Are your irrational fears holding back your customer and employee experience efforts?


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Please take a moment and cast your mind back to how many people and businesses used to talk about ideas and practices before becoming commonplace.

Can you remember a time when money-back guarantees were not that common? Before their widespread adoption, many brands and leaders resisted their introduction, fearing that if they put them in place, then that would lead to a torrent of their customers knocking on their front door asking for their money back.

Now, the idea that a large number of customers would come rushing to the front door looking for their money back on the introduction of a “money-back guarantee” is patently ridiculous. It assumes that customers are stupid and routinely make silly spending decisions. And, we know that this is simply not true.

Money-back guarantees, once introduced, held companies to higher standards and more consistent practices. In turn, they have also helped build trust in the minds of customers all over the world.

This is just one historical example of how an irrational fear, or as some would describe them False Expectations Appearing Real, held back the betterment of the customer’s experience.

The problem is that this is not an isolated incident.

In fact, it could be argued that the same situation arose before the widespread introduction of asking customers and employees for feedback. In both cases, many leaders feared that asking for feedback would unleash a tidal wave of abuse and negative feedback from customers and employees.

Again this is patently ridiculous and has not proved to be true. Asking for feedback from customers and employees has become one of the foundational elements in both customer and employee experience.

But, these fears do not just exist in the past. Some are very present in the here and now.

Here are a few examples of how irrational fears could be undermining both the customer and employee experience.

Making it easy for customers to complain

Things go wrong and sometimes badly. So, why do some companies make it hard for customers to complain? Is it because they fear that if they make the process easier and more visible, it will invite a massive increase in complaints, forcing them to confront some ugly truths and take part in some difficult conversations?

Making it easy for customers to call

Why do some companies make it hard for customers to call them or even find their phone number when they need help? Is it because they fear there will be a massive surge in phone calls from customers seeking help?

Allowing customers to easily cancel their subscriptions

Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot’s cofounder, has a great saying which goes: “We want to make it emotionally difficult for our customers to leave, but procedurally easy”. I think that is a great sentiment and one that every subscription-based business should aspire to. But, that’s not always the case. Why is that? Is it because they fear that if they made it easy to cancel, they would see a massive spike in cancellations that would undermine their economics, business plan, and bonuses?

Trusting employees to do a good job, particularly when they are working remotely

Many organizations use employee performance monitoring and analytics software to help them manage workloads and improve performance. And, that’s great. However, many others go much further and take a much more draconian approach whereby they track and monitor their employees to within an inch of their lives. With many workers working remotely, we have seen a spike in this behavior since the start of the pandemic. Is this because many organizations don’t trust their employees and fear that if they don’t keep a constant eye on them, they’ll mess about and won’t get their work done?

These are only four instances, and I am sure there are others. However, none of them stand up under scrutiny.

But, what they do is have an adverse effect on the customer and employee experience that organizations want to deliver.

These irrational fears exist. They impact our decision-making and undermine efforts to improve the customer and the employee experience.

It’s our job to become aware of them and root them out because they do not help us, our employees or our customers.

This post was originally published on Forbes here.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. Thanks for the article. I think it concerns large organisations and corporations. That problem does not apply to small and medium-sized companies that have to take care of their image every day. These companies are aware that one negative comment can harm the business. However, direct contact with large companies from telecommunication, energetical, social media or IT is practically impossible. Only a few of them breaks out of this rate. Customer service is solved via FAQs and community forums. It is even worst because these types of companies are using clients to serve their own clients.

  2. Interesting thinking Adrian. Frankly, I had not looked at it this way before. What your thoughts did bring to my mind is that companies following the pattern you present may eventually fall by the way. They will be beat out by the servicing experts of Go Daddy, Amazon, Zappos, etc. Some of these may be difficult to reach live, but, they have thought out the journey for their masses and made it easy to resolve the majority of transactions. I have to say try Go Daddy Technical Support…these folks are phenomenal. Makes my renewals a no brainer.

  3. i remember, many years ago when consulting for a 4 play telco/TV operator, the first integrated, itemised, bills got issued – leading to a huge spike in calls and complaints from customers disputing charges. After a first few chaotic weeks it became clear the bills weren’t (usually) wrong and customers were (usually) merely forgetting they made such and such a call (we had the proof on each one after a lot of effort and cost investigating every challenge). I tested a novel approach – let the customer decide a fair bill deduction amount and credit it back without investigation. After 4 week, the credit rates were less than 1/50th of the costs of investigating every dispute. And customers were much much happier, albeit somewhat surprised. Shows you what trust can do and customers aren’t normally out to shaft a business..
    PS In case anyone’s wondering, it didn’t last. 1st, word got around and some customers kept taking advantage. 2nd, research showed customers were happy with the result, but were negative about the process – believing the crediting was an admission of our error without admitting it 3rd, Finance and Audit got very cold feet and stifled it.
    But it was a fascinating experiment in customer behaviours.

  4. Great piece. How about promising to give you your money back if you are not completely satisfied, but instead of money you get a credit voucher for more merchandise, or a debit card (instead of cash or check). How about a returns policy that requires all manner of paperwork proof under the myth that most customers will rip you off. Or, a “no substitutions” policy on a menu rather than finding a fair way to say “yes” to guests. My wife has a hard time with “no pets” rules at hotels (we have a well-traveled cat). She can sound like, “You mean even if I gave you a $100,000 non-refundable deposit, I could not bring a cat that has stayed in many upscale hotels without incidents?” There is rarely a rationale leaving guests with the belief that the hotel is preying on a myth that all pets damage rooms.

    A variation on the myth theme are company-centered practices that rely on customer habits. An example would be companies that issue bills and the amount in the bottom right of the invoice, in a larger font, is actually the larger past due amount? Customers in a hurry habitually pay the bottom line (unless they are careful to spot the ruse). When you push back on their billing department about this practice they tell you that if a customer accidentally pays the larger past due amount, they get a credit (a.k.a, “our customers give us interest free loans!”). It is obviously a way to subtly trick customers into giving them more money than they are due.

  5. I really like this quote from the piece: “We want to make it emotionally difficult for our customers to leave, but procedurally easy”. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to jump through hoops to cancel a “trial” or return a product. It is frustrating and eliminates any trust with the organization. I also understand and appreciate the last comment about customers taking advantage. The trade off is between good will and the cost of abuse of a liberal return policy for example. But carefully controlled customer service policies (some of which may be daring or uncommon) are a differentiator and can lead to broader industry adoption when the collective bar is raised. I also like the approach of giving front line service reps greater latitude in solving problems and helping customers. All of this hinges on truly understanding what customers want and where there are gaps or friction points. One way to deal with abuse is to, heaven forbid, fire the customer. That requires a thoughtful approach and for a large organization, clear parameters. It may be a matter of raising the procedural bar for abuse patterns based on historical data. I like the premise of the article – take controlled risks to raise the bar of service for your customers, and use the experience as a lesson that can be expanded or extrapolated.

  6. Great topic Adrian. In the day of social media, it seems that most organizations would prefer their customers have an avenue to complain privately rather than face a potentially viral public shaming. Allowing customers and employees a forum to have their voice heard, their issues acknowledged, and improvements enacted, helps organizations build the trust necessary to retain customers and employees. It requires a bit of bravery and a lot of effort to ask what people like and dislike about your company, offer, service or product. Additionally, it requires effort and investment of time and budget to identify root causes for employee and customer displeasure as well as a desire to admit there is room for improvement and act accordingly. Those organizations that take the time to put effort into their employees and customers however will see their efforts returned in higher morale/loyalty and reduced turnover/attrition.

  7. You’ve identified an issue that’s all too commonplace among corporate managers and executives. Often, they are either complacent, ill-informed or passive, making conventional wisdom, flat-earth and safe decisions in terms of customers, employees, and value delivery processes.

    Complaints are a great example. Many companies feel that complaint levels are a sure sign of poor customer value, and some even try to suppress, rather than encourage them. There are companies that will take paints to make it difficult for customers to complain. Some years back, Janelle Barlow wrote “A Complaint Is A Gift”, recognizing the reality that giving customers an opportunity to express negative issues is great for building relationships. Our research has found that, because relatively low percentages of B2B and B2C customers will make the effort to complain, actively soliciting complaints – though seemingly counter-intuitive – is even better at building customer trust and value perception.

    Putting up process barriers to cancellation is another good one. Millions have now heard the Comcast rep virtually stonewalling a customer who wanted to drop the company’s services. Has that been great at building customer, or prospect, trust? Don’t think so.

  8. Brilliant as always Adrian. The “what if” game can be devastating. “What if” our employees don’t work as hard at home? “What if” we have to hire more people to answer calls from complaining people? “What if” publicly apologizing to a customer gets used against me in a lawsuit? etc., etc..

    What ifs are easy. I know people who produce them with greater frequency than cows fart. Anyone can throw up straw men (persons?).

    The thing a lot of organizations neglect to do, is to examine the real implications of what ifs coming true. When they do – it is almost always pointing to a much deeper problem.

  9. It’s no wonder that non-customer-centric businesses exist today. Nowadays, they all claim to be, but not all have incorporated into their processes knowing their employees and their customers and they do not have continuous improvement processes that go to the root cause of the problem.

    If the leaders propose a business model not focused on the client, it will be reflected in the culture of that company and in the process of hiring people.

    On the other hand, when you are thinking about processes that aim to avoid bad practices by customers and employees, you will aim to punish more than 95% of customers who are honest people. Rigidize the processes to avoid 1 single fraud, hurts honest customers, who are the majority.

  10. @Philip I am not sure I agree that these fears are only found it larger businesses and organisations. They may be more prevalent there but I think they exist everywhere.

    @Dennis Thank you and I agree that those companies that service their customers better tend to know them and themselves better and that, in turn, can help assuage many of the fears that exist.

    @Michael Thanks for that. That’s a crazy story but I’m sure there are lots of lessons in there.

    @Chip Thank you and two great stories: one new ‘fear’ and one ruse 🙂

    @Seth Thank you and I think you may have pointed to another irrational fear…..’We couldn’t fire a customer because if we did……the world would come crashing down or something’ 🙂

    @Michael (Lowenstein) Thank you and I love Janelle’s book. Pity too few corps embrace this idea.

    @Shaun Thank you and I love the idea of some creating whatif’s at a “greater frequency than cows fart” 😉

    @José Thank you and too true 🙂


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