I am a bit obsessed with friction. I don’t mean it in the literal sense, but rather those failures of systems and processes in life that slow us down, cause us irritation, and force us to think about the mechanism rather than the experience.
Speaking to TalkRadio this morning about 5G, I tried to explain that a large part of the proposition for this new network technology is that it eliminates friction. We shouldn’t have to think about how and whether we are connected any more. We should just be able to focus on the experience: browsing the web, sending an email, streaming a video or playing a game — wherever we are. Yes, there will be enhancements to speed, latency and coverage, but the applications for these may take a couple more years to appear. In the meantime we’re paying for convenience, and I for one am more than happy with that.
Because I abhor friction. I don’t want to waste minutes logging on to a Wi-Fi network when I could be enjoying the latest comics on my digital subscription, or streaming the latest episode of Black Lightning on Netflix.
The type of friction that genuinely makes me lose my mind is unnecessary administration. I have outsourced everything I can to get away from having to deal with as much of this as possible, but sometimes it is unavoidable. Re-mortgaging last year was a particular low point, with both the mortgage provider and their legal intermediary apparently having failed to keep up with the last twenty years of technological progress, or to have paid any attention to the massive waste in their own systems design. The only conclusion I could reach was that one or both of them must benefit from the systems being so utterly unfriendly to the customer.
But this is rarely the case. Friction in a business context, just like friction in physics, requires two bodies. And under friction, both suffer.
Take the example of a client of mine currently. I have now been waiting 71 days for them to pay a not insignificant amount of money. It took 58 days for the finance team to respond to my invoices and tell me they wouldn’t honour my normal payment terms and that they pay at 60 days. They also couldn’t pay until I was on their supplier database. This took the filling out of two forms, which themselves required research on my part to complete. Then, to check the status of my payments I had to log in to their supplier management system, an utterly terrible piece of webware. Only to find they had processed the same invoice twice, rejecting one of them, and failing to process the second.
Throughout this process, as you can imagine, I have been chasing the client, constantly. Like most of my clients, it’s a large organisation. My contacts are both geographically and hierarchically well-separated from the people causing the friction. Not only has the whole process consumed a huge amount of my time, effort, and good nature, it has consumed time from both my direct contacts and the finance team.
The result? However much the company may have saved by extending payment terms, both formally and artificially through its hideously complex processes, it has almost certainly wasted more in the lost time — and lost good will — of its own employees. The only difference is in the visibility of the two types of costs.
Find the friction in your organisation
Friction breeds frustration, which has the advantage of making it easy to find. One of the first things I do when I begin consulting with clients is ask people at all levels of the organisation, and their customers, is what frustrates them. What makes their day actively worse? What wastes time and stops them doing their best work?
The answers to these questions are usually great guides to what competitors will do better to beat them. If you want to know how to improve your business, how to eliminate friction, go ask your staff, your partners, and your customers: what winds you up? Frank answers will only help you.
Like this? Get more when you subscribe at subscribe.bookofthefuture.co.uk