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‘Does this hurt? No. How about here? No. Here? OUCH YES.’ We have all been there. The doctor poking you with 2 rigid fingers until your yelp of pain tells them they’ve found the problem. Despite all our technological and biomedical advances, their best tool is still systematically poking you about in the abdomen until you scream in pain. It works because it is simple and effective, your pain their ability to diagnose.

So it is too with your Customer Experience (CX). Many companies seem to spend a lot of time plotting their customer journey in great detail, but then they fail to ‘feel’ along it for the pain points. These pain points are where it can all go wrong for a brand, what the customer is more likely to share with their peers via social media, and what may be their overarching memory of the experience. But there is good news. Just as in life, pain is just a symptom of the problem. Isolate the pain and fix it, and your brand will live longer.

Dissolve Your Pain Point

Take IKEA.  They are masters of the impulse buy, designing their stores as a series of ‘this could be your life’ showrooms (the psychological term is Virtual Ownership). They orchestrate your walk through the store along a certain route and plant lots of fun, colourful and great value accessories along the way. And those blue bags are on hand everywhere for you to grab and fill. As I said, they are masters at the impulse incremental sale. However that success also brings about a problem.

Their pain point is often at the checkout.  You came in for 1 or 2 small items but now having checked out, for all the little things you casually dropped into that blue bag along the way (they all add up you know!) you now owe them €145. PAIN. Ouch.

Now many businesses would leave it at that. They have your money. They have made their incremental sales. But not IKEA. They know that this is one of the last moments along your customer journey today. The last thing you want to do is let a customer leave your store angry, disappointed or in pain. And so to dissolve this pain they added a little step between the checkout and the exit door. The Swipe a Surprise machines.

Here you scan your receipt (now longer than you’d anticipated!) and the machine randomly allocates you a small surprise. It might just be a free coffee or donut from the in-store café, but either way it’s a little gift. It makes you smile. It’s playful and you leave the store in less pain.  These machines are a strategic asset for CX, not just some fun. They help dissolve the identified pain point.

Other brands still struggle with their pain points, either not recognising them or not doing enough to dissolve them. As it is holiday season, many of us will have experienced the rental car pain point recently.

Rent a Queue

Today’s consumer demands frictionless. Every moment on a customer experience journey that is clunky or inefficient erodes brand and experiential equity. Today’s consumer expects fluid and efficient at every touch point. But despite all our technology, most rental car companies still fail the consumer when you go to pick up your car.

Even the shortest flight will have had you leave your home 3-4 hours ago. When you land you might have another 1-2 hour journey ahead of you on roads you don’t know. You just want to get the car and get going. But you can’t.  The long queues for rental car pick up is one of the small mysteries of life.

I just want the keys and for you to tell me where the car is. That’s it really. But each customer spends 5-10 minutes filling in paperwork, handing over driving licences AND  credit cards, and being sold additional insurances. Multiply that by many holiday makers and you have an agonising wait for most. PAIN. Not a great way to start your holiday. Add a few cranky and tired children into that mix and it is brand equity gone bad.

Here’s a small suggestion. Just a thought. Use the technology we have and take all the friction out. When we book a car ask us to send our driving licence (scan or picture). Now alongside all the other information you take (credit card, name, address) you can prepopulate the paperwork and send it to us before we travel to check. Like insurance companies do with their policies. And speaking of insurance, explain all the insurance options at booking, not at the counter. In fact get rid of the counter. That’s frictionless.

Rental Car Pick Up Re-Engineered

Imagine this new world. You open the APP on your phone and ‘check in’ on the day you travel. The car rental company send you back your pick up PIN and Box Number. You land and walk to their self-service kiosk at Arrivals. You enter your PIN and one of the 50 little key-safe boxes pops open. Inside are your car keys and paperwork and clear details of the bay in which your rental car is parked.  30 seconds later you are walking to the vehicle.  Frictionless. We don’t need to stand in a queue for 30 minutes to sign or pay or discuss insurance. They need to re-engineer the CX so that’s all done before you travel, when you have the time and energy. That’s added value. I’d even pay a premium!

It’s a simple change but one that perhaps hasn’t happened because they don’t notice or care. But as soon as one company removes the friction, they win.


I come from a generation that used to watch a blank screen for 10 minutes as we played audio tapes into a Commodore to load a 64k game, which would often crash at the last minute (my fault for boot-legging games probably). I know ALL about waiting but even I get impatient now. Imagine how the Millennial ‘I want it now’ generation feel? The generation raised on Instant. Trust me, they don’t do friction!

So today look at your customer journey. Put on a white coat and stethoscope and start poking. Find the pain points. Acknowledge and then do everything in your power to dissolve them.

No Pain, Just Gain.

That’s your Customer Experience mantra.

Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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