Is going frictionless the key to a great customer experience? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

April 1, 2020
min read
In a snapshot—we answer:
How removing barriers helps to acquire customers
How streamlining ops supports guest experience
How re-framing the conversation can build brand loyalty

here’s a saying that desire - friction = conversion. Restaurants rightly focus on increasing desire with great food, memorable experiences, and value. But what about the second half of the conversion equation (friction)? Let’s start with a definition. When it comes to customer experience, friction is any barrier to a guest opening their wallet. For restaurants, friction could look like long waits, a confusing website, being put on hold... Of course no brand is intentionally making it harder to engage with its business, but what are they actually doing to make the experience better (not just easier)? 

While conversions are essential for growth, the equation isn't simple. The best way to solve for x is to take a data-driven approach in the fight for less friction. Let’s examine three possible strategies: remove friction, reduce friction, and reframe the conversation.

Remove Friction as a Customer Acquisition Strategy


Domino’s is a perfect example of what removing friction can do for a brand. Data proved that 60% of their pizza orders were digital and two thirds of those were from mobile devices. Domino’s increased customer acquisition and drove brand awareness to their key demographic through bold ad campaigns and innovative tech initiatives like delivery car tracking and frictionless ordering. (Soon robots will be doing the work for them...but let’s not digress). 

They’ve grown from $3 per share in November 2008 to $291 per share as of January 2020. Orders are more accurate, faster, and more convenient. Most importantly, Domino’s tapped into how their customers want to experience pizza (emoji orders, anyone?).


Check the data—do online orders or reservations drive more conversion? Are loyal promoters more likely to be families or single young professionals? Focus targeted marketing efforts on and remove blocks from the same acquisition stream to jumpstart a wave of new guests.

Reduce Friction to Increase Efficiency and Support Guest Experience


Reducing friction to increase operational efficiency is all about fine-tuning customer journey moments. For full service brands, these moments could range from when and how a guest decides to dine (remote waitlist helps here), to how many minutes it takes to seat a new party (a host stand text and automated phone call can impact friction here).

‍For quick-service and fast-casual brands the principle is the same, even if the execution is different. McDonald’s was working hard to optimize its dining room and still losing customers. They realized, along with brands like Jack-in-the-Box, that over 70% of sales came from the drive-thru. McDonald’s, wisely, re-focused their efforts and technology upgrades on optimizing drive-thru experience with additional lanes, more windows, and digital menu boards.


Restaurant operators know their dining-room like the back of their hand, but do they have an accurate window into average wait times, through-put stats, and abandonment rates? Often not. Having access to and making time to analyze this info is critical—even small gains in efficiency at the right guest journey moments can have big returns and a bigger impact on guest experience.

Reframe the Conversation to Transform Friction to Frequency


Some points of friction can’t be changed—a tiny, terrible parking lot, or real estate with no room to grow. Some points of friction shouldn’t be changed—take mobile payment for example, sure it reduces friction, but for a brand designed to be an escape from technology it might feel disingenuous. In these cases, it’s crucial to craft a positive narrative to build upon brand connection and attract loyal guests.

‍Dominique Ansel Bakery gave a master-class in reframing the conversation by turning the massive line for Cronuts, famously fortified by hot chocolate and madeleines, into an iconic part of the experience. Years later this “fad food” still has 2-block-long lines. Positioning the guest experience to bolster brand identity can also be a springboard for scaling growth. For years Shake Shack built a cult following around its Madison Square Garden location by leaning into its exclusivity (and the power of the Shack Cam). These days, that brand persona has been leveraged into an ever-expanding fast-casual chain with one of the best order-ahead experiences in the game.


The key here is to examine slow day-parts and days-of-week, yes, but also to look at customer alignment—brand engagement, loyalty base demographics, and guest reviews. When friction can’t (or shouldn't) be reduced it’s time to tell a new story, and use data to uncover and attract the audience that will align naturally.


Tackling friction is tricky. There are clear wins, but for every company that benefits, there are reports of customers revolting against frictionless attempts. Getting started requires empathy with guests, actionable data, and careful analysis. Getting it right means using this analysis to find the elusive bullseye in the center of guest experience, operational efficiency, and brand identity. With those pieces in place, the right efforts and technology can attract new guests, smooth operational rough patches, and drive loyalty.

Photo by Louis Hansel