Using points of positive friction to engage your customer

Using points of positive friction to engage your customer

I’ve written before about how deliberately making things hard for your customer can be a good thing.

An example popped up the other day from Pleasurable Troublemakers of a key holder for your car keys specifically designed to irritate. Here’s how it works.

Attached to your wall are two key holders, one for your bike and one for your car. If you grab the bike keys nothing happens and you are on your way in a second. If you grab your car keys, however, the bike keys are released as well, dropping to the floor. You then have to bend down, pick them up and rehang them. With the bike keys in your hand, this small added annoyance is enough to make you pause and think about your decision to take the car. You can see it in action here.

Deliberate disruption

In other words, this clever tool has interrupted your automatic (System 1) thinking and engaged your more deliberate (System 2) brain.

Every time I use the Virgin mobile site to check into my flight I am shunted from System 1 to System 2 by the way they have designed their dangerous goods acknowledgement. The affirmatory green button combined with the confirmatory negative statement (I am NOT) never fails to have me double-checking that I am going to select the right one.

Figure 1. Virgin mobile site

Your customers might pay more for pain

So it turns out that deliberately building in moments of friction can be a selling feature because most of us realise that left uninterrupted, we default to the easiest/quickest/tastiest/laziest option. This is the blessing and curse of the habits we form.

Strange as it seems, there is a market for products and services that help keep us in line – forms of a “Ulysses Contract” where we take steps in the short term to protect us from temptation.

  • We sometimes prefer rebates to discounts because it is a form of enforced saving
  • We pay extra for portion-controlled food (like individually wrapped chocolates)
  • We lock our money away in term deposits so we can’t access it
  • We pay personal trainers to make sure we exercise
  • We can even signup to the StickK website that penalises us for not going to the gym

 Don’t confuse positive friction with frustrating friction

It’s worth reiterating that adding points of friction to your customer experience should be done for the express purpose of interrupting their thought patterns in a way that helps them towards their goal. Adding friction simply because you are sloppy or cheap means you risk frustrating and losing your customers.

Indeed, as highlighted by the key rack example, this product will only appeal to people who want to interrupt their existing habits and take their bike rather than the car. For those devoted to driving, this key rack would be the most painful thing ever. 

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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