Where There’s Friction

Anyone who has ever worked with machines knows that friction between moving parts is to be avoided at all costs — unless you trying to start a fire with two pieces of wood. Even then, it’s an ineffective method of lighting things. The same principle applies everywhere we look in life, business and relationships. Most of us avoid psychological friction in our relationships, trying instead to live a fairly copacetic existence, and avoiding arguments with friends, spouses and co-workers. But that is largely just the result of a sub-conscious resistance to confrontation. You might think that the same avoidance of conflict and abrasion would carry over to our view of our customers, but it often does not.

This arose as an issue for me as I was waiting on hold to speak with my bank.  I rang the 800 number and then followed the interminable prompts that stood  between me and a live person. I entered my account number. I entered the last 4 digits of my EIN code. I entered my PIN. I waited and waited, captive, listening to canned music interrupted by advertisements for services I don’t want. I got more and more annoyed. And then, when the agent got on the phone with me, she asked me all of the same questions again: My account number, my last 4, my PIN, my address and more. I called because I had a problem. Now I had a new problem — this process. In fact, it was all I could do to pull myself from my raging internal monologue to ask for what I needed and not take out my wrath on the poor innocent agent who is (always) the second victim of this highly frictional system, after me, the customer. Based on that experience alone, it would be a natural conclusion that my bank does NOT want me to call and speak to a person — EVER! Do they even want me to bank with them?

I know you have gone through this a million times too. So you understand how infuriating redundant and overly officious systems are. Moreover, you may be like me, someone who has worked in either technology or banking enough to appreciate the security concerns that underlie the need for multiple data points to identify the account owner. But, there has to be a better way. Right?

Well, let’s turn the focus away from banks we don’t run to our own businesses and our own organizations, over which we do have some power. Are you actively looking for ways to reduce the friction in the process of your customers using your services? I would suggest that if you are like many other business owners or leaders, that is not the thing on which you have the greatest amount of focused attention. Imagine yourself wanting to do business with your company. What obstacles stand in the way of making it a greased slide from a mere thought to the delivery of a product or service? Do you require copious quantities of paperwork, credit checks, or contractual negotiations before you deliver services? Often, we are guilty of trying so hard to make ourselves seem professional that we mistake bureaucracy for professionalism and think it is some kind of imprimatur of legitimacy. It is neither.

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Try something different. Offer your services or products in a one-step process. I experienced this for myself as a customer recently. I had a nightmare software issue with my laptop and was complaining about it on social media. While all of my other friends, associates and peers were giving me unrelated advice (change to Mac) or sympathy, one person asked me to tell him about the problem. After I did, he said “I’ll fix it for you. Drop it off tomorrow.” This may seem incredibly presumptuous, and it could have backfired. But because of my own frustration and his easy process, I went with it. I never even asked the fee. He fixed it within 24 hours and charged me a fair fee. I suspect this was child’s play for him and that the substance of his business comes from much bigger and more complex (and higher priced) projects. But you know what? I will give him all projects from now on — big and small. The lack of friction made it easy for me to choose him, and so I did.

The paperwork in a doctor’s office is an obvious example of an obstacle, but I suspect that if you do a careful audit of your own client acquisition processes, you will find multiple friction creators that are reducing the velocity with which you bring new clients and customers into your world. In many cases, these obstacles, whether paperwork or multiple “qualifying” meetings or contracts are results of past experiences. A client didn’t pay, or didn’t provide the necessary information to proceed fast enough, or some other issue. But your new client shouldn’t have to pay for your old, bad clients’ sins. Unless you’re an attorney or a professional risk manager, relax. Even if you give something away for free and fail to get the client, you are still moving the needle on your business’ growth — more than investing tons of time in vetting someone before you accept their work and money. Try it out — a friction audit. Grease the slide for your business and reap the benefits!

Would you like to see how professional coaching and consulting can help to grease your business’ wheels? Contact me for a free initial consultation!

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