Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why frictionless customer experience won’t help you build your brand

By Becki Hemming, Insights Strategist, Freestyle

Whenever we’re talking about user experiences and how to improve them, certain phrases about removing friction in the digital journey tend to get a lot of air time. Phrases like “let’s remove the pain points”, and “how can we make this a frictionless experience?”

Ordinarily, it doesn’t sound like an illogical approach. However, if you strive solely for a frictionless journey to the action you want customers to take, you’re missing a huge trick. Whilst frictions in the digital experience can become barriers and cause drop offs before conversion, they aren’t the most impactful element at play. The most impactful element is emotion.

Over 90% of our behaviours and decisions are driven by emotion.

Just let that sink in! Over 90% of the things we do, the choices we make and the things we buy are driven by emotion. Our pre-existing emotional context primes how we react to a new digital experience. Emotional connections made during a digital experience affect how we behave and how we recall it. More than logical rationale. More than personality. So how do emotional implications impact digital experiences?

Deliver a customer experience in line with emotional context

Over the past few months, our routines have been disrupted and our environments have primed us with an array of heightened emotions. Emotional context has always been important to recognise, as it directly affects how we behave and primes our mindset as we encounter new digital experiences. But recently, emotional context has been of the utmost importance.

When the financial, social and mental health burdens of lockdown hit hard around the country, it brought significant context to our digital experiences. Any interactions with businesses or organisations that didn’t recognise our situation suitably, were likely to cause a strong negative reaction.

And that means a chance of you getting publicly shamed to friends, family, colleagues and social media networks. Suitability is important here. It’s not the time to become generic, abandon category truths or forget your brand purpose. It’s time to apply your brand in the most useful and relevant way.

Addressing emotional context – with and without frictions

We know that addressing emotional context in a suitable way is more impactful than a frictionless digital experience, now let’s take a look at two recent examples of this in practice. 

Like many, my holiday plans this year have been subject to change. Firstly I had to cancel an accommodation booking with Airbnb. I opened the website and there was a notification waiting for me right at the top which succinctly explained that Covid-19 affected the area my booking was in and that I was entitled to a full refund as per Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances Policy.

It was a simple case of clicking a button for a refund which generated a message to the host. A pretty much seamless mobile experience, nothing less than we’ve come to expect from Airbnb.

An example that wasn’t frictionless was a trip I had booked with Much Better Adventures, a smaller company that organises adventure holidays with local guides around the world. Their policy allowed customers to postpone the trip with no changes to the price, immediately mitigating worry over financial loss. But when I proceeded to look for future dates for the trip, the experience wasn’t the most mobile friendly.

It’s the positive emotional peak – in this instance the realisation of not losing any money – that customers recall from an experience. When recalling this to friends and family I didn’t tell them about a glitchy booking calendar or that the mobile experience wasn’t the best – I told them about a great brand that I’ll be using again because it had acted and communicated in a suitable and responsible way.

These examples show that it’s more important to address emotional context than deliver a seamless user experience. This is because your customers don’t recall the total sum of satisfaction from their digital experiences, or how they felt at every stage in the user journey. What they recall strongest is the emotional peak, which may be positive or negative, as well as how they felt at the end.

Of course, the country isn’t always going to be in crisis, but there are many possible situations that could prime your customers with a significant emotional context, both positive and negative.

So for each customer experience you deliver, spend some time identifying what core emotions your customers are bringing to the metaphorical table and craft your experience accordingly. It will pay off long term as your customers will keep coming back – because they will remember you.


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