Contracts and the Customer Experience

Effective businesses spend a large segment of resources to enhance the customer experience. But most businesses ignore one vital aspect of the customer experience –the contract. Unlike everything else in the relationship between a business and its customers, there is little thought given to how the contract makes a customer feel and how it contributes to a positive or negative user experience.

A graphic designer friend who works in user experience for website design described user experience as the difference between going to the midway at the county fair and going to Disney World. While both sites are interested in entertaining you and separating you from your money as painlessly as possible, the Disney experience is wholly immersive. The architecture, visual design, sound design, smell, costumes cast members wear, the training castmembers receive, the engagement between cast and user, even the napkins and cutlery at the various eating establishments, everything at Disney is meant to enhance the user experience. Disney even calls their customer’s “guests” which creates a more positive vibe. Of course, this not to say you don’t have a good time at the midway, but the experience and feeling are different. You may feel like you had a good time at the fair, but frankly, unless something extraordinary happened, you are not going to remember the experience six months later. If you go to Disney only once, you will remember it for a lifetime—which is exactly what the user experience is designed to invoke.

Disney’s obsessive drive to optimize the mundane is what creates their magic. Take a page from Disney’s user experience and optimize the mundane in your business–your contract.

What does a contract have to do with customer experience? The contract represents a key interaction with customers that the vast majority of businesses make no effort to improve but easily could. Time and time again, my clients and those other interactions I studied all have a similar pattern. Almost inevitably, a dip in customer happiness occurs during the contracting phase. Some of this dip may be the natural. But I believe that dip is exacerbated by the very nature of the contract itself. Contract review and negotiation is not a positive experience. The root cause is simple; most contracts that customers receive display almost no concern for the user’s experience. Businesses view the contract as mundane, a necessary evil that can be just ignored or considered the purview of the lawyers only.

Good businesses will find success by focusing on doing a few things well. Great businesses will find success by focusing on the details. Phenomenal businesses will generate raving fandom by making the mundane exceptional.

One of the aspects of the user experience that is often lacking in the customer cycle, particularly at the contracting phase, is an acknowledgment in the contract of the customer needs. Businesses can and do delegate the contract drafting process to lawyers. But the business should not abdicate their role in the drafting process. The business has a far better idea of their customer and customer needs than the lawyer will ever have. But because the drafting process is not just delegated out, but abdicated entirely, the drafting lawyer is not in a position to understand the business customers. The drafting lawyer fails to consider the needs of the user, the customer, which in turn results in a contract that requires negotiation. Negotiation takes time and takes money. Negotiation adds to the stress of the transaction, the stress of the relationship, and ultimately reduces happiness and the user experience.

Similarly, the tone of so many contracts is premised on suspicion, not on mutual benefit. Most contracts display classical adversarial traits (which is not entirely surprising considering the nature of legal education). The risk management aspect of a contract takes front and center. The natural response to risk management is a lengthy description of what can go wrong. Focusing on the negative has a natural suppressive effect on happiness. Negative people affect our well-being, so doesn’t it stand to reason that a negative contract document would affect the customer experience? A negative contract increases nervousness and fear increases and naturally happiness decreases.

Notoriously concerned with customer experience, Disney obsessively conducts market research but not how you would expect. Disney makes the effort to discern customer interests by doing it in perhaps the most humane way possible, face to face then supplemented by an email survey. But when it comes to contract experiences for most businesses, there is no market research, no asking a client what could be done to be better in the contracting phase, no concern for the user experience. Businesses skip over it, thinking that contracting is the sole purview of the lawyers.

Contracts are not the isolated purview of lawyers. Successful contracting puts the customer first.

Most contracts don’t address common customer concerns, leaving that for the customer to assert. But often the customer doesn’t know what they don’t know, so the contract ends up decidedly one-sided. No audience analysis is conducted. With no analysis of the audience, how can a business assure that the customer has a positive experience? The business can’t and so the customer experience suffers as a result.

So, instead of thinking of contracts as a necessary evil or an afterthought the business process, business should do just the opposite. Start focusing on making the contracting phase more accessible. Make the contract more understandable from a language point of view. Anticipate and address the most likely or most common (or both) customer concerns. Follow up and ask about the contract. Is there something the customer didn’t understand? Is there a way to make the contract better? Pay attention to the little details like what was negotiated and why?


Make the mundane magical, stand apart from your competitors, and generate a raving fandom for your business.


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