Big pain points in the customer experience

By Linda Kuster / Guest Column

Customer journey mapping and evaluating the customer experience has been a hot topic over the past few years. However, companies sometimes wonder if the effort and cost of such an initiative is really worth it. Will they see an equal return on their investment in revenue, customer retention, referrals or stock price?

One thing is certain and just might convince you to investigate your customer experience: Word-of-mouth is always at the top of the list when we ask consumers or buyers about their most trusted information sources. Whether it’s online, in person or in a formal referral, people rely heavily on word-of-mouth opinions when making purchase decisions.

If for no other reason than this, you should pay attention to your customer experience.

We all get irritated sometimes when dealing with companies, websites, sales clerks and deliveries, yet we do not always translate that irritation into disparaging the company. We were curious to know what types of experiences would prompt consumers to share negative comments about a business or organization, either in conversation with others or online. So we asked 1,707 of our Iowa Opinion Panel members if any of 19 different customer experience scenarios would lead them to openly criticize a business or organization.

Overall, the key pain points that would motivate negative comments had to do with issues of feeling disrespected or a company’s failure to meet promises or respond promptly. The top reasons can be found in the chart above.

All of the scenarios we asked about were selected by some participants as likely to result in negative comments, but those least likely to hurt a company’s reputation were:

  • Company did not contact me after purchase (3 percent)
  • Staff dressed unprofessionally (16 percent)
  • Company contact me too much after purchase (23 percent)
  • Staff announced my credit/debit card had been declined where others could hear (24 percent)
  • My experience was different than advertised (24 percent)


Many gender and generational differences can be seen in the results. Men were more likely than women to talk negatively if company service went downhill after a purchase or if their experience was different than advertised. Women were more likely than men to be upset enough to talk negatively by being treated rudely, having difficulty making exchanges or canceling services, feeling unwelcome because of who they were with (such as a baby or special needs child), feeling discriminated against, and having their card decline announced loud enough that others could hear.

Overall, older customers may be more likely to speak negatively about you under many circumstances. Older survey participants – especially those 50 and older – were more likely to say they talk negatively under all of the scenarios we tested, with the exception of feeling unwelcome because of a baby or child or feeling discriminated against. The youngest participants were the most sensitive to being treated differently than others based on a discriminatory reason (gender, ethnicity, weight, sexual preference, etc.).

Other irritants
Survey participants had an opportunity to write in other situations that would get under their skin. We had a number of write-in comments, with most involving experiences where they or others were ignored or disrespected, or situations where they had to deal with poor quality products or performance.

Several people noted they do not make negative comments online as a rule, but that does not mean they are not sharing negative comments in other ways.

Undoubtedly, you have heard the claim that when one upset person tells another person about their bad experience, between 10-20 people hear negative comments about the business by word-of-mouth. That kind of ripple effect can cause a company to lose customers or discourage interested consumers or corporate buyers from giving them a try.

If you have not initiated an evaluation of your customer experience or developed a plan for making it the most convenient and positive journey possible, consider dedicating resources to that effort starting in 2018. When you do, be sure to focus on how customers felt they were treated at various touch points, as well as how your staff responded to inquiries and met expected deadlines. Those appear to be the areas most likely to initiate poor word-of-mouth feedback.

If you would like to see the full results of this survey, email me at to receive a copy, no obligation.

Linda Kuster is director of research strategy at Vernon Research Group, based in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at (319) 364-7278, ext. 7104 or