Reducing Online-to-Offline Friction

Friction is everywhere.

The problem is that we tend to think of Friction as an invisible ghost in our house, rather than a challenge facing every website ever visited.  


Friction and the website experience

I was shopping for new flooring recently. After spending an hour on a major retailer’s website searching for the right option, I breezed through their checkout without issue and used their online scheduling tool to select an installation date.  

“Perfect,” I thought as I closed my laptop. “The entire thing done in one session.”  

But that doesn’t sound like a story about website friction, does it?  

Wait for it.  

For the next six days, and at least four times a day, that company called and left a long voicemail. They wanted to confirm my appointment, which seemed silly since I had just made it. I figured they’d eventually email me whatever question they had about my service. After all, I had specifically used their online scheduling tool to avoid carving out time in my schedule for a phone call. 

On the twenty-first call with still no email, I finally answered.  

“Hi. I’m calling to confirm your appointment,” the agent said.  

“I just made the appointment on your website a few days ago,” I explain.  “I picked a time and date listed as available. What needs to be confirmed?”  

“I just need to go over your details,” she said calmly.  She asked for the same information I had entered online:  my name, address, the type of floor I wanted. Then she said, “I see you put Sunday the 12th as your install date.  Unfortunately, we don’t have installers on Sundays.”  

That’s when it all clicked.  She wasn’t “confirming” anything.  She was scheduling everything.  All I had done online was fill out a lead form that was skillfully designed to make me think I was in control of our interaction.  After talking a few more minutes and struggling to find a convenient installation time, I finally cancelled the service.  

“May I ask why?” she asked too quickly, as if this happened a lot.  

“Sure,” I said.  “This process was so painful that I’d rather just keep my old floors.”  


What is online-to-offline friction?  

Here’s the thing we too often forget: website friction is not isolated to websites.  

Let me say that again in a different way.  

Your customer’s website experience does not end when they leave your website.  

I call this online-to-offline friction.  

My story might seem like an extreme example. But it isn’t.  In the last 20 interactions with businesses where I start the interaction digitally, 17 called me or wrote back telling me to call them. 85% of companies were forcing me to move our interaction offline. The percentage I ended up calling was much lower.  

I’m sure every one of those companies has a friendly and helpful customer service team. I’m also sure talking to them makes the process easier, faster, and maybe even cheaper for those companies.  

But if I wanted to call, I would have used the number on their website… the one conveniently located next to the online tool I did use.  

Do I sound unreasonable? Probably. But I’m verbalizing what many customers are thinking and not telling you because, like me, they ended their interaction after being told to call.  


How to deal with online-to-offline friction 

Keep your customers in the environment they chose. 

If your customer filled out a web form with their email address, email them. If they wanted to call you, they would have.  

It’s fine to offer your number and the opportunity to call you, but don’t make it mandatory. It’s even fine to call (once) if needed. But if they don’t answer or call you back, but do respond to your email, take that as a sign. Keep them in digital communication as long as possible (and preferably, the entire time).    

Is this going to slow down the process for you? It’s possible. But remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about them.  


Honor the intent of your website’s functionality. 

Online scheduling tools are great, but if you still have to call your customer for any reason that prevents the transaction from being completed, it’s not a scheduling tool, it’s a lead form.  

If you don’t have the operational or technological capabilities to support online scheduling or payments, that’s fine, but then change your website tool to a contact form and be explicit that you will need to talk to the customer after they complete it.  

Will you get less leads this way? Yes. But the leads you get will be better and less likely to walk away in frustration.  

Be honest with yourself. 

Look at your processes and ask, “Is this making my life better or the customer’s?”    

I’ll go so far as to say that 99% of online-to-offline friction is caused by companies trying to make something easier or better for themselves at expense of their customer.    

In perfect situations, the process and interaction you create can benefit both sides, but if there is a situation where you have to choose one or the other, always choose what is easier for the customer. Always. Your business will benefit in the long run. 


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