Return to site

This Is Where Many Companies Fail--Most of The Time, On Purpose

Do you have a meeting of the minds?

The root of the problem

At the root of many instances of customer dissatisfaction is a failure by a company to communicate and plan clearly with its customers. But here is the dirty secret: this failure is often on purpose.

Here are some examples of questions companies can ask themselves to self-assess whether they are guilty of this intentional failure...

Failure to communicate

  • Do you have a clear idea of what your product/service can and cannot do?
  • Does your customer (the buyer) have a clear idea?
  • Is the buyer's idea the same as yours?
  • Or does your warranty contain a long, fine-print set of exclusions which the buyer has not read?

Failure to plan

  • Do you have a clear idea of what is required under your sales agreement?
  • Does the buyer have a clear idea?
  • Are your ideas the same?
  • What could go wrong and prevent one side--either you or the buyer--from living up to his/her end of the bargain?
  • Do you agree on what the consequences would be?
  • Does the contract reflect this agreement?
  • Could you show your agreement to a neutral third-party and get him/her to draw the same interpretations as you do?

In legalese...

A lawyer might sum up all of these questions by simply asking, do you and your buyer have a meeting of the minds?

Both sides need to be wary of subjectivity in a sales agreement, but the primary responsibility, Mr. Seller, is on you.

Why? Because you are almost always the author of the agreement, and you almost always offer the terms of that agreement on a "take it or leave it" basis (lawyers call this "contract adhesion").

For example, many contracts require one side of the other to act reasonably, and even when the contract does not, the law may impose a duty on both sides to act in good faith. In some cases, these requirements are necessary and good. However, subjective agreements can also breed customer dissatisfaction, if not full-blown disputes.

Look at your own sales agreement now and look for the words reasonably or reasonable. Then try to identify all of the ways that reasonableness could be necessary, all of the dangers that might make it necessary. Are you trying to avoid an otherwise unavoidable danger? Or are you just trying to be clever and write yourself a blank check to behave as you wish without any consequence to you? Is there a way to rework the relationship to get rid of the danger?

If a reasonableness standard is necessary, then maybe you could at least come up with some clear basis for deciding what is reasonable--because even though eliminating subjectivity might not be possible, at least boxing it in probably is. But if this is not possible, could you give a neutral referee the power to decide what is or is not reasonable (and you would be hard-pressed to convince most consumers that mandatory arbitration constitutes a neutral referee)?

Now, speaking to consumers: what we have learned since 2009

We have been working in this space since 2009, and since then, have had thousands of conversations with people just like you who had an issue and were wrestling with whether to try to solve it.

What do most people tend to do in these situations?

If we limit our survey of the data to (what we consider to be) "big companies," like banks, telecom providers, certain real estate providers, and utilities, then an interesting patterns emerges.

  1. Consistently, over time and across industries, about 10-15% of a "big company's" customers want to leave by switching to a competing provider.
  2. Yet only 3%-5% of a "big company's" customers actually do leave.
  3. That means about 1 out of every 4 people opt to "grin and bear it."

Why do you think this is?

When we asked, here are the most common reasons people gave for why they decided to stay with a company they hate:

  • "I generally do not want to displease people--including people who work at companies I hate, I guess."
  • "I am sensitive to how people feel treated by me."
  • "I prefer to withhold most complaints to avoid conflict."
  • "I figured that trying to resolve the issue would take too much time and brain space, and my time is more valuable than the resolution would be worth."
  • "I don't know...I guess always felt like complaining or trying to return a product is shameful."
  • "The point of an advertisement is to mislead. So if an ad misleads me, it is my fault."
  • "I tend to assume that customer dissatisfaction is due to user error."

"But...I will speak up when there is something bigger at stake."

We interpret this collection of responses to mean basically three key things.

First, people tend abhor the friction and expense of trying to resolve conflict.

Second, those few people who do complain tend to be looked down upon by those who do not complain.

Third, there is a stakes-amount at which everyone is willing to go from the sideline "shamer" to the one being shamed for trying to resolve a problem.

...and trying to generalize that precise amount for everyone is something we have found to be more difficult than it is to simply understand why someone decides to complain to stay silent.

What do you think?

In your case, do you generally find it preferable to complain when you are dissatisfied or totally up and leave that offending company?


We are taking a poll.

customer complaint poll