Consumers More Likely to Complain to Peers about Bad Brand Experiences


Twenty-six percent of American consumers say they are "far more likely" to tell family, friends, and coworkers about a bad experience with product or service than a good one, according to LoyaltyOne's Colloquy, which recently released the results of a survey of 3,295 U.S. adults. This anxiety-inducing finding confirms my long-held belief that people are more likely to communicate negative feelings about brands, because they view it as the only means of retribution available to them.

This impression is reinforced by another finding from the Colloquy survey suggesting that consumers who are more loyal to brands are even more likely than the general population (31%) to share bad experiences than good ones. If I had to guess the reason for this, I could sum it up in one word: betrayal. No one likes to be disappointed by something they rely on, especially when they believe they have shown some degree of support and loyalty.



Even worse, I will hazard a guess that these consumers -- being more engaged with a brand -- are also more informed about the brand category in general... meaning other consumers (especially friends, family, and coworkers) may view them as an authority to be heeded in their own purchase decisions. As every pop star knows, you never alienate your core fans. And in case that wasn't bad enough, consider this: a disproportionate group of affluent consumers (30%) also say they are "far more likely" to share bad experiences than good ones.

The Colloquy findings echo some data from other surveys over the last year. Back in June I wrote about the results of a Harris survey of 2,131 U.S. adults, which revealed that (as in the Colloquy survey) a slightly larger proportion of adults use social media to kvetch than give kudos. Specifically, Harris found 34% have turned to social media to air their feelings, positive or negative, about a company, brand or product. Within this group, a subset equal to 26% of the total said they complained about companies, brands or products, 23% said they spoke positively about them, and 19% gave product reviews or recommendations. Overall Harris found that 38% of adults who use social media say they express their preferences online specifically to influence other people.

3 comments about "Consumers More Likely to Complain to Peers about Bad Brand Experiences".
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  1. Sandy Miller from Success Communications, March 15, 2011 at 5:09 p.m.

    I absolutely believe this is true. It's been this way for years. It seems to be human nature. When you feel you have been wronged by a company you want to tell other so they will back up and justify your feelings.

    There is also part where you might feel you want to save others from going through the same bad experience. Also let's face it, there is also an element of revenge in this too. If you have been wronged you want to feel that by telling your friends and family you are in some way lashing back at the offender.

    This is why social media can be so valuable. If you give your customers a place to come and tell you their story than you have a chance to make it right. Bad comments are just an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

    Businesses should never ignore or try to hide bad comments instead use this as a place to show what happend was a fluke and your concerned about the customer experience.

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., March 15, 2011 at 6:37 p.m.

    Definitely true. And "revenge in the absence of other recourse" is the main reason, though the "protect others" effect becomes more important within close-friend groups and same-interest communities.

    So why is the reverse _not_ true? I suspect an important, but little-discussed reason is the fact that buying stuff in a hyperconsumerist, hyperliquid society is a zero-sum transaction. That is, I incur a loss (time, money as a proxy for time) for every gain (purchased item), and at base, the thing purchased is supposed to recompense my loss (substantially a loss of time) with "value." So the downside of a bad purchase is substantial loss of time, and the upside of a good purchase is simply 'satisfaction.' Price-point optimization by vendors insures that 'pressure to merely satisfy' continues to govern -- it's not like most vendors leave themselves the headroom to make customers overwhelmingly happy, since that would leave money on the table. And mere satisfaction isn't much of a motivation to share.

    So I think a lot of companies exploring social media are vastly overestimating the degree of happiness their product/service (in the context of their price-structure and other aspects of their business model) can produce in consumers.

    If things were to change, and vendors were to deliver truly outstanding value, they probably still wouldn't reap much benefit from positive word-of-mouth -- since at that point, in many cases, a 'resource guarding' reflex sets in -- where you might share your luck at finding an outstanding product with a family member or close friend, but would reflexively hesitate to share it more widely, perceiving the mere act of sharing as having the potential to endanger the (presumably limited) source of supply. You see this with restaurants, with fashion, and in other categories.

    An exception to all this, of course, is 'free internet stuff' -- stuff presumably in infinite supply and deriving from a 'commons' -- and you see people sharing about that alllll the time.

  3. James Curran from Pheedback, March 16, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

    I've just launched a social media platform called Pheedback, it allows people to post feedback about any person or company and broadcast across social media. It is all tracked to show TRUE, unaltered consumer sentiment over time.

    Sandy - your comment "if you give your customers a place to come and tell you their story than you have a chance to make it right..."

    This is exactly correct, but these "places" are all fragmented and the consumers don't believe their comments will do anything to help.

    Pheedback aims to fix this and provide brands the platform to help their customers.

    If anyone would like more information contact me at James at

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