Thomas Z. Ramsøy

The Hidden Costs of Negative Customer Experience

Brandingblunders abound! In the carefully constructed world of marketing, a single misstep can unravel the narrative we’ve diligently built. Often, this misstep arises from a negative customer experience, which can extend their impact far beyond the initial encounter.

In the following, I am taking — and giving — a deep dive into what I consider to be novel areas of focus in understanding and affecting the customer experience.

The Ripple Effect of a Negative Customer Experience

Visualize the frustration of a frozen checkout page. It’s not merely an inconvenience—it’s the proverbial butterfly that unleashes a hurricane across your brand landscape.

Incredibly, 81% of companies recognize customer experience as a battlefield for differentiation, and 84% of those that excel in smoothing out these wrinkles see a consistent increase in revenue.

Still, over 80% of all companies covered in a study failed to improve their customer satisfaction in over a decade!

To approach this, we need to realize that customer experience is more than a single thing. It is also much more than merely making customers happy. It’s also about avoiding the “dark sides” of customer experience.

Here’s a claim: Reducing or altogether eliminating negative brand-related experiences is a long overseen topic.

So what gives? What can we do about it? Here are a few ideas from the study of consumer psychology, neuromarketing, and consumer neruoscience.

The Power of First Impressions

The weight of first impressions in the digital realm is as significant as the keystrokes that build the code of an app. They are the digital handshake that either beckons a customer into the fold or sends them retreating to the sanctuary of familiar ground. Neuroscience sheds light on this initial encounter: Novelty, while intriguing, triggers a primal alert in our brains. The amygdala, our emotional sentinel, becomes more active, casting an instinctive veil of caution over new experiences. This neurological response can often be misinterpreted as negative, making the first brush with a brand a critical juncture.

This initial negativity bias towards novel stimuli means unknown brands have an uphill climb right from the start. They must not only introduce themselves but also quickly soothe the subconscious wariness of the new. In this way, every step, every click, every swipe holds the potential to either build a bridge or erect a barrier.

The stakes are underscored by sobering statistics: a startling 32% of customers will abandon a brand they loved after just one negative experience. In a landscape where loyalty can be as fleeting as a click, the first digital impression must be meticulously orchestrated. It’s about more than aesthetics or functionality; it’s about crafting an experience that feels both new and familiar, intriguing yet safe.

The art and science of making a good first impression have never been more critical. The challenge for brands is to design interactions that not only catch the eye but also put the wary mind at ease, converting that initial avoidance tendency into an embrace. The digital domain demands not just creativity but also an understanding of the human psyche—a narrative that resonates, an experience that reassures, and a journey that excites.

Friction vs. Flow: The Art of Smooth a Customer Experience

In the vast machinery of consumer engagement, ‘friction’ acts as the abrasive that wears down the gears of satisfaction, slowing the journey from potential interest to loyal patronage. This friction could manifest in myriad ways – a complicated checkout process, a cluttered website interface, or even just a lack of information that leaves customers feeling lost and frustrated. Each of these elements can halt the momentum of purchase intent, turning what should be a swift sail into an arduous row against the current.

Friction is now becoming an ever-increasing element of our understanding of consumer loyalty and even customer churn, and it is being the prime focus of leading books like “Friction” by Roger Dooley.

On the flip side of this coin lies ‘flow’ – the seamless, effortless navigation that propels customers from curiosity to conversion without a hitch. It’s the difference between a customer abandoning a cart full of products and completing a purchase with a satisfied smile. Flow is the undercurrent that guides customers through their journey with your brand, ensuring every touchpoint is smooth, every interaction intuitive, and every step forward a delight.

A practical example of prioritizing flow to enhance customer experience comes from Scott Nelson, who underscores the critical importance of removing friction in every process. By streamlining operations and focusing on making each customer interaction as smooth as possible, businesses can significantly enhance the overall customer experience, making it easier for customers to engage, purchase, and remain loyal. This approach not only optimizes operational efficiency but also elevates the brand in the eyes of consumers, distinguishing it in a market where products and prices often blur into uniformity.

Incorporating the philosophy of flow into the customer journey transforms it from a series of independent steps into a flow. It acknowledges that the path to purchase is not just a transaction but an experience that can build or erode brand loyalty. As we reevaluate and redesign our processes with an eye towards minimizing friction and maximizing flow, we create a customer experience that feels more like being pulled by a gentle current than pushing against the tide.

Crafting these smooth, flowing customer experiences requires a meticulous approach to design, a deep understanding of customer behavior, and a commitment to continuous improvement. It’s about anticipating needs, simplifying complexities, and delivering delight at every turn. In doing so, we not only meet the expectations of our customers but exceed them, securing our place as their preferred choice in a competitive landscape.

The Associative Nature of the Human Brain: Weaving Brand Perceptions

Our brains are not just organs of thought but looms of association, weaving together the myriad threads of experiences, sensory inputs, and emotional responses. This complex tapestry becomes the backdrop against which brand perceptions are formed and altered. The associative nature of the human brain ensures that every aspect of a customer’s interaction with a brand, no matter how seemingly trivial, can significantly impact their overall perception and loyalty.

Consider, for example, the taste of poorly brewed coffee in a store or the jarring dissonance of off-key hold music during a service call. Such experiences, though not directly related to the product or service’s core value, can significantly tarnish a brand’s image in the consumer’s mind. This is because our brains effortlessly link sensory experiences and emotional reactions to the context in which they occur, including the brands involved.

Research highlighted in the blog post “Implicit Brands on the Brain” and further explored in the scientific study I co-authored delves into how brands can become implicitly associated with certain neural patterns. These patterns can be positive or negative, depending on the experiences and emotions they’re linked with.

Brands that consistently provide positive sensory and emotional experiences can embed themselves into the consumer’s neural framework as sources of pleasure and satisfaction.

The implications of this associative process are profound. It suggests that every element of the brand experience, from the sensory (what customers see, hear, taste, and touch) to the emotional (how these experiences make them feel), is woven into the consumer’s memory and perception of the brand. This is why a holistic approach to branding and customer experience is crucial. Every touchpoint, from product design and packaging to customer service and the retail environment, plays a role in shaping the brand’s perception.

Implicit associations in the brain. In the 2014 study we used fMRI to track the activity of the hippocampus , shown as the green structure on the medial temporal lobe (A). Participants saw figures for 2 seconds that could sometimes represent brands (B). During the analysis, we found a significant correlation between the number of associations and the hippocampus activity (C).

To harness the power of the brain’s associative nature, brands must strive for consistency and excellence in every interaction. It’s not enough to have a great product; the entire customer journey must be thoughtfully designed to elicit positive emotional responses and memorable experiences. This means paying attention to details that might seem extraneous but can significantly influence brand perception, such as store ambiance, website usability, and even the music played in advertisements.

In essence, understanding the associative nature of the human brain is key to effective branding and marketing. By creating experiences that are not only positive but also aligned with the brand’s values and identity, companies can weave a favorable perception in the consumer’s mind. This approach ensures that the brand becomes synonymous with positive experiences and emotions, fostering loyalty and driving long-term success.

In conclusion, the associative power of the human brain underscores the importance of every aspect of the customer experience. By carefully crafting each element to contribute to a cohesive, positive brand narrative, businesses can ensure that they are not just seen but remembered fondly, becoming an integral part of their customers’ lives and memories.

The Art of Positive Customer Interactions

In the vast landscape of marketing, one misstep in customer experience can cause a ripple effect, eroding years of brand building. This discussion delves into the complexities of negative customer experiences, highlighting the repercussions they have beyond the immediate and exploring strategies to shield your brand from such impacts.

Here are expanded strategies to ensure your brand not only avoids dissonance but also resonates beautifully with your audience.

  1. Prevention is Key:
    • Audit and optimize every touchpoint continuously. Utilize customer journey mapping to identify and eliminate potential friction points. Leveraging tools like AI and predictive analytics can help anticipate customer issues before they arise.
  2. Brand Association Management:
    • Conduct regular brand audits to ensure alignment with platforms and partners that match your brand’s values and quality. Regularly review and assess the impact of these associations on customer perception to ensure they contribute positively to your brand image.
  3. Proactive Strategy for Positive Experiences:
    • Implement a customer feedback loop that actively incorporates customer suggestions into your service improvements. Invest in training your customer service team to not just solve problems but delight customers in every interaction.
  4. Personalization and Customization:
    • Use data insights to tailor experiences that speak directly to individual customer preferences and history. Personalized marketing and service can significantly enhance the customer’s perception of being valued, increasing loyalty and satisfaction.
  5. Transparency and Trust Building:
    • Be open about your processes, especially concerning how you handle data and privacy. Establishing trust through transparency can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive affirmation of your brand’s integrity.
  6. Emotional Connection:
    • Forge an emotional connection with your audience by telling compelling stories that resonate with their values and aspirations. Brands that succeed in making emotional connections are more likely to withstand the occasional negative experience.
  7. Responsive and Adaptive Technologies:
    • Invest in technologies that allow your brand to adapt in real-time to customer behaviors and preferences. Chatbots, AI-driven recommendations, and adaptive web designs can enhance the customer experience by providing timely, contextually relevant interactions.
  8. Community Engagement:
    • Build a vibrant community around your brand where customers can share experiences, offer suggestions, and feel part of a larger family. Community-driven brands can leverage this loyalty to mitigate the impact of isolated negative experiences.
  9. Employee Empowerment:
    • Empower your employees with the tools and autonomy to make decisions that can turn a negative customer experience around. Happy employees lead to happy customers; they are your front-line defense against the spread of dissatisfaction.
  10. Continuous Learning and Innovation:
    • Adopt a culture of continuous learning and innovation. Encourage teams to experiment with new ways to enhance the customer experience, learning from both successes and failures to drive continuous improvement.

By implementing these strategies, your brand can navigate the customer experience maze, transforming potential setbacks into powerful moments of customer delight.

The objective is to cultivate an experience that’s not merely satisfactory but genuinely memorable and enriching, securing your brand’s place in the hearts and minds of your audience.


Brand experiences resonate on a profound level with customers, echoing long after the initial encounter. In the grand theater of marketing, ensuring that each act is performed flawlessly is not just an artistic pursuit—it’s a commercial imperative.

Are you ready to transform your brand’s customer experience into a standing ovation? Embark on a journey that will lead you through refining your strategies and orchestrating a brand experience that’s nothing short of extraordinary.