Overcoming Pain Points: Why Customers Aren’t Buying More From You and How to Fix It

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This article will help you make more sales, grow your business, and earn more money.

Every business transaction has pain points throughout the process. There is a constant trade off for customers to pull money out of their wallet and exchange it for a good or service.

What happens when pain is too high? People leave, stop, quit, or cancel. Not good for business.

But if you understand how pain works and how to deal with it in the appropriate way, then some very good things can happen.

You can improve your conversion rate and earn more money from the same amount of visitors.

You can make sales faster and with less hassle, allowing you to get more customers in the same amount of time.

You can even get more referrals because customers will remember their transaction in a positive light … perhaps even more positive than it actually was in reality.

Does that sound good? If so, read on.

The Psychology of Pain Points (And How to Fix Them)

Let me ask you a question: What’s the best way to pull off a bandaid?

Some people rip it off very fast. Lots of pain, but only for a very short time.

Others take it slow. The pain is less intense, but it lasts for much longer.

Is there a right way to do this? As it turns out, there is. And it has some important ramifications for business as well.

Let me explain…

When Dan Ariely was a teenager, he suffered extreme third degree burns on over 70% of his body. Each day nurses would spend hours changing the bandages. The nurses took the quick pull, high intensity approach.

Years later, Ariely would become one of the top behavioral psychologists in the world and started researching how we deal with pain. He shocked, poked, and prodded people to find out how much pain the average person would take and, more importantly, how they dealt with it psychologically (all in the name of research, of course).

Here are a few key takeaways from his research…

You should start with the most painful experience and move towards less painful ones. For example, when the nurses changed his burn bandages, they should have started at his head (which hurt the most) and finished at his feet.

You should give the visitor, patient, or customer breaks in between painful experiences. Imagine two patients waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office. One waits for 30 minutes. The second waits for 15, gets a free candy bar from the nurse, and then waits for 15 more minutes. Which one do you think will remember their wait more positively? Breaking up the annoying experience of waiting with a positive one makes it much less painful.

How Customers Remember Painful Experiences

Perhaps most importantly, Ariely found that intense spikes of pain should be avoided … even if it means pain for a longer duration. It’s best to build up and taper down from difficult or annoying experiences.

This discovery plays an especially important role in how customers remember their experience with you.

As it turns out, the way we remember experiences isn’t the same as the way they actually are. It seems that we remember experiences as less painful or annoying if they gradually build up and taper down than if they are short and intense. This remains true even if the peak of the gradual build up is more painful than the short, intense burst.

In other words, a pain that builds up to 8 out of 10 and then tapers back down will be remembered as less painful overall than a short burst that jumps from zero to a 6 out of 10 on the pain scale.

Here’s what all of this means for you:

If you want more customers to refer your business, then you want them to remember it as being the least painful experience possible. To do that, you need to limit the short, intense, and painful surprises that they receive.

You can do this in many ways, but one of the simplest ways is by setting expectations.

For example, if you go to a restaurant and ask for extra chicken, then they usually tell you “that will be an additional charge.” This isn’t by accident. Hearing that phrase is a little painful, but it sets your expectation for the coming pain, so that it’s not as intense when you see the charge on your bill.

For comparison, recall a time you saw an unexpected charge on your bill. Painful and annoying wasn’t it? They might not enjoy it, but your customers will remember experiences as less painful if you prepare them for annoyances and difficulties.

The Two Types of Painful Experiences and How They Differ

Building on the above ideas, I would like to add a thought here that could change your approach for business…

There are two kinds of painful experiences: those that happen to us and those that we put ourselves through.

For many businesses, the customer has to put themselves through the pain by signing up to the email list or waiting in line at the store or entering their credit card information to complete the purchase. And at any point in that process, they can choose to avoid those annoying things and leave.

When a painful or annoying experience is happening to us — like getting a cavity filled by the dentist — everything we have already discussed holds true.

However, when the customer is putting themselves through a painful or annoying experience — like waiting in a long line at the grocery store — then a different approach might be necessary.

In Robert Cialdini’s landmark book on psychology and persuasion he discusses the impact that commitment has on our actions. As it turns out, we are wired to remain committed to things that we have already put forth some effort on. Even if it’s just a little step in the right direction, it can make a big difference.

Here’s What That Means for Business…

If there is a process where people have to do something on their own, you should structure your process so that it’s very easy for them to take one step towards completion. Make it as easy as possible for them to commit. Then, you can ask them to do the difficult or annoying part.

For example, let’s say that you’re grocery shopping and there is a really long line at the checkout. You’ll probably take one look and think, “Ugh. Well, I have to wait. I already did all of my shopping.”

In other words, each time you put something in your cart, you became a little bit more committed. By the time you got to the line, you were dedicated to finishing your grocery trip, no matter how painful waiting in that long line would be.

The opposite effect happens when you go to the Post Office to buy some stamps. If there is a long line, you’ll realize that you’ve haven’t really invested much at this point and you’ll probably just leave.

In other words, if you know there will be a painful part of the process for your customers, make sure they are committed to finishing it or they will just quit.

This is why apartment complexes ask people to put down $50 to reserve your spot and give you the chance to buy the apartment when the old tenants move out. When you think about this from the customer’s perspective, this seems insane: you’re paying the apartment complex money, so that you can pay them money. However, it works really well because paying $50 is much less painful than paying $1000/month. But once you’ve paid $50, you’re strongly committed to paying $1000/month. The apartment complex is making it easy to commit and once you have done so, it’s tough to back out.

This strategy can work in almost any business. For example, you could ask people to pay a small fee to get on the private waitlist for your next product or service.

Offering consulting? Pay $25 to get on the waitlist for when you start taking new clients again.

Launching a new product? Pay $10 to be the first one to receive a copy.

In fact, I would suggest doing this even if you don’t have a waitlist right now. In other words, instead of trying to find your next $500 freelance job, spend your time finding someone who will pay $15 to get on your waitlist. Then, contact them in a week and tell them you have a spot opening up. They will be much more likely to shell out $500 after paying $15 to get on the waitlist.

Small commitments mean we are more likely to put ourselves through painful experiences. Get your customers invested in the process before asking them to do something difficult, annoying, or expensive.

What You Should Do Now

If you enjoyed this article, then I would suggest joining the free newsletter. You’ll get valuable information and ideas that you can apply to your situation.

Also, take a moment to leave your thoughts below in the comments section. How will you use the ideas in this article? Or perhaps you have a question about whether or not they apply to you?

Passive Panda is a helpful place where all opinions are welcome. I’d love to hear from you.

14 Responses to Overcoming Pain Points: Why Customers Aren’t Buying More From You and How to Fix It

  1. Alan says:

    Great tips, James. Keep ‘em coming!

  2. Mind-broaden tips! Love the investment process as I’ve seen this a lot for the last year. More tips at my emails would be great to wait. Send ‘em right away!

  3. Andrew says:

    Great information as always… you never disappoint. Thanks again.

  4. “Small commitments mean we are more likely to put ourselves through painful experiences.”

    This is such a brilliant piece of advice, James.

    At the end of the day customers are people, and like everyone else, they want to avoid pain. And by setting expectations you can definitely make things easier for them.

    But don’t you think building an ongoing relationship with your prospects or existing customers also helps in bringing down the pain to an extent?

    • James Clear says:

      I think you’re on the right track, but I would argue that building an on-going relationship with customers builds trust. And the higher the trust, the more pain you’re willing to endure.

      No customer will stick around if you’re being brutally annoying or difficult, but if they trust you then they can bear it for longer.

      • Exactly. When your customers trust you, they know you’re not going to rip them off. They’re aware that your intention is to help them and give them the best possible service.

        Regardless of how you build this relationship – the focus should always be on strengthening it. Because the stronger it gets, the less pain your customer feels.

        And I think that’s a huge plus.

  5. This is really fascinating to me. Some awesome information here which if implemented properly can definitely help us improve our businesses and give better customer service.


  6. Paul says:

    Okay, how to apply it to my situation. My client paid me decently to build her website. She is a photographer. She is very happy with the website and the work I did. However, my business is primarily Internet Marketing. I know several effective ways that she can make money, but as is typical, she thinks she can figure out how to do it herself in spite of the fact that she really doesn’t know what is effective and how to implement it.

    As you point out, the pain is often realized in paying for a service. My dilemma is that it is hard to show people that there is value in being able to put thim on a fast track to making profits. Furthermore, the sooner one makes a profit, the greater that profit will be, the sooner financial leverage will come in to play. Not engaging in effective revenue generation will just prolong a bad experience and solidify a stat of failure. Sure if I just tell her how to do it herself, she can do it with the help on any Internet technician, but how do I show her that there is a true value in paying for consulting fees and Internet marketing type services, those being local business Internet marketing services specifically. How do I get her to engages in a less painful and preliminary commitment and how can I ramp it up to the stage where she will embrace the more painful full service charge? Of course once I crack that code I will be able to apply it to many if not all of my clients.

    This is the dilemma from another aspect: In a few quick sentences one can be told how to effect a successful Internet marketing strategy. Therefore, because it only takes a moment to verbalize the strategy, they feel it has little value since you didn’t take 20 or 40 hours of work to instruct them. The have no cognizance of the fact that it takes years of study and experience to come up with the strategy. In other words, you have already put hundreds of hours into your craft, but since you are not putting an additional 20 or 40 hours into their consultation, they feel that it has little value. I could go on, but I think you can understand what I am getting at. I just want to give you a more complete picture of my challenge to see if you can give me effective ideas how to handle it in respect to having my client engage in the less painful initial commitment and then how to step them up to the next level of paying for the full service.

    • Ken says:


      It’s funny.

      In a few short sentences I could tell you how to solve your described dilemma also. Much like you are frustrated that your clients don’t see the value of your advice, you don’t see value in hiring a business coach, etc. to help you with your own problem.

      But I will go ahead and give you a solution that has proven successful in a variety of fields, from Law to Architecture, to Estate Planning…

      You need to offer a product, not a service, not advice, at least to start. Call it an ‘Evaluation Package’, a ‘Business Strategy Guide’, a ‘Online Launch Proposal’, whatever you like. It should be beefy enough to justify your price, and customized to the customer’s particular circumstances. 90% of the pages can be the same for each customer, with only a few pages specific to them, based on your work/research for their particular situation.

      If it’s to be a starting point for further work, you should price it low, possibly $97 low. But not free.

      If a customer will not pay $97 for this product, after seeing a sample you have done for a previous client, they are not a serious potential customer for you, currently. Just leave a copy of the sample Guide for them to hold on to. Follow-up weekly by email. Keep telling them relevant things. Keep making them offers. A surprising lot of the them will eventually get back to you.

      Good luck!

      And do let me know if you’d like to see a sample of my customized Business Strategy Starter Packages. I’ll be glad to send one your way…

  7. Kathleen says:

    Really great information which I hadn’t thought of before. In my home-based business I cultivate loyalty in my customers.

  8. John says:

    I’m glad that you brought Dan’s research into this article. Excellent! I think it’s so important to make business simple for people to understand . . . for example, the pricing structure. Why not simplify it and give people what they are looking for? Overcomplicating business causes just too much pain.

  9. Lot of stuff to digest here, James.
    I really like the idea of prepping the customer by getting a small level of commitment. Very smart. Yet I would have never thought about it like that. Usually, we think of getting that small commitment from people by getting them to sign up on a list of some kind.
    Getting them to pay small amount to get on that list weeds out the less committed.
    I like that.
    Crowdfunding projects kind of do this in a way. Kickstarter and Indiegogo let a person with something for sale get a kind of up front commitment from potential customers. It also lessons the pain points because they are numbed with the salve that they will be supporting something special and will be on of the first to get something.
    Thanks again for the article.

  10. JohnBuilt says:

    Post Office analogy; bad, doesn’t hold water. You will be back, you’re not going down the street to the Post Office competitor to get your stamps.

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