It shouldn't be difficult to be a customer of a company. But for many businesses, especially in the B2B world, this is the case. Things like poor customer service, disjointed buyer journeys, and complex signup processes create friction - factors that get in the way of a potential or existing customer and their planned purchase.
By solving these problems and making the purchase process as frictionless and smooth as possible, you can both bring in more new customers and keep your existing ones happier. But it's easier said than done.
To find out the best way to go about it, I asked Tobias Pasma to guest this week's episode of The Onlinification Pod. Tobias has helped a large number of companies to streamline their customer experiences using digital tools, so he's got a solid understanding of why friction occurs and what B2B companies can do to reduce it. He also wrote an article about friction and churn on The Onlinification Hub recently which you should take a look at if you want some more background.
The journey towards frictionlessness needs to be approached from all angles. For some companies, investing in a new tool could go a long way to getting rid of the main points of friction - for example, some kind of digital signage solution that makes it easy for customers to sign your contracts. For others, the friction might be coming from issues with the organisation's way of working or thinking - in these cases; the solution might be more complicated. Regardless of the scale of the problem, any initiatives to reduce friction should be based on feedback from customers and prospects, as Tobias and I discussed further in this episode.
Thanks to Tobias for joining - as always, you can listen to this episode on the podcast platform of your choice, either with the links to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Soundcloud below, or the link to our RSS feed. If you don't have time to listen, you can also look at the entire episode transcription. Enjoy!
TP: Yeah, good, good. Came back from a nice walk with the dog.
DB: So wonderful. I looked back on the last time you were on the podcast, it was when we talked about HubSpot, and that was like your second week at Zooma. I guess you're a bit more settled in now, right?
TP: Yeah. Yeah, it was. It was easy to settle in at Zooma, but still, now it's more every day, the newness and the fresh eyes are gone.
DB: Yeah, the novelty is gone, now it's just the daily grind. Good. But speaking of the daily grind, today we were going to talk about friction. I thought it would be a good topic because you had an article on The Onlinification Hub recently which was called 'Fighting churn by removing friction', and churn being the rate at which a company loses customers. So basically, you know, how can you make sure that the customers you already have stuck around instead of leaving and going somewhere else. So I guess maybe we could just start if I ask you, what is friction in this context?
TP: Yeah. So in this context, friction is really any hindrance that the customer can experience in working either with your products, with your service, or with your company or organization as a whole. So it's a very wide topic when we talk about friction in the context of existing customers. You can think of like onboarding processes to have to be smooth, renewal processes that have to be smooth, even cancellation processes that you want to have smooth. And then when we talk about it more in friction or a frictionless experience in sort of the commercial process, then it's everything from is my messaging from marketing consistent with the messaging from sales? Is my understanding of the customer and the persona, does it align well with my value propositions and with the product that I'm actually offering? But also small details, like does the customer have to print the contract that I sent him and sign it, then scan it and then email it back? That is friction as well.
DB: Yeah. Yeah. And it seems, you know, even when you say it, it seems like such a small and silly thing maybe. But I guess when it's lots of little things like that all the time, that just makes it so that having anything to do with this company is a huge pain, then that's maybe not going to drive people away, but as you said, when it comes time for renewal or something, maybe their eyes will be drifting somewhere else.
TP: Yeah, exactly. If it's too many small things,and like if we think about this from a customer perspective, or if we think about this even from a Zooma perspective, if a customer has to ask, "Hey, we want some more suggestions on how to do this or that", that's a piece of friction where you can remove that friction by proactively giving suggestions. So even in, to make it super practical in like our day to day, that's maybe a good example of what can also be friction.
DB: And it seems like all companies have a problem with this. But do you think it's more of a threat for B2B companies? I'm just thinking that often buying something B2B is a bit more of a tricky process than just buying something online, you know, it's a long process and you need to go through a salesperson, all that kind of thing.
TP: Yeah, I think you're right there, that it might be for B2B companies that they are less aware of the problem because of the smaller numbers of customers usually, right. So if I make a half percent increase on a million customers, the effect is going to be dramatic. But if I make that same change for 20 customers, you might not really see it in your bottom line. So then it's easier to not think about it, pr to be like doesn't really matter if we change this. It doesn't really matter if we make this process a bit smoother for our customers or not. But I think like in this, on this friction topic, there's so much good stuff B2B can learn from B2C.
DB: Yeah. And I guess also, you know, maybe this isn't the right way of looking at it, but that B2B companies maybe think among their customers, even the customers kind of expect that, you know, the experience might be a bit bumpy. You know, people kind of expect that it's more difficult to make some huge B2B, industrial purchase than it is just to buy a pair of jeans or something online. And maybe they kind of lean on that as an excuse not to make things a bit smoother and frictionless.
TP: Yeah, of course, with such a purchase, there's also a need for a lot more touchpoints. Like no one is going to buy a new big amount of factory equipment for like 10 million SEK online. Or they might, but they probably want to see the machine before they buy it. They maybe want to even have a factory visit just to get the full trust in the company that they can deliver. But still, like the I guess the principle still holds true. Even though there is a need for more touchpoints, still, you can make sure that those touchpoints are frictionless.
DB: So I presume a lot of the people listening to this will be B2B companies and hopefully, or I guess it depends whether they're aware or not, but if they're listening to this, maybe they recognize some things and say, "oh yeah, there is a bit of friction in our processes as well." If you're trying to make sure that things are as friction-free as possible for your existing customers, where should you start? Because it kind of seems like we're talking about, you know, there's like tools on one side, like this digital signage and stuff that we spoke about at the start, when you get a contract on paper and you have to scan, but then on the other side, it's kind of more of a way of thinking, you know, it's a bit more strategic.
TP: Yeah. So my default answer would be to look at the data. But that's probably the wrong answer. The right answer is to have conversations with your newly signed customers or with your current customers and ask them, just ask them, "Hey, you just became a customer. Do you have any feedback on this sales process? Is there anything we would have could have improved? Is there anything that would have made it easier for you to make a decision?" And then you maybe get feedback like, "Yeah, well, actually it would have been nice if someone would have sent me a case study", well then it's like, okay, cool, we can produce that content. And in the next time we get in touch with a customer like this, the sales rep can send it out proactively. But yeah, my default answer is always data, data, data. That's always where the answer is. So in that way, you could look at NPS scores, talk with people with a low NPS score, look at conversion rates in your sales process. Like from what stage to what stage are they dropping off? Okay, here they are. We're dropping off below benchmark or way below the benchmark. Okay, let's investigate that specific area. I think I also mentioned this in one in one of the blogs, I worked with a company that sold admin software, right. So like bookkeeping software and they were in this like bigger like transformational process some years ago. And they gave their, their board members took it upon themselves to call everyone who gave an NPS score of five or lower. And then it started, just to actually get like the CFO On the phone like, "Hey, I saw you scored four, how can I make this up to you?" Blah, blah, blah. And this was a big company, like tens of thousands of customers. And that also made it so that it started to like customer experience in general, became a topic in the boardroom or in the management teams and really started to live in the whole organisation. I think they even got to the point where even on the desks of the developers or in the rooms where the developers sat they had pictures of the personas so that they were thinking, "Oh yeah, I'm writing this code, not for this User X, but I'm writing this for the wife of a guy who has a small construction company where she, in the evenings and in the weekends, takes care of the bookkeeping." That's very different, you will make different choices in your software, probably in the user interface and the number of visits and explanations and information icons that you have. And I thought that was a very, very interesting process that that company went through.
DB: That is interesting. And then I guess you're not kind of just fighting churn as it happens, but you're building up things so that it doesn't happen in the first place.
TP: Yeah, and I guess fighting churn and improving customer experience might be synonyms.
DB: Yeah. I was just going to ask about that, it brings me on to the question of service because I mean, when I kind of think about when I've stopped being a customer of somewhere, now I've never made any kind of B2B purchase, but just, you know, in your normal life, then usually it's after some kind of unsatisfactory interaction with customer service, and I guess maybe that's somewhere that B2B companies have been a bit weaker traditionally, would you say?
TP: I would almost say the opposite. Like if I call a B2B company, say if I need HubSpot support, I might be on hold for, what, 2 minutes max? Or I can do a chat or forum or stuff like that, or I can just call my account manager, right? And then my account manager will take it further in the organization. And maybe it takes two weeks before my problem is solved. But I've made my problem known quite quickly, where if I call my phone service provider, right, or my bank, for example, I call them, I get like five different choice options, I have to enter my phone number, I have to stay on the line for at least half an hour. And then I speak to someone who then connects me to another person where I have to wait another 10 minutes, and then that person is like, "Oh yeah, no, we cannot do this." I guess it kind of depends on like what sort of company you're looking at. I mentioned banks, and this is not a promo, but I recently moved to Sweden and wanted open a bank account and stuff like that. And then I called, got in touch with Handelsbanken and if I call this bank and I call their office right down the street here, and this guy, he answers the phone and I talk to him and say I want this and that. Okay, cool. Here's my information. I get an email from him. I reply to the email, I go to the office, I meet with this same person. He gives me all the guidance of how to set up everything. Three weeks later, I call Handelsbanken again because I want a mortgage. The same guy answers the phone, the same guy I'm in contact with. And like, it feels like I'm working with, like, a small business, right? The customer intimacy of a small business, like your barber that you go to every couple of weeks and that you talk with and that remembers stuff. I got that feeling from a nationwide bank, maybe even an international bank, and I'm so impressed. It's so above my expectation because I was expecting yeah, like, okay, I'll probably call them during my lunch break because then I can be on hold for an hour. So some companies get it.
DB: I was going to say when you started telling that story, we could record an entire episode, you and me talking about the challenges of trying to open a bank account as a foreigner in Sweden, but it seems like it was very, very smoothly for you.
TP: I mean, as long as you have your phone number and you have your ID card, then you get your BankID, then life actually begins. But a bad customer experience in this regard was with my dog, I go to this pet store and they're like, "Oh, you want to become a member?" You get points and get a discount or something. "Yeah, sure. Okay." Go through like the whole, "What's your phone number? What's your name?", that's OK. "What's your personnummer?" "I don't have a personnummer." "Oh, okay then. Yeah. Then we can't help you." My dog cannot become a member of your store because I don't have a personnummer, like even with GDPR, technically it's illegal for you to ask my personnummer to become a member, but like, it was a situation of, like, computer says no.
DB: I mean, the best thing is, is when you get your Swedish ID card for the first time, you have to pick up from the post office. And in order to pick it up, you have to show a piece of Swedish ID.
TP: Oh, really?
DB: Yeah, that was what it was like for me anyway.
TP: Okay, I just had to go to the tax authority.
DB: I have to fight with them a few times. And so yeah, Sweden needs to work on its consistent customer experience, it sounds like. Or maybe it's just easier for Dutch people than British people.
TP: Yeah, there's friction there.
DB: Very good. Well, maybe that's a future episode, we can take customer experience lessons from the Swedish tax authorities.
TP: Yeah. And give a shout out to Rosanna because she really helped with everything.
DB: Yeah, we need to get her on as well.
DB: Good. Well, Tobias, thank you very much for joining us again.
TP: Yes, no problem. Thank you for having me.
DB: And thank you for listening, whoever is listening, you can subscribe to this podcast so please do, and if you want to listen more then just go to zooma.agency and you'll find out more.