Biz Features

The Dangers of Being Awesome – How Being On Top Ruins All Businesses (Even Small Ones!) In The Long Term

by . April 19th, 2012

A girl I know told me that as a kid in the late 80s, she really wanted a My Little Pony toy. Doll. Action figure. I don’t know what you call them, but she wanted one of those. So for months, she nagged her mother to get her a small plastic horse.

Come Christmas, she did find a small toy horse waiting for her under the tree. Except it wasn’t a My Little Pony – rather it was a “My Little Horsie”, one of the desired ponies’ older, Guangzhou-manufactured, probably neurotoxin-infused, knock-off cousins. Which her mother assured her, rather curtly (my friend used a different, somewhat saltier word) was just as good.

Like this one, except with much more emotional trauma

I’m sure thousands of little girls were similarly disappointed. Here was an entire line of toys that you’d guess made no one happy. Except the people that made them with the intent of ripping parents off. But my friend’s mom surely could have avoided this if she wanted to.

How did it come to this? I have a few guesses:

a.) Her mom was misinformed or otherwise got fooled into buying it .

b.) Her mom couldn’t afford it (unlikely, I was told)

c.) Her mom was cheap (very likely, I was told)

d.) Her mom didn’t care enough to get her the toy she actually wanted.

e.) All or most of the above.

The Only Game in Town? Pffft Yeah Right!

Most of us have stories like my friends’. Of course, being a mother is totally different from being an entrepreneur- or is it? Parents certainly don’t get paid to please anyone, and generally aren’t out to do so a lot of the time. Competition is also almost nowhere to be found.

But why do so many businesses fail to do their homework? Why do so many try to cut costs to the point that they offer a disservice to the very people they rely on to survive?


....and business!

Looking at well-known businesses with comparatively low customer satisfaction ratings (see 1, 2, 3, and 4), the problem seems to be a function that comes with being huge. In the examples, AT&T, Delta, Comcast, Bank of America, and Facebook are all large companies that have or had monopolies, near-monopolies, or huge leads in their respective markets. When you get to the top or are the only game in town, people will put up with your crap, but hope you get what’s coming to you.

You’re the only kid on the block? Not for long (if you suck)!

Surprisingly, we all know small businesses that fall (or fell -if they’re gone, which happens a lot) into this pattern. That laundry shop that kept losing your sweaters that you went to because no one else around could do what they did, but folded after after a better shop moved into the neighborhood. Same for that mechanic that always overcharged you and never did anything on time (and no, they’re not all like that). Or that dentist that just didn’t give a rat’s ass about bedside manner. These sorts of business.

And people remember bad service . A study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science has demonstrated that bad experiences tend to linger in our minds much more than good ones- and this directly applies to how everyone should handle customer service.


Image owned by Hasbro

This seems to mean that when there are no competitors, you should act as though one will just be around the corner – as deterrence or because of its inevitability. Finding the motivation to do so when you’re not hungry is another thing altogether. But you can’t get away from it, because it will happen.

My friend still has a complex about how her mother handled the whole My Little Horsie incident. No joke. She’s suggested (not seriously, I hope) that when the time comes, she’d have her mother cremated instead of buried to remove the fingerprints she’d have indented into her mother’s neck. Interestingly, she doesn’t speak as often or as vociferously about the countless times her mother did something good to her. We’re all mostly the same way. Even with burger joints, salons, mechanics –everything.

No matter how huge or entrenched complacent entrepreneurs will always get into trouble in any free market. If you don’t get with the times, it will happen. When someone new shows up- someone who can do better than you, people will remember how you treated them.


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.