That’s one example and Amazon today is about half of all ecommerce. Not in one category but across all categories. A key thing is how easy it is to do business with them not just one-click ordering, although their buttons always are tempting you.
You may have noticed that you’re always logged in on Amazon. You show up at the website, that one-click button is ready for you to click. It doesn’t mean that they have bad security, but they only invoke that security when you’re doing something unusual, like say, shipping something to an address you’ve never shipped to before.
So many companies have this one-size-fits-all policy where you’re logged out after 20 minutes, regardless of what you’re trying to do, even if you’re just looking something up on their site. There’s so much friction on the web, in apps, and that’s why every year $4.6 trillion of merchandise is abandoned in ecommerce shopping carts. Think of all the money that went into that, all the content marketing, the social media marketing, the pay-per-click ads, the SEO, to get customers to the site, to get them all the way to the point of almost buying the product but not getting them across the finish line.
If you look at the reasons why people abandon stuff in shopping carts, almost all of them are friction-related. It’s a complex check-out process. It’s a requirement to set-up an account to buy from them. It’s the unexpected charges at the very end. Things like this that can easily be eliminated, but the companies just don’t do that, and they end up losing because of that.
Eric: That’s a great example. I know you bring up Uber as well as another giant that just made the experience frictionless with everyone who’s used it can attest to that, right?
Roger: The key thing, Eric, is before Uber, nobody really recognized how bad taxis were, how much friction there was in that process because you just accepted it. That’s what happens today, not just in that industry but across all of our businesses. We look at what we’re doing. We look at what the competitors are doing. Unless the competitor is really doing something a lot better, we just assume, “Okay, this about as good as it gets,” without looking back and saying, “How could this be better?”
That’s pretty much what Uber did and just totally demolished the taxi industry. Of course, as is typical, instead of the taxi operators saying, “Wow, these guys have really shown us a better way,” and just like the music industry did with sharing and downloads, they ended up going to court and invoking political allies and so on rather than saying, “Wow, this is a much better experience than we’re offering. Let’s do it.”
Eric: That’s an interesting perspective and that’s a lesson for all of us. If you’re listening right now and you’re in marketing, probably thinking, “What did my customer experience looked like? Do I have points of friction in my process?” We’re all not Amazon and Uberon, unfortunately. Are there any smaller, lesser-known companies that have maybe prospered by mastering that friction mentality?
Roger: There are. One advantage of small companies have is that it is often easier to change processes and the way things are done than a larger company. I do a lot of business with United, fly 100,000 miles a year with them, and I have to admit, the user experience on their website is really sub par. I assume that there actually are pretty good user experience people working in United, but somehow because of either political pull or because there’s so many million lines of legacy code that would have to be changed, they can’t get it done. Small companies can be a lot more nimble and if they see that there is a problem, they can often fix it without massive disruption of what they’re doing themselves.
I do give in the book an example of a small company that decided to compete in a very crowded marketplace, the home and networking market, the home router market. The gentleman, Ram Malsani, who was already a co-founder of a successful business ended up somehow exiting that business without too much to show for. Well, the partners did very well. After litigation, he ended up just saying, “Okay, I’m going to start something different,” and decided to attack the home router marketplace.
That marketplace was dominated by huge players. Cisco, Netgear, multi-billion dollar companies that a little hardware startup could hardly think about taking on. But what he saw was, in that market there was an assumption that a router was a black box that sat on a shelf, with little blinking lights on front and a bunch of holes in the back to plug cables into. The designs may vary little but that’s what all routers look like.
What he saw was that people hated that, especially normal people, perhaps like you and me unless you happen to be a full-time techie. Setting up one of these things required you to use a laptop or some other device, connect to an IP address—first of all, a lot of people don’t even know what an IP address is—then go through all these confusing screens of tech jargon. “What kind of encryption do you want to use?” Really awful experience for normal people. Even he saw that his friends who were experienced technical people, once they have the router configured would avoid touching it for fear that somehow they mess it up and end up having to troubleshoot it for another hour or two.
He saw this as a pain point that wasn’t being addressed and said, “Hey, little screens are getting cheap because everybody’s buying smartphones,” and he decided to put a little color touch screen on the side of the router. People thought it was nuts. “You don’t need that on there. Why would you do that? That adds cost to the product.” But what he saw was that he reduced the setup process from potentially an hour and maybe a call to the tech support, to a process that normal people could do in a few minutes.
He further took advantage of a friction reducer in our friend, Amazon. They make it easy for people to sell stuff. For him to get his product into Best Buy, for example, it would have been really difficult. He have to go to a buyer who already had all the shelf space committed in that category and say, “Okay, we’re brand new. We haven’t really sold much, but we’d like to be there.”
Instead, he went to Amazon where they let him list the product. He started selling them. People started saying, “Holy cow, this thing is easy,” give him five-star reviews in the product category that, because it’s so difficult, usually has pretty bad reviews, maybe an average review of 3½ or something, just because people find it difficult. Not because the products are inherently bad. They’re tough.
He started a virtuous cycle going on where he got good reviews, he rose higher in the rankings, they displayed products, sold more products. Within just a couple of years, he had sold hundreds of thousands of routers in what had been a market totally dominated by giants. What he did was he saw a pain point that they weren’t addressing, and much as Uber did but on a smaller scale, he addressed that pain point and ended up being very successful.
Eric: It’s interesting. We actually just had a previous podcast episode that talked about how sometimes the worst advice can be best practices, because people get in this way of just emulating an experience, like I saw, “Oh, they’re doing a pretty good job, then I’ll just do the same.”
I think there’s opportunity for everyone to think about how do we make this easier? How do we really understand where those friction points are and I think that’s got to be, you kind of talked about, this friction […] culture. How do you start to develop this mindset internally? Maybe it’s a different way of thinking, it’s a different way of analyzing what you’re experience is like. Any thoughts there?
Roger: First of all, it is just becoming aware of it. I started off the book with a promise that I’m going to give the readers a set of friction goggles. By that, I mean after folks read the book or even some of the book, they’re going to start seeing friction where they didn’t see it before. It’s funny because we accept things, we don’t always see friction where it exists.
I was talking to a business that helps companies improve their user experience and they ask, “How many steps are there in your check-out process?” Whether it’s a coder or CMO, they scratch their heads and, “There’s three steps.” When they actually go in and analyze the steps, it’s more like 27 because they’re counting every time you have to click, if you have to scroll, if you have to swipe on a mobile device, they count that as a step, and you got this perception disconnect.
Once you start looking at a process dispassionately, once you start looking at what your users are doing or even what you yourself are doing during the daily course of events, you will start to see these things that aren’t really necessary or that add a little bit of time or a little bit of effort. We’re not talking about effort like rolling a giant boulder up a hill. Effort can be as little as having to scroll and then click a field to put the cursor in the right spot, where proper UX design might just start off with the form field visible and the cursor right where it belongs.
Google does that. They know a bit about friction. In fact, in Google’s success, they are making it easier and easier to find the answers you want, often just by clicking one or two keys because it will make suggestions for you, you don’t have to finish typing the word, and when you get your results, they’re displaying stuff right there. You don’t have to click on a web page, which isn’t really good if you’re hoping for traffic from Google, but from a user standpoint, it minimizes effort.
Once people start seeing it in the customer experience, I found they start seeing it in their own experience inside. I said, “Well, why do we have to fill out these boxes here when nobody’s actually using that data? The benefit of that is that even as the customer experience improves, the internal employee experience improves, which makes people more productive and more engaged.
There’s a huge disengagement problem within businesses where the vast majority of people are just either in some cases actively disengaged as they say or they’re just not very engaged at all. They don’t really care one way or the other. A lot of that is because they see that much of their effort is not really productive, it’s not something that they want to be doing, it’s not serving any greater purpose. The more this wasteful stuff can be eliminated, the more they’ll see their efforts are indeed of value.
Eric: I think it’s good to take a look at, again as marketers, our experience of our customers, every touch point that can increase sales, and then we put all this effort into what our brand might look. But all those touch points and all those experiences really are an extension of our brand.
I think maybe we can do is pivot now because we all work on marketing teams or we’re running the department ourselves, or maybe we’re running the company and we need to be cognizant of customer experience friction but there’s also internal organizational friction. We’ve done all this work to create tools and technology. Hopefully, the goal was to have a productive, streamlined experience internally, but that’s not always the case. We definitely can feel friction internally. Do you have some thoughts around what we can do to remove friction within our own organizations even?
Roger: Yes. Some really simple things that could be done are asking people what they’re doing that is wasting their time because people often can answer and say, “Well, yeah this. Nobody needs this but I have to do it.” Beyond that, just looking for systems that might improve things. It’s important that you’re not just shifting the load.
I had a high-friction expense reporting experience when I did a corporate stint for a few years and it was very time-consuming for both me and for the accounting department. We were submitting a ton of little paper receipts and they were trying to match up these little paper receipts. They went to a system that required the employee submitting the report, to scan or photograph the documents, and then attach and number them or enter them as part of an online reporting system which really streamlined the process for the accounting people because now it’s all organized into one place, no messy little papers to deal with, but actually increased the workload for the employees.
In that respect, you have to be careful of optimizing for one group but not helping another one. But I think having the right rules in place is important. I think the work that you guys do with content marketing, you are in essence friction eliminators. Somebody can do perhaps what you’re doing with spreadsheets and Word documents and such, but it would be a really horrible experience, especially the bigger you get, they wouldn’t scale. To some degree, all good software is friction elimination. People use TurboTax because the IRS forms are horrible.
Eric: It’s true. You bring up the idea of who’s job then is it to focus and eliminate friction. I’ve gone through the process of Kaizen. It’s a Japanese-based concept there in how do you improve and remove waste, et cetera. Again, if I think actionable things, and you did a great job of that in your book of getting actionable ways to go to really start to implement some of this, but where should we start? If you had to give a piece of advice, Roger, like, “I want to start removing some friction,” is there a team or a Board of Friction that I create to do this or do you nominate a stakeholder? Who’s job is to do this and what are the first steps in doing so?
Roger: I guess I’d like to see a day where there’s a Chief Friction Officer or a Chief Friction Elimination Officer in every company. I think it can start at any level. Ideally, top leadership buys into it and they can set-up very simple processes for looking at stuff.
What you don’t want to do is create another high-friction infrastructure in the company, like, “We’re going to have a weekly two-hour meeting to discuss how to eliminate friction.” It’s like, “Let’s eliminate these meetings,” but having a short meeting where people nominate getting rid of stupid rules.
Tom Peters suggest having an anti-Mickey Mouse brigade formed. They basically look for stuff that’s unnecessary the people are doing and try to eliminate it. At some point, management has to buy in. But ideally, even lower-level managers in a large organization can act within their own sphere and hopefully they can add visibility to their stuff.
That’s something that anybody can do. If you see that you’re wasting time on something, then sometimes just bringing it to the attention of a manager, if that manager is all receptive to input from others, will result in the problem being fixed. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen and if you find that you’re in a friction-laden organization and nobody is willing to address the problems, there’s not an easy answer for that.
I guess you could buy copies of the book for the managers, but it might just be that sometimes, if you’re in a work environment that’s toxic because many of the people are somehow not agreeable or obnoxious, at some point you’ll just have to say, “Okay, maybe this environment isn’t great for me,” but hopefully it won’t come to that for most people. Once you point out how something is friction, which is also in the company’s context, a waste of time, a waste of money, usually, that can get somebody’s attention and it can be addressed.
Eric: Conceptually, I get friction. It’s just not a term that you hear too often in an organizational setting. Why do you feel like so many businesses are ignoring the concept of friction and their processes? Is it just because they’re not taking the time to focus on it? Is it they’re emulating too much and copying the existing processes? What do you feel is the biggest roadblocks or preventers or barriers to really focus on removing that friction?
Roger: I think it’s sort of an acceptance of this is the way things are done or this is the way it has to be done. One of the surprising things is in one case, a consultant came in and asked, “Which rules are most problematic here? Which don’t need to be in place but are wasting time, wasting money,” and workers came up with this list, people in the front line, whether it’s was an officer or otherwise, and what they found was that in many cases these supposed rules weren’t even rules. It was just that’s the way it was always been done and people were trained to do it that way.
I’ve got a story in the book about John Padgett who is the leader of the Disney MagicBand project, which is a huge friction eliminator in Disney World and now is doing the same thing at Carnival Cruises. I was actually out there at the Innovation Center a couple of weeks ago and they have mocked up an entire cruise experience from getting checked-in on land and so on to simulate it.
One thing that always drives me crazy about getting on a ship is if you’re going to fill up this stupid little form that ask you if you had any GI-type illness in the last 24 hours. They don’t want people bringing more virus on and this can’t be predone. It has to be done in person using a pen and paper on site. You’ve got maybe a couple of thousand or maybe even more passengers trying to board the ship and they’re all having to fill out this piece of paper when actually zero are going to say, “Yes, I have had these symptoms,” because that will mean they’re not to go on the cruise.
He gets to say, “We are we taking friction out of every element in the process,” so I said, “How do you eliminate that process?” He said, “We’ve done it. It was easy. It turned out that wasn’t a legal requirement. It was just being done.” So he said, “We can stop doing it.” That was all it took in that case, just a recognition that there was this massive amount of wasted effort and really a diminished customer experience for something that was not only not a legal requirement but served no practical purpose because nobody was going to say, “Oh yes, I’m ill right now.” I would guess a lawyer came up with that idea saying, “Well, if people certify they’re not ill, then we’re not liable even they were.” They said, “Okay, we do not need this. It’s not helping anybody. Get rid of it.” I think we all have things like that in our businesses.
Eric: That’s super fresh. I was just on a Disney cruise, so I definitely relate into your story about filling that out and talking. It is kind of thinking do that experience of boarding the ship. Tons of friction definitely there. I love that I did, too. I’ve done some brainstorming sessions where the first thing we started is like, “What do you feel like is the most stupid rule or process at your organization? If you could just remove one right now with a snap of a finger, which one would it be?” I always get really good conversation about whatever that process or that rule is or that step is, and it goes, “How are we doing that?” and there’s always some deep reason why. It a good exploration. Great advice there. I appreciate that, Roger.
I have to ask this. I’m always blown away at how authors immerse themselves in experience and do their research. Is it true that you use your dog in some friction experiments? What is this all about, Roger?
Roger: Yes, it was to illustrate the difference between motivation and friction. Scientists, particularly BJ Fogg says that you have a couple of factors. You’ve got motivation and friction. It operate in opposition to each other, which is not dissimilar to the physical world where you can push something in one direction, but if there’s friction it will resist that.
I tried three ways of feeding my dog. One in a regular dog bowl which is just like a bowl where you put food in. Another is a slow feeder bowl. It’s a bowl but it’s got something like grooves and valleys in it so that the dog has to work harder to get the food out from in between. You can’t just gulp it down in a few seconds which my dog does. He’s a very fast eater, shall we say. And then the third condition was what’s called a treat bowl which is a round bowl with a couple of holes in it that you can food in. In order to get the food out, the dog’s got to roll it around, squeeze it and shake it. It’s a pretty high-effort experience and I timed it.
The simple bowl took 30 seconds, the slow feeder bowl took 2½ minutes and the treat bowl took him 10 minutes to consume the same amount of food. It was 20 times the effort but the interesting thing was in case was he ate all of the food. It didn’t matter how hard he had worked for it, but my point is that your customers are not dogs. If you make them work a little bit harder, they will go someplace else. It’s that simple. You cannot count on them like my dog go doing whatever it takes to get their food. They will make a different choice.
Then one other follow-on experiment, I divided the food into three and lined them up side-by-side so he had any of the three that he could start with. Even though he was somewhat immuned to friction in eating all the food, when he had the choice, he picked the easiest one first, then went to the next easiest, and then finally went to the difficult one and carried it off to get worked on. So, even he was not entirely immune to friction. He chose the easy to snack first.
Eric: Love it. No dogs were harmed in the making of this book. Instead, they were given treats and food. I love it. That’s great stuff. I love that kind of experimentation and there’s some really real-life application. Appreciate that.
Well, Roger, our time’s up but I know your book is launching so congratulations again on that. If our listeners want to get their hands in it, they want to learn more about the Friction book, where should they go, Roger?
Roger: The best shopping off point is rogerdooley.com where I’ve got links to my various blogs, my column at Forbes, and so on, as well as the books. Of course, Friction is or will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all the other places where you can find books.
Eric: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Roger, I appreciate it, really fun exploring Friction and I think definitely something we all should really think strategically about. I love that you gave us some really good nuggets to take away and start to think about and apply right now. Thanks for your time, Roger, and again congrats on the book.
Roger: Thank you, Eric. It’s been a lot of fun.
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