Fighting Friction

By Russ Levanway, President

In November, I attended the World of Business Ideas Conference in New York City with a group from the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. (If you’ve never been, it’s a terrific conference, great for sparking ideas.) Amid the programming, one keynote from Zoe Chance stood out to me. She spoke on the subject of customer satisfaction, asking how can we turn our customers into fans? And perhaps more importantly, how can we gauge how satisfied our customers are with the work we do?

For a long time, a standard for assessing customer satisfaction was the CSAT survey, which include several questions along the lines of “How would you rate our customer service on a scale of 1 to 5?” That held sway for many years, until a new gauge came along called the Net Promoter Score – “How likely are you to refer someone to our brand/service/company/product?” The developers of the Net Promoter Score figured that capturing and tracking the likeliness of a referral had to be a great measure of customer satisfaction, and this is certainly true.  

Zoe Chance brought up a new and very different customer satisfaction metric called the Customer Effort Score. Here, the focus is on the level of friction a customer encounters before getting what they want, whether that’s technical support, an appointment, or a product. 

What is friction?

It’s a point of difficulty requiring a customer’s effort. If friction is high during a transaction, the customer satisfaction is likely low. If friction is low, chances are the customer is very pleased.

I’d heard about the concept of friction and customer effort before, but Chance articulated it better than most. Here’s an example: Let’s say someone has a technical problem and calls my company to get support. And let’s say only the point of contact is allowed to submit requests. That person emails in a request for support, which gets assigned to a technician. The technician calls the point of contact, who then relays it to the end user. The end result is what it’s supposed to be, eg a quick response and quick resolution ― but the road to get there includes someone having to relay several messages back and forth. 

As for an example of a low-friction scenario, let’s say someone needs support, picks up the phone and speaks directly with someone in our company who can help them, in real time. The issue is resolved and the case is closed: no intermediaries, no waiting, no emailing. It’s just done. Very likely, this is a better overall experience than the high friction scenario.

There are other elements that can contribute to friction. Does the person who’s providing support understand the customer’s environment and who they are, or do they have to ask many questions to get the lay of the land before they can start working? Think of all the times you’ve called for customer service from a vendor and the person on the end of the line is in a different state, a different company, or on a different continent, completely unfamiliar with your particular situation or even your culture at large. To get you the care you need, they have to ask dozens of questions, and probably multiple transfers, before your request can even be filed. FRICTION.

Zoe Chance made a very compelling argument that effort and friction are big indicators of customer loyalty. When you’re on the phone with a far-away customer support person who doesn’t understand your scenario (and isn’t equipped to help you, even if they did!), it’s tempting to throw your hands in the air and choose to cope with the problem. Honestly, giving up is sometimes the path of least resistance. I think you’d agree with me that this is the opposite of customer satisfaction. If a company stops receiving customer service calls, it doesn’t necessarily mean their customers have it all under control. To the contrary, the truth could be that people aren’t calling because it’s too much of a hassle to ask for help.

Here at CIO Solutions, we’re looking closely at friction and customer effort within our company. As we evolve and integrate, we’re making some structural changes at the beginning of this year, all with the intent of reducing friction. 

What about you? At your company, do you have a way of doing things that requires so much effort that customers get frustrated, don’t do it, give up on it, or go around it? What can you do to move toward low-friction processes? 


Russ Levanway, President// Russ is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the president of an ever-growing managed services provider with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When he’s not collaborating to chart out the future of CIO Solutions, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and travels the world with his wife and two daughters.