How can I help you?

21 September 2022 Martin Cheetham

In attempting to automate, I find that companies often lean toward making it easier for themselves. For example, using telephone prompts to eliminate time on calls in their call centre that results in us spending far longer on the phone, trying to find what we need.

Where automation fails, is when it isn’t taking into account the user (customer) experience when engaging with the product/service. The intention to make the offering more streamlined, does the opposite by creating more friction and frustration for the user.

Sometimes we don’t need fancy as consumers. Sometimes we just need good.


Friction = failure

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about friction. The more friction there is between you and a task, the less likely you are to do it, and therefore won’t create a habit out of it.

A good example of this comes from my morning routine. I prep everything the night before to ensure I have as little friction as possible in the morning when I need to get up and exercise. If I forget my bottle of water in the fridge on the other side of the house, there is infinitely more chance that I’ll realize this on waking, say “screw it today” and put my head back on the pillow. By planning and removing the friction, I pretty much guarantee that I’ll execute the task.

If you’re creating friction for your customers, you’re making it more difficult for them to get what they want, and more likely they’ll go somewhere else where they can get it more easily.

Understanding what your customer is trying to achieve, will inform how, what and when to automate. Obviously, it has to make business sense from a cost and sustainability perspective, but if it isn’t making your customers’ lives easier then they’re going to go to a competitor with less friction.

“It takes months to find a customer… seconds to lose one.” – Vince Lombardi


Churn to earn

I recently went to a Postnet in Sandton City to have some booklets printed and stapled. My intention was to explain what I needed, leave it with them and attend a meeting. Then I’d pick up the booklets on my way out. Sounded simple enough… or so I thought.

The first red flag was a chain across the door with a sign saying to wait. I shrugged it off as a post-covid requirement. In hindsight, if there was ever a sign that this store was not customer or even human-centric, this was it. They then signaled to me that I could lower the chain and enter.

I told them what I needed and they simply referred me to a computer where I should print it myself. Not quite what I was expecting but I know my way around printers so sent it off pretty quickly.

Then, when I asked them to collate and staple them, I received a funny look and was handed a stapler. Long gone were my dreams of convenience, and attending my meeting. I just stood there in disbelief. It was undeniable that they just wanted to churn people through their doors in order to maximise the amount of business they could do in a day. Not imagining that some of those people would never come back.

In their attempts to get more customers through their doors, they have inadvertently chased one away.

Some of the best experiences are often the simplest. Just good service, nothing fancy. Nothing elaborate or hi-tech. Just good. And sometimes good is all we need.