OPINION10 March 2021

Auditing sludge: How to reduce friction and boost customer satisfaction

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Behavioural science Innovations Opinion Trends

‘Sludge', where customers face high levels of friction or are deliberately misled, can be damaging to a business in the long term. Crawford Hollingworth argues a sludge audit could help address the issue.


You’ll have heard of ‘nudge’, and although you might not have heard the term ‘sludge’, you’ll be familiar with what it means in practice. It’s when consumers or businesses face high levels of friction that obstruct their efforts to achieve something that is in their best interest, or are deliberately misled or encouraged to take action that is not in their best interest.

Here are some examples that you’ve probably experienced first hand:

  • Clunky and badly designed benefits application processes
  • Subscriptions that are hard to cancel
  • Overly complex and time-consuming registration processes; or
  • Trying to purchase an insurance policy or flight without unnecessary add-ons.

Some are intentional – put in place knowingly to help maximise profits and customer base – but many are unintentional and are simply the result of poor or rushed design or oversight.

The impacts of sludge can be both physical and psychological. Physical impacts include loss of time and money, as well as being saddled with sub-optimal products and services, ...