The Sandpaper Effect

There are many occasions where the first time something mildly annoying happens, we simply let it pass.  It might even be novel or amusing, but gets increasingly less so as time passes.  A joke that is told once is funny, second time, meh.  Third, forth, fifth, sixth times it just gets increasingly annoying.

The same thing can happen in our customer experiences.  For example, the first time I called Comcast to cancel service, the automatic phone service hung up on me.   (This is a pretty common experience apparently).  Anyway, this first response was novel, even amusing, but each subsequent misstep by Comcast (sending me to a building that was having the furniture moved out of, then sending me on a wild goose chase in a strip mall to find the new building, etc, etc. This makes me start using their adjective “Comcastic” as they define it by their actions, “An incredibly frustrating experience”.  Oddly though, each of these actions individually is frustrating but manageable, the problem is when they are put together they create some rather irrate customers.

I call this “The Sandpaper Effect”.  The first time you rub sandpaper against your skin, it might even feel good.  The second time, not so much.  By the twentieth time, you cringe at the very thought of it happening again.  It’s the same mild frustration in your user experience (someone who calls your office every day and has to listen to a 1 minute speech about your changed menus before they can get where they want to go).   Not a problem on day 1, day 10 though they are about to want to start looking for someone else to do business with, all over something as simple as a phone message.

User Interfaces can be the same way.  Sometimes a tool behaves in a  way that at first seems like, “Wow, that’s a lot of clicks”, but over time, just like sandpaper, it starts to be dreadfully painful.  Ironically, often times, these things can be easy to fix if we are in good enough communication with our customers to hear them.  But just as often, the customer feels a sense of learned helplessness – there is nothing I can do to change it, so I just endure it (and get more and more upset at the “aggressor” in the process).

In business and in relationships, we need to be aware of things that are initially mildly annoying to our partners and friends before they become such big issues that we are being avoided.  Ask your customer if there are things in their user experience that they wish were better, even something small.

If you can resolve their pain (even pain you caused) adding salve to the wound, you’ll have an even more delighted and committed customer.







Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: