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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Customers Easily Frustrated Learning New Things, Study Finds


Dedicating resources to help your customers figure out how to use your product, surf your web site or navigate your store might be just as important as price and product, new research reveals.

Consumers often quit using products that would be beneficial for them in the long run because they experience a short period of pessimism during their initial encounter, the study found. This frustration can be generated by any skill-based products, from knitting needles to smartphones.


The finding is significant because previous research has shown that, generally, consumers grow fonder of products the more they use them.

“The key for business owners is that they need to figure out a way to get consumers through the ‘all thumbs’ phase,” said study researcher George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

“There are a variety of ways to do it,” Loewenstein told BusinessNewsDaily. “It might be giving a lot of hands-on attention, a lot of in-person service or having a person working with them on phone. If the product has a per-month or per-use fee, businesses might consider lowering or waiving the fee at the beginning or dropping it to nothing to encourage them to continue to use it at a time when they are most likely to quit.”

Overconfident consumers

Loewenstein and colleagues Darron Billeter at Brigham Young University and Ajay Kalra at Rice University found that consumers are overconfident in their ability to learn to use skill-based products before trying them out. As soon as they gain experience with the product, however, they flip to the opposite extreme and become under-confident in their ability to use the new product with the consequence that they often quit using it.

This thought process applies not only to using products, but to navigating web sites and shopping in stores, Loewenstein said.
Loewenstein cited the example of a new grocery store that opened near his home in Pittsburgh. It was extremely difficult to find things, Loewenstein said. “They lost a lot of customers because people couldn’t find things.”

The store responded by posting employees at the front of each aisle to help customers find what they were looking for. Over time, customers learned the new store’s layout and found they liked the new shopping experience.

He suggested that companies consider designing web sites that can adapt to a user’s experience level, being less complicated for first-time users and getting increasingly rich in features for returning users.

How the study was done

The researchers studied tasks new to most people, but that wouldn’t take long to learn in a lab setting — for example, typing on a keyboard with an unfamiliar layout, tracing lines while only being able to view the tracing in a mirror, and folding t-shirts in a novel way.

Subjects were first given verbal instructions but no direct experience, and predicted how rapidly they would be able to perform the task. Before the subjects gained direct experience with the new skill, they over-predicted their own performance.

For example with t-shirt folding, subjects thought they could fold the shirts much faster than they actually did.