Why Do Companies Make Life So Complicated?


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Take a moment and think back to your most recent unsatisfactory customer experience. If it is anything like mine, it may well involve a product, service or customer experience touchpoint that was just too complicated. That led to building frustration and ultimately to you walking away. Sometimes for good.

This can quickly turn into to big financial losses. A recent study by Accenture on returned consumer electronics showed that a whopping 95% of returned goods worked fine, but were too complicated to use, didn’t meet customers’ expectations or made customers regret purchasing them in the first place. Only 5% of returned goods were truly defective. With return rates running up to 20% in some consumer electronics categories and factoring in the costs of handling the returns, repackaging them and warranty administration, this is a US$14Bn problem in the US alone!

And this excludes the potentially huge destruction of goodwill when customers return the product. Are you going to go back and buy other electronics from the manufacturer of the digital camera you couldn’t get to work properly? Not likely. And are you going to tell everyone who will listen how stupid the design of the camera was? You betcha. Everyone loves a disaster story with a dumb company that gets its come-uppance.

And what goes for consumer electronics goes for many other products, services and touchpoints too. It goes for cars with too many knobs and dials (hello Mercedes). It goes for too many on-line services (hello Expedia). It goes for much of queueing in shops (hello Ikea)!

Why do companies make their stuff too complicated? Don’t they know anything about customers? Haven’t they heard of usability engineering? Or do they just not care?

Blow off some steam. Tell us about your most recent product, service or experience disaster. And don’t be shy about naming and shaming the companies involved.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Further Reading:

Experientia on Stupid Users Are Returning Properly Working Products

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamhill/


  1. Hats off to Experientia with their post on ‘Redesigning T-Mobile Phone Bills to Reduce Customer Service Calls’.


    If T-Mobile can reduce the complexity that customers face through the use of information engineering (and reduce the number of calls to customer service by 20% as a result), then can you reduce complexity for customers too.

    It would have been even more interesting (and I suspect would have resulted in an even higher reduction in calls to customer service) if customers had also been extensively involved in co-designing the new T-Mobile bill.

    Sadly, it is often a very big step for companies to trust their customers enough to involve them in co-creation, despite the overwhelming evidence that doing so produces better products, that are easier to market and are more profitable.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Further Reading:

    Eric von Hippel on Democratising Innovation (lots of co-creation case studies inside)

    Womack & Jones on Lean Solutions (focus on reducing non-value-adding activities from customers’ perspective)

  2. Why? Because we as consumers seems to accept it. There is a big demographic being left right out of the “gadget” revolution. Older people (in general, of course) struggle with technology. My mom for example.

    Audio/Video remote controls with 75 buttons on them? Forget it.

    IPOD type devices? Forget them, too. Everything about them is just too SMALL – to see, to manipulate – everything. This goes for most cell phones, too. I want my aging parent to have a cell phone for safety – and I have not found ONE cell phone simple enough for her to operate. Complexity seems to abound.

    Another related problem is customer service – especially of the phone-in type. Automated phone answering systems with the “press one for x, press two for y, etc. etc. type interfaces just boggle a lot of people, and frustrate the rest of us. Give us a person to talk to!

    A company that embraces our aging population with simple to operate devices they will then WANT to buy – because users can understand them, and see the buttons, and read the screens and even the print in the owner’s manuals, etc. – will be tapping into a gold mine.

    If a simple device like a cordless phone for your house needs a 50 page owner’s manual – it is much too complicated for many people!

  3. Why do companies make their product lines so complicated that you have to take a class just to learn which product of theirs is the one you want/need? I am in IT and software companies are the absolute worst at this. Is it a strategy to force you to talk to a salesman? Is it a strategy to force you to cut back onthe number of vendors that you use (since who can keep up with hundreds of products times the number of vendors you currently use)? And for companies who make physical products, why does it have to be a mystery as to the target audience of a particular product line? If the laptop has the features that I want, then it shouldn’t matter, should it? Well, it does, since business class computers are built much sturdier than their consumer-class counterparts, and you cannot always tell how sturdy a laptop is until you have it for a while.


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