Reducing Customer Friction: What Can we Learn from an 80s Music DJ?

posted by David Pohlman on Monday, July 08, 2019 in Office Equipment Blog

The year was 1980. Back then, I was commonly blasting Footloose, Danger Zone, or Mr. Roboto through my stereo speakers. I could spend much of a weekend playing songs like these. In fact, I loved music so much, that by 1983, I started a mobile DJ business – I founded Dance Systems Incorporated – “DJ Entertainment with a touch of class” using a $2,600 loan from my father, and began taking jobs. I started “gigging” at all kinds of events – from weddings to school dances, I was having a ball and filling event halls with the latest and greatest “tunes” of the day. But as it “turns” out, I was doing more than playing music; I was also learning a lot about the importance of product evolution and customer experience. Let’s reflect back.

Vinyl and Friction                    

Being a DJ in the early 80’s required some actual heavy lifting. Getting my setup from one gig to the next would involve six milk crates at a minimum just to carry all of my vinyl music. There was also the matter of transporting my turntables, speakers, equipment rack, and lighting. I am sure you can imagine the time and effort it took on both ends of a show. Fortunately, I also had a metallic blue, shag carpeted Chevy van to carry it all.

And then there was the song request process – boy was that cumbersome! Looking back, I’m still baffled at the amount of energy it took just to play one song.

It went something like this: 

An event-goer would step up to my booth and submit their song request. Three simple words, “can you play…” would trigger a frenzied chain of events. The average top 100 song is three and a half minutes in length, and there was a lot to do to get the requested song ready to play before the current song ended. First, I had to locate the song. I’d need to find the artist and then sort through the albums or single 45 records to determine which contained the request - if it even existed in my collection. I’d thumb through album after album until I’d identified the artist, album, and track. I’d then remove the vinyl disc from its sleeve and begin evaluating which groove would correspond with the specific track number (an impressive skill in a dark environment if you ask me). Finally, I’d place the record on the turntable and ever so carefully rest the needle a few groves before where the song begins, cuing it up ever so precisely so that when I hit start the music would immediately play. No “dead-air” was always the goal! 

All of that in three and a half minutes, and all before once again hearing those same three simple words, “can you play…?” 

Unfortunately, the friction didn’t stop at the song request process. The overall experience was clunky too - leaving much to be desired for the audience.  Vinyl records had static and if the turntable was bumped or if the floor was not solid, songs would skip causing people to heckle and “BOO!” It was often very stressful. The friction vinyl created in the DJ experience was significant, but at the time, there were no viable alternatives. Sure, cassettes were on the market, but that format had no place in the DJ world because they were too challenging to cue. It wouldn’t be until the mid-80’s that a new format would come along and change the game a little.

Enter the Compact Disc

Around the time when Cyndi Lauper’s, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was climbing its way up the charts, CDs started to emerge. Just like that, the audio cassette tape was replaced with something better and with a little less friction.

Though a vast improvement because they were easy to cue and they did not skip, the CD still had a few of its own downfalls:

  • They were expensive.
  • Although they were smaller and easier to carry, you still had the problem of physically locating the CD you wanted, and then you had to read the case to figure out what track number corresponded to the song you needed.

By the 1990’s, CDs had infiltrated the marketplace, and by 1992, they began outselling the cassette tape. It was all part of the evolution of the music industry – from vinyl, to cassette, to CD.

Despite the improvements CDs brought to my DJ business, I quit the DJ scene in 1989 when I graduated from college. I sold my business and put all my proceeds toward an engagement ring. For the “record,” it was the best thing I ever did! (Hoping my wife reads this!)

The Music Industry Continued to Evolve

While I left the DJ business, things continued to evolve in the music industry. CDs were just the beginning of the technological advancements to follow. The industry began to further explore how to reduce friction for the listener (and the DJ!).

Over the next few years, many new technologies and formats began to develop: 

  • Napster Downloads – Napster forced the music industry to embrace digital distribution of music (using the MP3 file format) after having tried to suppress it at the disadvantage of musical artists. 
  • iPods, iTunes and mp3s – The development of the MP3 was revolutionary. Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 and forever changed the way music was produced, sold, and played. They not only provided us with the hardware that would allow us to “carry 1,000 songs in our pockets,” they also provided the software to help us manage it. Talk about reducing friction! 
  • Streaming – Spotify launched in 2008 and took the music listener’s user experience to a whole new level. Not only could we carry most any song we want to hear in our pockets, with Spotify you could purchase a single unlimited streaming license and essentially play any song you ever wanted. Apple and Amazon have now also become major players in the music streaming world, and today you just ask Alexa or Siri to play any song and it instantly happens. I don’t know how it can become more frictionless than that, but somehow I know it will.  

Music Industry Insights for the Office Equipment Industry

So how does this story of a young 1980’s DJ and the evolution of the music industry relate to the office imaging space?

Things like music streaming, Amazon Prime shopping, and Google searching continue to raise the bar on what consumers expect when it comes to ease of use and overall customer experience. Also, consumers don’t expect to have to expend much effort to get the results they desire.  As these consumer expectations continue to spill over into the commercial world, pressure is put on all of us to make things easier, faster, and better for our business customers.  It’s all about reducing friction and cleaning up processes.

Because the office equipment industry has been so good to us and to dealers, complacency can set in. Yes, there’s been a lot of growth, but we should not get comfortable.  We can’t let the simple expectation of growth and our attachment to our old ways be a deterrent to us being willing to proactively pursue positive change. Consistent winning is no accident, and so we all must evolve. 

We all have those stories within our organizations where we went way above and beyond to deliver an amazing experience to a customer in need. Those are generally experiences that could not be delivered every day because of the level of heroic effort it takes - given our current processes.  However, these are sometimes things that we should focus on trying to make “our standard approach.”  That means identifying the ideal customer outcomes that take extraordinary effort today -- and identifying the necessary process adjustments or automation needed so we can reach that same outcome with ordinary effort tomorrow.  Amazon Prime delivery is a great example. Two-day delivery was something people occasionally requested when they urgently needed something, but Amazon figured out that getting orders to people sooner drove more repeat activity.  As a result, they decided to make that the “standard” for Prime members, and they are about to move standard Prime delivery to next-day.   

How can we make the Extraordinary the Ordinary?

If we can all instill in our employees to always be thinking about how they can improve processes, both internally, and for customers, I think we will all be amazed at what we will uncover. Think about the opportunities we all have to increase efficiency, reduce friction, and work toward delivering on customers’ expectations every single time.

Employees should ask themselves, “in what ways can we…”

  • …do this better?
  • …reduce delays?
  • …remove steps or pain points?
  • …leverage new sources of data or insight?
  • …learn from other industries or consumer experience?
  • …help make your dealership the clear and consistent choice?

Could manual processes be automated? Are we taking advantage of all the technology integrations partners have made available?  When customers call in with a problem, will they get stuck in voicemail jail, or hear the voice of a friendly representative that wants to help? What about ease of use?  For instance, do you provide customers an easy way to receive documentation? Can they provide their signatures electronically? And when it comes to getting them quotes or getting their credit approved, are you taking advantage of the software or mobile applications that make these processes virtually instant? 

As we move forward in business, we should seek input from our employees who are on the front lines and work with them to note significant elements of friction they may be seeing with customers. 

What are the Possibilities if we focus more on Customer Experience?

You can’t put a price tag on a stellar customer experience. Just ask Amazon. On most occasions, I’ve opted to pay more for a product because I could buy it through Amazon Prime. They already have all of my information, and they have figured out my buying preferences.  As a result, I can get what I need with just a couple of clicks. While it’s true I could sometimes save money if I were to buy elsewhere, I opt for the time savings and ease of use every time! Today, I actually cringe at the thought of going to a different website, creating an account, and entering my credit card and shipping information.  Even though it truly only takes a few minutes, I simply won’t deal with the inconvenience if I can avoid it. I think that mindset is becoming more the norm for us as consumers. As a result, we all need to be thinking about ways we can continually make doing business with us much more frictionless and sticky.


When I look back at my DJ business, I often wonder what would have happened if I could have focused mostly on creating the best audience experience vs. investing so much time on just keeping the music playing. How big could my DJ business have become? I will never really know this answer, but I am confident the diamond in my wife’s engagement ring would have been much bigger!

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About The Author

David Pohlman is executive vice president and COO of GreatAmerica Financial Corp. and a member of the GreatAmerica Office of the President, which makes strategic, financial and operational decisions that set the direction of the company. In his role as COO, he is responsible for the sales, marketing, operations and strategic planning for all business units within GreatAmerica.

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