Avoiding Sales Friction


When you call a company's customer service number or, worse, their sales line, how do you like it if you have to go through multiple automated menus and then wait on hold for ten minutes or longer? Does it encourage you to do more business with them? How do you feel about recommending such a company to a friend?

Ever since automatic answering systems became the norm, it's been a mystery to me why companies who should know better put their customers through this.

Strangely, some of the worst offenders are "communication" companies, such as Verizon. Long automated phone menus and long waits on hold are hardly parts of good communication. This is a large part of the reason I departed Verizon's service last summer. It's all part of the subject of customer friction, which is our topic this week.

How to Give Your Customers the Best Experience

Constant Contact, who publishes this letter, is certainly one of the better known email managers, and came recommended to me when I needed such a service.

As a notably un-savvy guy technically, I often run into technical issues that are "above my pay grade".

When I call Constant Contact, there's a brief menu of a few items to choose the subject of my call. Fortunately for me (and most likely by design, since it's probably the reason for most calls), the first choice is "email marketing". Then it's rarely more than 15 seconds before I have a person on the line who can help me, and they almost always do so expeditiously.

This week Josh Linkner, serial entrepreneur and professor, addresses customer friction. Friction happens every time a customer has to click something, sign something (especially multiple times!) meet with somebody, or endure any other impediment to smooth flow. Certainly it's true that many purchases necessarily require choices to be made (model, color, size, special features, etc.). Some parts of this process may actually be enjoyable (and can be made more so, if handled properly). Others are necessary and not so pleasant. Here's where it's worthwhile studying, experimenting, and tweaking the process to streamline it every bit as much as possible.

You can bet your competitors are streamlining their processes. Your improvements in customer-friendliness can make the difference between a prospect choosing you or one of your competitors!

One of the efforts to mitigate the long phone waits has recently become, "Leave your number and we'll call you back between 38 and 54 minutes from now". In my view, if waits have routinely become so long that this is necessary, you should make more people available! The companies who use such systems seem to employ them most of the time, so more people would not be idle much, and think how much happier their customers would be!

Friction is what's missing at Constant Contact. You may be sure that, impatient sort that I am, If I had to go through 2 or 3 levels of complex menus when I called, and then wait several minutes on hold before I talked with someone, I'd long ago have looked for an alternate service. No doubt other companies do a good job, perhaps some as good as Constant Contact. Since they've provided such a satisfactory experience for me, I've found no occasion to sample the others.

This is how good business is done.

John Stevens,