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Five Forms of Friction Fighting

Five proven techniques to follow a frictionless strategy


In our last paper we argued that removing friction for customers was a great strategy for most businesses. In this paper we look at the types of friction fighting strategies that can be used, once you understand the friction to address and who to hold to account. The three strategies described are to eliminate, digitize and pre-empt. This paper explains the applicability and priority of each technique and how they can be used collectively.

Every Business Has Customer Friction: Now What?

We know that no business will ever become completely frictionless for its customers.

It’s a state of perfection that is probably impossible to achieve as things will go wrong, customers will get confused and environmental issues like weather will strike. In our paper “Frictionless ticks all the boxes”, we defined the strategic case for any organization to try to become frictionless. It reduces customer

effort and cuts costs. Reducing friction also creates advocates and frees up time for revenue focused activity. It’s a quadruple win.

Many techniques can help organizations reduce friction. The schematic shows a strategic path to reducing friction that has two up front steps and then three key actions. The first steps (in green) are to understand the friction that exists today and then work out who to hold accountable. The three steps in white are those that remove friction.

Step 1: First Understand: Our assumption is that if products and services are working well, there will be almost no contact. Therefore, every contact is telling you something about frictions that customers encounter such as delayed orders, unusable self-service or confusing correspondence. Understand is the first step because without it, you don’t know what problems you are trying to solve or their size. In our paper “Understand Friction”, we advocated getting a grip on the overall volume of contacts that indicate friction, then analysing the reasons for contacts and aggregating the end-to-end costs of this friction.

Step 2: Assign and Prioritize:

Contact centres don’t create most of their interactions or problematic ones, they deal with them. So, to tackle friction most businesses need to work out who is accountable and how they can be made to act as we explained in our paper “Fixing supply with demand”. That means having good sponsorship and often shared targets and goals around friction reduction. All areas of the business will rally round if the business head mandates it, or their goals and targets align with the problems. For example, one CEO made reducing contacts a goal for all executives. That gave the entire company an incentive to get involved and take ownership of problems.

Step 3. Eliminate First

Eliminate-able contacts are those that irritate customers and add cost to an organization. We suggest tackling them next because they can have the biggest positive impact on customers and a business. They are defined as contacts that neither the customer nor the business wants and are key friction indicators. For example, customers do not want to have to contact any business because products or services are broken or when services are late. Some call these contacts “Failure Demand”. They reveal the worst kinds of friction and are a form of complaint. They are expensive because they are the most likely to require repair, refunds and re-work or lead to formal complaints. They are easy to spot because customers use terms like “where is my?”, “why haven’t you done...?” and say, “I don’t understand X”. Eliminate solutions may be harder to deliver because it’s hard to re-engineer a broken process or system, redesign a product or re-educate an entire salesforce.

Case example

To eliminate, organizations first have to get to the true root cause of the problem and then find an appropriate solution. One telco found that new customers were often calling three times or more within a few months of signing up for a new mobile or broadband service. They called because bills were wrong, or plans weren’t as promised. The root cause turned out to be sales staff not setting up customers correctly. In response, the Telco changed the way sales were measured. The sales team were only rewarded for error free sales and were re-trained on how to set up customers for success. The results were remarkable in slashing the rates of these “first three month” contacts and eliminating 15% of demand, saving a huge cost impact to the company.

Step 4. Digitize second

Digitize covers transactions that customers need to complete and information that customers wish to obtain, rather than avoidable or preventable actions. Digitize offers self-service options that are convenient for customers and automated and reduce errors for the business. We break the digitize opportunity into three:

1. Identify where new digital solutions are needed

2. Make the current solutions more effective

3. Maximise digital adoption

4.1 Identify new digital solutions

The most fundamental digital solution answer is to create solutions where they don’t exist today.

Most organizations have done a lot of this through portals and apps that let customers transact and do routine maintenance. Various branches of government have been digitizing processes that were paper based or face to face such as passport and drivers’ license applications.

New technologies like facial recognition and use of phone cameras have enabled complex digitised and AI enabled applications. Companies are embracing similar technology for home loan applications and insurance claims.

4.2 Make the current solutions better

Many digital solutions have at times created new frictions like having to reset a forgotten password or getting apps and portals to work on new platforms. Understanding contacts often shows an organization where it needs to work on the new frictions they have created within digital solutions. For example, one pension fund insisted that customers use a complex 15-digit password which members struggled to create or remember. That problem was the top reason customers called and it was a clear candidate for redesign to reduce friction.

4.3 Maximise digital adoption

The third digital opportunity is to increase use of the available digital solutions. Whilst government and monopoly businesses can almost mandate digital use, companies have to use mechanisms like marketing, education and pricing. Airlines, for example, now charge for use of staff for bookings or changes. Some companies have recognised that staff often feel threatened by self-service or don’t know when and how to educate. One telco addressed this through a “Digicare program” where staff were trained on how and when to educate. This delivered a triple win as customers were grateful for the education, they adopted self-service and staff felt comfortable in the process.

Step 5. Pre-empt

Pre-empt is about moving the organization from reacting to customer issues and problems to being proactive and thereby preventing the need for customer contacts. Pre-emptive actions have become more feasible because of the low cost and more immediate mechanisms such as texts and emails that organizations can now use to inform customers. Pre-emptive actions reassure customers that the organization is looking out for them and serving the customer’s interest. These actions are useful to manage friction where things go wrong or situations that change. For example, while Eliminate actions prevent a customer from ordering something that was never in stock, a Pre-emptive action notifies the customer that delays will make an order late and repositions customer expectations.

Often Pre-emptive strategies are short-term alternatives to strategies like Eliminate and Digitize which can be more complex and take longer. For example, a company will get many contacts if product applications take longer than a promised five-day turnaround. It could reset all expectations for the process or revisit the entire process design to reduce the risk of delays. A more immediate answer is a pre-emptive strategy to re-set expectations on applications that go over the five-day mark by messaging the customer whenever that occurs. That may help but it isn’t a complete fix and does not get rid of customer disappointment. However, it informs the customer and takes away some friction in the process and prevents inbound contacts asking for status updates.


In this paper, we hope we have explained five actions that can help in reducing friction. They solve different issues and can often be applied together to create a comprehensive change for customers and the business. We know they aren’t easy fixes, but we know they work. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to get in touch at or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.


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