Disney CEO Bob Iger is certainly riding high: Last month, his company announced it was buying a big chunk of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets--and, as a result, Disney's board asked Iger to remain as CEO until 2021.

But that doesn't mean that Iger is complacent. In fact, in an essay in The Economist's special edition, The World in 2018, Iger writes that his industry will face unprecedented challenges in the months and years ahead:

Entertainment has always been a competitive sport, a battle for the hearts and minds of the masses. However, the rapid evolution of world-changing technology has turned what had been a gentleman's contest into an all-ou­t arms race in which traditional rules of engagement no longer apply.

As you might expect, Iger is intent on making sure that Disney produces content that consumers crave.

But it might surprise you to learn that Iger is also focused on solving a problem that many businesses face in connecting with customers. That problem is friction.

To understand friction's importance, let's start with Cambridge Dictionary's definition:  "The force that works against an object as it slides along the surface of another object or moves through a liquid of gas." Used in a sentence: "A gasoline engine loses over 70 percent of its energy to friction and heat."

When it comes to customers, friction occurs when a person is interested in a what you have to offer, but then encounters resistance in his/her quest to try or buy your product or service.

Friction can occur when:

  • There's a barrier to overcome. The most common is the lowly password. The customer doesn't remember his/her password. Or must register for the first time, answering many questions to do so. (Or, in media, there's a paywall, requiring the user to get out his/her credit card.)
  • Content is too long or too difficult. A video requires 10 minutes to watch, and the customer only has three. The instruction booklet is 15 pages long. Directions aren't  written in plain English.
  • The experience is frustrating. A product arrives broken, and the customer can't figure out how to return the package. There's no customer service number to call--or if there is, the customer has to wait on hold for 15 minutes. The customer wants to download a movie, but it takes 20 minutes to do so.

These and other sources of friction all add up to the same result: When the experience requires too much of a commitment, customers abandon ship.

As Iger explains, "Today's consumers have no tolerance for friction of any kind; they have lost all patience when it comes to ease of use. Intuitive, elegant and efficient user interfaces have therefore never been more important, and the same goes for seamless mobility and effective search capabilities."

As a result, every industry needs to identify sources of friction and develop solutions for eliminating the barriers.

In my field--communication--that means eliminating audience members' barriers to accessing information. For example, my team works all the time to create simple navigation that lets audience members access communication according to their needs. I use the term "navigation" because it's the best way to describe the experience of finding one's way through any type of communication: print, electronic, even a PowerPoint presentation.

For Iger, the ability to eliminate friction (and be successful) "will increasingly be determined by the ability to create a direct, two-way relationship with consumers. This has led Disney to acquire the means to deliver premium content to a mass audience, allowing us the freedom and flexibility to lessen our reliance on the usual distributors." For instance, in 2018 Disney will launch an ESPN-branded service allowing users to stream live sporting events to their devices. And a Disney-branded streaming service will follow in 2019.

In your industry, you need to figure out what frustrates customers and how to create better experiences. That means giving customers a simple, easy experience The front door has to be clearly visible, the hallways clean, the aisles clearly labeled, the products at eye level and the exit signs always brightly illuminated. If your audience members start to feel overwhelmed or confused, they won't muddle through--they'll get out as fast as their legs can carry them.

Bob Iger knows the importance of eliminating friction. It's time for you to get out the WD-40 and smooth the way.