Remove friction in the purchase experience

But technology is the simpler half of the story. The complicated half is shifting the thinking of the seller.

It may be a sale to the seller but it’s a purchase experience to the buyer. And unless you are a monopoly selling electricity, the latter always triumphs.  The former tends to look inwards and can be filled with bumps, detours and meanders. Friction.  Like the petrol station that says, “We don’t take M-PESA or VISA, only cash.” Or, the bank that creates an online platform for its customers to access their accounts but it looks like the one the bank’s staff uses.  So, for instance, you find that something as basic as generating a bank statement makes the user (buyer) jump through hoops.

Focusing on purchasing experience looks outwards; towards making it easy for the customer to buy.  And as businesses and sellers continue to reach the customer via the Internet, the more they need to be aware of the wild difference between making an easy sale and creating a pleasant purchase experience.  This is why ‘mobile money’ companies are always seeking to reduce the steps you need to make on the phone before you make a payment. They know you are not waiting in a physical queue to make a payment in cash.  Some sales outlets have even gone ahead and transferred that burden to the seller who triggers a prompt on the buyer’s phone reducing the buyer’s burden to just feeding in his PIN number and pressing OK. Friction slows things down; friction grates on the buyer’s nerves; friction loses sales. They simply shift to where there is less friction. Whereas buyers generally hate being kept waiting, online buyers are especially impatient. Luckily, technology allows us to keep improving the purchase experience.

But technology is the simpler half of the story. The complicated half is shifting the thinking of the seller. Some sellers want to replicate the offline experience online as is. Which is why, when the customer calls his bank complaining that, “I ‘pulled’ money from my account but it has not come to my ‘phone but has ‘left’ my account”, some fellow in operations curtly tells the customer service agent to say this to the client: “Tell him to wait 48 hours.” And why? Because that’s what the offline process would take and is documented in the standard operating manual which everyone signed. As Bill Gates once said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

To be fair, most businesses and sellers do not have the budgets to leverage fully on technology. But as they strive to make their customer’s purchase experience frictionless they can start of with introspection, offline. Having an MPESA Paybill, in the instance of the petrol station. Or, revising the relevance of all the paperwork needed for registration. And online, exploiting the tonnes of free apps and platforms that allow them to do so, for instance, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram.

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