Create a Seamless User Experience: 5 Ways to Overcome Product Friction in B2B Saas

Create a Seamless User Experience: 5 Ways to Overcome Product Friction in B2B Saas

Adelina Karpenkova
Adelina Karpenkova (Smartlook Team)  |  Last updated: Aug 7, 2023
17 mins read
Companies all over the world are cutting back on their software spend by minimizing the number of SaaS products in their toolkits.

Companies all over the world are cutting back on their software spend by minimizing the number of SaaS products in their toolkits.

Competition in the B2B SaaS sphere is about to reach boiling point as customers are becoming increasingly discerning about the products they invest in. Providing a frictionless product experience (PX) is no longer an additional perk but a key factor in the success and sustainability of your B2B product.

But is it possible to eliminate all points of friction in your SaaS product, or is that more of a pipe dream?

In short, although you can’t (and shouldn’t) get rid of product friction completely, you can minimize it.

In this article, we’ll cover what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ product friction and equip you with a strategy to help you spot and eliminate harmful friction. In addition, we’ll also cover the following topics:

What is product friction?

Product friction refers to any obstacle that hinders a user’s experience while interacting with a product. This includes any points of resistance that make it difficult for prospects and customers to complete desired actions.

Product friction can be the result of various factors, including a slow or glitchy user interface (UI), complex navigation, excessive steps to complete actions, slow loading times, confusing terminology, a lack of clear instructions, and more.

3 Types of friction in the SaaS environment

Friction comes in several forms, including ‘good’ and ‘bad’ friction.

Wait, is product friction ever a good thing…?

In short—yes! Good friction refers to intentional design elements that are strategically implemented to achieve specific goals. Good friction should help you guide users, prevent errors, and deliberately create delays regarding specific actions.

Examples of good friction in the SaaS environment include:

  • Confirmation dialog boxes. When a user is about to perform a crucial or irreversible action, such as deleting data, a confirmation dialogue box introduces friction by popping up and asking the user to confirm their decision

Source: Slack

  • Progressive onboarding. By gradually introducing users to features and offering tooltips, guided tours, and contextual help, you’re introducing good friction by enabling users to navigate your product more effectively

Source: Wingspan

  • Setting password complexity. Requiring users to create strong passwords with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters is an example of good friction that enhances security

Source: Microsoft

Bad friction, on the other hand, is any unintended or excessive obstacle that negatively impacts the user experience. There are three major types:

  • Emotional friction
  • Cognitive friction
  • Interaction friction

Emotional friction 

Emotional friction refers to obstacles that transform the users experience into an intimidating and discouraging ordeal.

This is the hardest type of friction to describe, grasp, and combat due to its complex and subjective nature. You can only address this type of product friction if you have a deep understanding of end-user emotions and struggles.

Here are some examples of emotional friction:

  • Unmet expectations—i.e. misleading ads or promises that don’t align with a product’s actual capabilities
  • Loss of control—i.e. unexpected changes or actions that users can’t oversee or undo, such as accidental data deletion
  • Lack of empathy—i.e. robotic interactions, especially regarding customer support and error messages

Interestingly enough, it’s emotional friction that can give you the biggest competitive advantage. 

In order to gain traction in the competitive market, you should identify friction points in your competitors’ products that bother your target audience the most—this is what we refer to as emotional friction. Only then can you create a solution that appeals to them functionally and emotionally.

“In the context of product-market fit, friction is what’s in the way of a perfect product experience. Traction is the outcome of enough people adopting a product that it removes enough friction to be worth adoption costs (time+money).

A new product won’t gain traction unless the people that come before them experience friction.

You can’t get traction without friction.”
Kenny MacKenzie
Kenny MacKenzie
Founder & CEO

Source: LinkedIn Post

Cognitive friction 

Cognitive friction occurs when excessive mental effort is required to complete a task within a product. Complex workflows, difficult-to-understand instructions, and overwhelming information all contribute to cognitive friction. 

Examples of cognitive friction in the SaaS environment include:

  • Unclear guidance—i.e. complex or technical jargon that makes it hard for users to understand product features
  • Over-complicated workflows—i.e. too many steps to complete a task
  • Product not performing as expected—i.e. error messages appear in response to certain actions

Interaction friction

Interaction friction refers to the difficulties that arise when users interact with a product’s UI. It can be caused by: 

  • Ambiguous navigation—i.e. a cluttered or poorly organized UI
  • Unresponsive controls—i.e. buttons or links that don’t work as expected
  • Performance issues—i.e. slow loading times for pages or features

How to identify friction points in your product

Let’s walk through a simple yet actionable strategy for identifying points of friction in your SaaS product.

1. Map out the user journey 

You know there are problems somewhere in the PX, but where? 

Your first step toward answering this question is identifying specific touchpoints that may cause friction throughout the customer journey. 

User journey mapping is the process of identifying the key stages and milestones users go through, from product discovery and the conversion stage to ongoing product adoption

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Define user personas. You already have user personas in place, so it’s time to revisit them. Each persona should represent a specific customer segment. This will make it easier for you to visualize customer journeys for users with various needs and pain points. 

2. Outline the key touchpoints for each persona. Make a list of the critical touchpoints where user personas interact with your product. These touchpoints can include visiting your website, signing up for a trial, using specific features, seeking customer support, and more.

3. Create user journey maps. Visualize user journeys with maps and flowcharts. The number of customer journeys should correlate with the number of customer personas.

4. Identify gaps and discrepancies. Surprise-surprise, your ideal customer journey and reality may fail to align. Analyze the differences between the outlined journey and the actual customer journey—this is where you’ll identify the biggest friction points. 

Once you’ve broken down the user journey(s) into smaller steps, it’s much easier to analyze your product usage data and identify trends in the PX.

2. Look at your product metrics at each stage of the journey

KPIs like conversion rates, bounce rates, feature adoption rates, churn rates, and others will indicate whether you’re dealing with product friction and whether you need to do anything about it.

To interpret the metrics, look for patterns, trends, and anomalies that indicate areas of concern, for instance:

  • Low conversion rates combined with a high bounce rate suggest friction during the onboarding process
  • A low feature adoption rate may be caused by different factors—from friction in the onboarding process to unclear communication regarding new features
  • A low task completion rate indicates friction in the user interface, such as confusing workflows

Once you spot an alarming pattern, you can dive deeper into the root cause by looking at the user experience from a user’s perspective. 

3. Collect user feedback

You already have some quantitative insight into your product’s performance. Now it’s time to collect some user feedback to gain access to the qualitative insights that metrics alone don’t reveal.

By asking open-ended questions, running surveys, and analyzing customer support interactions, you’ll be able to see your product through your customers’ eyes and uncover the type of friction you’re dealing with. Here’s an action plan to help you on your journey:

  • Create targeted surveys to gather specific feedback from users regarding their experiences with your product. Consider running in-app surveys triggered by specific user actions
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews with loyal customers. What do they have to say?
  • Analyze customer support tickets and interactions. What are the most frequent issues or common user frustrations?

A combination of product metrics and user feedback will give you a good idea of the pain points your users experience. That said, you’ll still lack the necessary context to come up with a solution to minimize product friction. 

4. Look into your product analytics data

First you used product metrics to detect signs of friction. Then you turned to user feedback to understand the customer’s point of view. Now, it’s time to look at the PX through your customers’ eyes. 

These tools will help you collect the PX insights that will provide you with more context and reveal underlying patterns: 

  • Session recordings—by watching these recordings, you can see firsthand how users interact with your UI, including moments of hesitation and where they get stuck
  • Heatmaps—use heatmaps to pinpoint elements that users attempt to interact with but are not clickable or functional
  • User paths—also known as a funnel analysis, a user path analysis highlights common sequences of actions users take within your product, including if and where they deviate from the intended flow

This is where you’ll need the user journey maps you built earlier. Once you understand how different customer segments should behave inside your product, it’s easier to spot the behaviors that don’t align with your user journeys.

Combining the insights from session recordings, heatmaps, and user paths with quantitative data and user feedback will help you spot potential bad friction points in your SaaS product.

5. Translate the data into friction points

Now that you have gathered valuable insights from various sources, it’s time to turn it into product friction points—the good kind.

For best results, consider the following steps:

  1. Look for common issues that users repeatedly face, such as difficulty with specific screens or interactions
  2. Group friction points into emotional friction, cognitive friction, and interaction friction to understand their nature
  3. Prioritize the friction points that have the most impact on the user experience and overall product success
  4. Segment friction points based on user demographics or behavior to tailor solutions to specific user needs

With this data in hand, you’re ready to design and implement the solutions that will address your friction points.

5 Examples of friction points, including how to overcome them

Friction points come in all shapes and sizes. Here are the most common friction points SaaS customers face.

1. Overcomplicated sign-up flow

Problem: An overcomplicated sign-up process is the first major source of friction in the user experience. Often, it includes too many steps making it challenging for users to register.

“It doesn’t matter how great your marketing is if your buying process is a nightmare.”
Diego Oquendo
Diego Oquendo
Performance Marketing Manager at Catalyst Consulting

Source: LinkedIn Post

Identifying the problem: Analyze drop-off rates along each step of the sign-up flow to identify where users are struggling. Perform a funnel analysis with Smartlook to spot friction points in your checkout funnel.

Pair a funnel analysis with screen recordings (also accessible in Smartlook) to see what the user experience looks like behind each drop-off.

Addressing the problem: If possible, remove all friction from the registration process. There’s no place for ‘good’ friction in the sign-up flow. Leading product experts recommend that SaaS companies minimize friction in the buying process by showcasing the product first:

“Spotify helps you experience the product’s value with minimal friction.

You don’t even need to sign up—their landing page is their product”
Matt Hinds
Co-Founder at Sauce

2. Lack of user guidance

Problem: A lack of user guidance can be a significant friction point for SaaS customers. 

Identifying the problem: There are quite a few indicators of poor onboarding. Start with measuring the time it takes for users to unlock the core value of your product. If it takes too long for users to achieve value, it’s a sign they’re lacking proper guidance.

In Smartlook, you can assess your product’s time-to-value (TTV) by running a cohort analysis. This involves setting up tracking for a specific group of people (e.g. users that signed up over the last month) to identify how many of them completed the first key action (e.g. save the project). All you need is to define a cohort, a.k.a. a customer segment, and define the event you want to track.

Once you’re all set, you can access detailed stats regarding the cohorts’ activity over a specified timeframe in the retention table:

In the Y-axis in the above table, you can see users split into groups by the day they signed up for a free trial. The X-axis refers to the number of users who took the specified action (in this case, file upload) nine days following their registration. To assess whether your new users are achieving the first milestone fast enough, compare the number of users taking action to the benchmark TTV (oh yea, you also need to set a benchmark).

“If you’re a product manager that keeps an eye on conversions and new business in regards to a product, cohorts will help you a lot.

Every time you put a cut in each of the steps your users make along their journey, you make the data set smaller and more controllable. It’s like freezing a group of users in time.

Cohorts also give you more influence. So the smaller the parts that you chop, the better.

If you look at users that convert and bring money to your business, every chop you make, the more control you have. Let’s say your business has 100 new users. They may convert. But, so what?

If you build a cohort and aggregate, let’s say, 100 users from this campaign on this channel, it gives you more control over what you can analyze. For example, you can dig deeper into:

The time to value (how much time it takes for your free users to turn into paying clients). Do we have the right amount of free features, including behind-the-paywall features? How is our product performing over a specific period of time?

So, cohorts make it possible to improve your product in a product-led growth framework. Cohorts are actually the only way to make an impact on a product and have better control over it.”
Michiel Vermeulen
Growth & revenue manager

Addressing the problem: Unlike the conversion journey, an onboarding flow benefits from ‘good’ friction (adding a layer of educational content before letting new users explore your product).

3. A confusing user interface

Problem: A cluttered UI is a common point of product friction. It often happens when a company incorporates too many features or wishes to create a design that “stands out.”

Identifying the problem: Turn to heatmaps and session recordings. Heatmaps allow you to visualize quantitative data in regard to recurring patterns in user behavior, such as areas of interest and the ones that get ignored. From here, you can dig deeper into the exact reasons behind these trends by reviewing session replays.

Session recordings represent qualitative data that helps uncover the behavior of individual users (which make up patterns when put together). These recordings will show you how users interact with your UI and point out where visitors get angry, lost, or confused.

Addressing the problem: The solution depends on the exact problem you’ve identified during your analysis. But you’re likely to start by improving the visual hierarchy of your UI and creating a consistent layout. You should also consider simplifying the navigational flow by reducing the number of clicks required to reach essential features.

“Recently, we had a major UX challenge with our product: users were finding certain flows unintuitive. Here’s what we did to fix it:

We built and maintained a “core flows” library. Examples for us included setting up alerts, dashboards, investigating outages, etc.

User testing—we started internally since our product is used by engineers. Now every new employee is put into a pool for testing, and we actively recruit our users

We systematically grade and improve the UX towards A’s

A = new user can complete with no guidance 

B = users can complete with conceptual instructions 

C = users require step-by-step instructions 

This way, all major flows are tested, and friction is minimized before GA release.”
Head of Product at Observe, Inc.

4. Failure to reach the “aha!” moment

Problem: The “aha!” moment is the point in the user onboarding process where users experience the true value and benefits of your product. In other words, it’s the moment they decide to stick with you. Failing to reach this moment as early as possible in the user journey can lead to user disengagement and churn.

Identifying the problem: This is a difficult one. First off, you need to define when the “aha!” moment happens along the user journey. To validate it, you need to trace the correlation between this moment and user retention—do users that reach it stay with you longer?

Once you’ve defined the “aha!” moment, you can set it as an event in Smartlook and track how many people (if any) reach it. 

The funnel view will work best for uncovering insight into the user journey. Since the “aha!” moment is rarely just one event but rather a sequence of actions, a funnel analysis will help you understand whether users are completing the path you’ve outlined for them, including where they’re experiencing problems. 

Addressing the problem: If the data shows you need to get your users to reach the “aha!” moment faster, you should focus on optimizing the onboarding process. You can start by tailoring the onboarding experience based on user personas and their specific needs. Walk users through the most critical aspects of your product with interactive guides to ensure they understand and experience its value early on.

5. Too much information

Problem: While providing detailed onboarding guidance is helpful, logging into a new app and suddenly being bombarded with multiple instructions can be irritating. Failing to strike that balance can lead to information overload and visual noise.

Identifying the problem: Observe user behavior to see if visitors appear confused or spend excessive time trying to process information. Also, be sure to pay attention to how many users abandon certain screens or features quickly, as it may indicate information overload.

In Smartlook, you can create a funnel for tracking the onboarding process—just define the milestones, a.k.a. events, for your funnel and activate monitoring. 

Addressing the problem: Simplify the screen and trigger one experience at a time. Avoid bombarding users with multiple prompts or options at once, and give them time to absorb the information and take action.

“An example of product friction we recently overcame is overwhelming users with too many options. By breaking down our user onboarding checklist into two parts, we saw double-digit gains in our completion rate—from less than 2% to about 25%.

Initially, our onboarding checklist had several steps and was the same for all user groups. So we decided to split the list out across post-purchase and trial, creating separate lists for each phase of the experience. 

The first checklist now focuses on installing the Appcues Builder. Once the first checklist has been completed, it triggers the second checklist, which includes 3 items: create a flow, track an event, and create a goal. 

The idea is to daisy-chain the checklists together so folks don’t have a 45-page to-do list. They have just a couple of little setup tasks—truly bite-sized tasks, teeny little things. This makes each step more palatable and easy to complete.”
Ramli John
Content Director at Appcues and the author of Product-Led Onboarding

Identifying and reducing user friction with Smartlook

The goal of product designers and developers is to strike a balance between good and bad friction. While good friction can guide users and enhance PX, bad friction creates unnecessary barriers to the user experience. 

To draw a line between these two and minimize bad friction, turn Smartlook’s PX insights. The platform offers a set of product analytics tools to help you go as deep as possible into the points of friction in your PX and the context behind them. With event funnels, heatmaps, and session recordings, you’ll be able to access a visual representation of your product’s quantitative and qualitative data helping you understand and resolve user pain points.
Schedule a Smartlook demo or start your free, full-featured 30-day trial today.

Adelina Karpenkova
Adelina Karpenkova

is a freelance writer with a background in SaaS marketing. She loves discovering new product marketing strategies, gaining insights for product experts, and turning her knowledge into helpful content. When she's not writing, she plays tennis or knits cozy sweaters.

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