One way to uncover friction is to become your own customer. I was recently working with the marketing team of a major bank and a team member named Gary shared everything he had learned as a client of the company he worked for.
After signing up for a new account, Gary tried to log into the account only to be greeted with a pop-up asking him to enter a security token number. Having no idea what a security token number was or how to get one, he called customer service at his own company. After waiting over 20 minutes to speak to someone, the help desk assistant informed him that he would only receive a security token number after logging in for the first time. “We get this question all the time,” admitted the help desk assistant. “I wish they just put a note on the website telling people to click the button to skip the security token popup when they first log in.”
The next day at work, Gary tracked down the person in charge of the company’s client website and shared his experience – urging the IT team to clarify something that was a simple oversight but was causing immense frustration for people they should appreciate the most: new customers.
Although becoming your own customer can be a very enlightening and important experience, identifying friction is often easily achieved through empathy. To uncover the pain points of their culturally diverse customers, empathy was crucial for Chinese electronics manufacturer Transsion.
Arif Chowdhury, vice president of Transsion, suggested that listening to the needs of local consumers was more than just a marketing slogan – it was an approach that gave the brand a tangible competitive advantage over its rivals.
“Big companies that sell smartphones in over 100 countries are too global to cater to just one market,” Chowdhury said. “The main strategy for us is to become the preferred mobile phone brand in emerging markets.”
In less than 12 months, Transsion went from an unknown phone brand to one of the top 3 selling vendors in India after noticing that the local custom of eating with hands made it difficult to use a smartphone with greasy fingers. In response, Transsion has developed phones that can be unlocked using an oil-resistant fingerprint recognition feature.
It was a similar story when entering the African telephony market. Rather than approaching this new market with the same consumption assumptions that had applied in an Asian context, Transsion set out to identify the key pain points for African smartphone users.
The first discovery they made in this process was that African consumers tended to carry multiple SIM cards in order to avoid making expensive off-network calls. The second idea was that existing smartphone cameras often struggled to bring out the facial features of dark-skinned people.
Armed with this information, Transsion has launched a line of dual-SIM smartphones with cameras that improve photo clarity by allowing for more light exposure. It paid off.  Their success to date has been breathtaking, with Transsion overtaking both Apple and Samsung to become the number one and most trusted player in Africa’s rapidly growing smartphone market.  and the 4th largest phone maker in the world.
Transsion’s engagement with customers reveals that first impressions are not enough to maintain lasting loyalty. It is the constant concern for the needs of customers, and a real prioritization of their experience that makes it possible to reduce friction and the trust that results from it.
According to Nobel Prize-winning professor Daniel Kahneman, our last impression of a product or brand is extremely important in shaping our memory and our perceptions of the experience. Customer experience expert Adam Toporek suggests that businesses and individuals would be crazy not to incorporate this information into the way they craft their interactions with customers. “One of the best techniques is to try to deliberately manufacture the emotional peak, to create it by design.” In other words, design customer journeys that end well to create an experience that makes your customers feel emotionally positive and remember you fondly.
However, a final impression can only last if it is backed by an overall positive experience. We’ve all experienced the moment of peak frustration when, after dealing with high levels of friction in a business, we’re asked “How was your experience today?” Following an ill-conceived customer experience at best, the empty optimism of these questions seems almost condescending. Ending the customer experience with positivity is empty if the middle process was riddled with pain points.
For customers to end on a true high note, the entire process of the experience must have been designed with them in mind. Marketing and customer reviews are important, but they become useless shortcuts if genuine customer care and painless system design aren’t there. Companies that build lasting customer loyalty are those that value the last impression as much as the first.
 Lin, L. & Strumpf, D. 2017, “Two SIM cards and better selfies: How Chinese smartphones take on Apple”, The Wall Street Journal, 8 June.
 Tao, L. 2018, “How an unknown Chinese phone maker became India’s No. 3 by solving the fat finger problem”, South China Morning Post, 12 January.
 Wong, J. 2019, “China’s Mobile Phone Giant in Africa”, The Wall Street Journal, 19 April.
 Drumond, M. 2018, ‘Understanding how the edge rule defines customer experiences’, Medium, 11 May