The Art of the Sale

Do Your Customers Suffer From Buyer's Remorse?

Savvy product retailers keep a post-sale ear to the ground;
Can advisors do the same?

Hoboken, NJ (May 2015)—We've all bought a product in-store, only to return it after learning that it was available for a much lower price elsewhere. Or ordered an article of clothing online, only to be disappointed by the quality or fit once it was delivered. Or bought an exciting new gadget, only to find ourselves making frequent (and frustrating) calls to the support hotline in order to operate it.

All these scenarios are manifestations of buyer's remorse, says Jeff Sauro. While we typically think of this phenomenon as occurring with big-ticket items like a home or a car, almost any purchase can lead to regret or concern on the part of the customer. And no company wants those bad feelings associated with them.

"Buyer's remorse is a form of cognitive dissonance in which a customer's initial expectations about a product or service don't align with their actual experience," says Sauro, author of Customer Analytics For Dummies®. "This cognitive dissonance can be sparked by a perceived lack of value, lower-than-expected quality, or the presence of better alternatives."

Measuring the customer journey

Whatever its cause, it's critical that you take actions to reduce any buyer's remorse your customers might be experiencing. Left to their own devices, disappointed and dissatisfied customers might return the product (possibly resulting in a financial loss for your company), choose to do business elsewhere, and/or spread negative reviews about your product or organization.

Obviously, none of these outcomes are good news for your organization. In Customer Analytics For Dummies, Sauro shows you how to measure each stage of the customer journey, use the right analytics to understand customer behavior, and make key business decisions. Here, he explains what to do if, despite your initial best efforts, your customers suffer from buyer's remorse:

Offer a return guarantee and collect data about how often and why returns are made
Offering a return guarantee is key to alleviating buyer's remorse for individual customers (so make sure you have one in place!)—but this tactic is sufficient only if you're experiencing sporadic returns.

If your return rate is more of a steady stream (or a raging torrent), you need to find the source (or sources) of this buyer's remorse so that you can take steps to prevent future returns. Specifically:

  • Collect return rates, dates, and details
  • Look to other clues that can predict the root cause of returns
  • Predict the return rates based on patterns in the root causes

"Here's an example of what this type of data collection and analysis look like in action," Sauro shares. "I worked with a U.S.-based cellular service provider that carried a number of phones from different manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, and Motorola.

The cellular service provider collected the return rates for each type of phone and then looked into the causes of the returns. One reason for the returns was that customers found certain phones harder to use. The company started collecting usability data on all its phones, then associated that with the return rates. Based on the data, the company stopped selling the phones that lacked a decent usability score."

Rethink your product or service based on what your customers collectively say they want
When was the last time you directly asked your customers what they thought about your product or service? Do they really believe it provides a good value? (Or do you simply assume this is the case?) Might it be overpriced, have quality concerns, perform poorly, need more features, etc.?

Be sure to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customers want by asking them a mix of open- and close-ended questions. Sauro suggests keeping surveys short and including:

  • An overall measure of satisfaction about the product or experience, using a rating scale
  • Questions about future intent, such as likelihood to recommend or likelihood to repurchase
  • Open-ended questions for customers to describe in their own words their feelings (both positive and negative) about the experience and specifically how they'd improve the product

"Learning that you need to offer a better value to your customers probably won't be a comfortable realization for you to make, but the good news is, these kinds of changes are like low-hanging fruit when it comes to combating buyer's remorse," says Sauro.

"Making one change, like increasing offerings for the same price or fine-tuning a feature, can drastically improve satisfaction for a lot of customers."

Confirm the initial choice
Sometimes, simply validating a customer's choice to purchase your product or use your service is enough to stave off buyer's remorse. (After all, it's human nature to want to be reassured that we've made the correct decision!) Messaging (in email newsletters, ads, social media, etc.) and follow-up calls reassure customers that they've made a wise choice and that their purchase is in line with their values.

Left to their own devices, disappointed and dissatisfied customers might return the product (possibly resulting in a financial loss for your company), choose to do business elsewhere, and/or spread negative reviews about your product or organization

"For example, you might post a positive testimony from a satisfied customer on your company's Facebook page or publish a newsletter article suggesting additional uses for your product," Sauro shares.

Examine customer experience at different touchpoints
Buyer's remorse can develop at many different points post-purchase and for many different reasons. It may not even be sparked by the product itself, but by a poor service experience, for instance. That's why Sauro says it's important to collect data not only about the product itself, but about several post-purchase touchpoints:

  • Shipping and delivery: Is the item in stock and delivered quickly?
  • Unboxing (opening the product): Do the quality and style of the packaging reinforce positive brand attributes?
  • Installation and setup: Is this process lengthy, confusing, or overly complex?
  • Customer support: Are questions and concerns addressed in a timely and satisfactory manner? Is support staff knowledgeable and friendly?
  • Feature usage: Are there features that customers don't use? Are any desired features missing?

"It's often most efficient, and less of a burden on the customer, if you ask customers to complete only one survey at a key point in the post-purchase process—say, after the customer has used the product for some time," Sauro notes. "Keep an open mind when analyzing the results, because you may be surprised by where opportunities for improvement lie."

Establish a feedback loop so "remorse" data gets back to decision-makers
It doesn't matter how much useful data you collect if it isn't passed on to people within your organization who can use it to reduce buyer's remorse, reminds Sauro.

"If one doesn't already exist, establish a feedback loop to make sure that problems, frustrations, and suggested improvements are properly channeled back to product development, marketing, customer service, etc.," he comments. "You'd be surprised by how much data stays buried in internal reports where it doesn't do anyone any good."

Don't rely on just one remorse-removing tactic
If your company is very fortunate, you may make a significant dent in buyer's remorse after implementing only one of the previous tactics. But much more often, Sauro says, organizations experience success only when they thoughtfully blend some or all of these strategies.

He points to as an example. Buying shoes online comes with some risk, since customers can't try them on and may have to deal with the hassle of returning a purchase. So first, Zappos minimizes the risk to the customer by offering fast, free shipping; free returns; and free return shipping.

"What's more, Zappos provides one of the best customer service experiences," he adds. "The company's reps are known for staying on calls for as long as it takes to resolve a customer's problems. (The longest call on record lasted seven hours!) The company's even been known to refund money, let customers keep the shoes, and even send a new pair, all to exceed expectations."

"The bottom line is, the more you know about your customers and their needs, expectations, and post-purchase experiences, the better your odds will be of turning remorse into lasting satisfaction," Sauro concludes. "Remember that your company's 'job' doesn't end with making the sale, so don't rest until cognitive dissonance about your product or service has been transformed into delight."


About the Author
Mr. Sauro is a Six Sigma-trained statistical analyst and pioneer in quantifying the customer experience. He specializes in making statistical concepts understandable and actionable. He is the founding principal of MeasuringU, a customer experience and quantitative research firm based in Denver, Colorado, USA. Clients include Walmart, PayPal, eBay, Lenovo, Google, and Charter Communications.

Jeff has published over 20 peer-reviewed research articles on statistics and the user experience. He has written four books, including Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research and A Practical Guide to the System Usability Scale. Jeff is completing his PhD in research methods & statistics from the University of Denver. Prior to DU, Jeff received his master's in learning, design, and technology from Stanford University, and bachelor's in TV, radio & film and information technology from Syracuse University. Prior to starting his own company, he worked for Oracle, PeopleSoft, Intuit, and General Electric. He is married to his wife, Shannon, of 12 years; together, they have three children (5, 7, and 9). He publishes weekly articles online at and daily updates on Twitter (@MeasuringU).

About the Book: Customer Analytics For Dummies® (Wiley, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-118-93759-4, $29.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974. For more information, please visit here.