I just wanted to give you the table

I once worked for a major UK charity.

At the time Google was offering free partnering sessions to help charities with marketing. Google arranged for 2 members of the public to come to a workshop to discuss their experiences with the charity.

Yeah, it’s just a table. Look at it, holding stuff.

One quote (which I will have to paraphrase) really stood out to me.

“I had a table I wanted to donate, so I brought it to my local shop. I was instantly offered a range of options to accompany my donation – gift aid, tracking what happened to the table, a loyalty scheme – all with a raft of accompanying paperwork.

All I wanted to do was give you the table.”

For influencing behaviour, friction is a powerful tool. If you want someone to do something, make it easy – maybe frictionless. If you want someone not to do something, make it harder.

Recently I move my house insurance to a new provider. I’m a classic ‘get a new quote for every renewal’ guy – yes, you may leave now if you like. I found a cheaper quote and set up a new account and paid for a years insurance upfront.

Right there was some friction. If I paid monthly, it would cost more overall. But if I paid for the entire year, it was cheaper. So I paid for the year – the insurance company are happy as they have their money – and I’m probably a stickier customer as I don’t have to see the money going out of my account every month.

Then I needed to cancel the existing insurance – so I went into my online account and looked at the renewal. All the details were there, and it told me it would be auto-renewed if I did nothing (quick! do something!) – but there was nowhere to cancel. To make any changes, I had to call them.

So I did – and, as you’d expect, they tried to talk me out of it.

“We can match your quote… Do you know about these benefits… There is a cancellation charge…”

They’re creating friction – in a classic way that businesses do. Make it easy to sign-up, but hard to cancel. It happens with some email lists too – just pop your name in the box and you’re signed up. But want to unsubscribe? You must click the link, then enter your email address, then tell us why you want to, then confirm… lots of opportunities to change your mind.

Some of these tactics seem… well… questionable.

But adding friction need not be employed with questionable motives. If you are fond of a chocolate biscuit or a bit of cake, a suitable way to try to stop yourself eating too much is to put them on a high shelf. Make it more effort to get to your favourite fattening treats and put the fruit somewhere easy to reach.

“I recently wrote about how important it is to make the right thing easy. The opposite is also true: it’s important to make the wrong things difficult.”

Tim Kadlec

If you’re trying to convince someone to adopt new behaviours – a customer, a team, a friend or family member perhaps, could you think about adding or subtracting friction?

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