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October 15, 2014

Avoiding Cognitive Dissonance in Buying Decisions

"Cognitive Dissonance" is a well-established theory and concept which is defined as a psychological conflict that occurs when beliefs and assumptions are contradicted by new information.


When was the last time your buying decision struck a false note? It happened recently to me, in the consumer world, when I bought a device from a reputed brand which fell short of prescribed standards within just a couple of days of use. As we usually do in such a scenario, I immediately started to question my buying decision - "How did I select such a brand?", "What were the factors that made me choose this model?", "What were the alternates available and how I had evaluated those?" As a result, the harmony of my buying decision began to drop from consonance to dissonance. Being a procurement professional myself, I also immediately started drawing parallels of my experience with that of the dilemmas and dissonance faced by the procurement and corporate buyers. Although such a situation is very common in the world of consumers, whether retail or corporate; this leads to "Cognitive Dissonance" a well-established theory and concept which is defined as a psychological conflict that occurs when beliefs and assumptions are contradicted by new information.

When my preconceived notion about the reputed brand was challenged by its eventual poor performance, I established a state of dissonance psychologically. The strong belief that I had built in my mind about the brand and the facts that supported my buying decision began to diminish after witnessing the failure of the product. As a result, the sound of my buying decision was not anymore a right note but an unstable dissonance that would certainly influence me to an alternate brand in the future.

In the corporate world too, as procurement professionals, we may have also felt dissonance that would have failed to support our buying decision, these are predominant especially on the indirect and services categories. The end customer at the receiving side having expressed dissatisfaction or deciding on the product/service being a failure would conflict with our trust in a product/brand despite its reputation in the market and its fancy fact sheets.

So in order to avoid such a situation, what should a prudent buyer do?

  1. Before deciding, conduct a detailed research of the product/supplier combining reference to testimonies (of the other customer's satisfaction). In the purchasing world, we approach this by way of market intelligence to avoid the conflicting beliefs.
  2. Review the performance of the product/supplier in the market.
  3. Explore if the supplies are backed by programs like money-back guarantee etc.,
  4. Review the aftermarket support strategies of the supplier.
  5. Above all, design a strategic decision framework that will eliminate/minimize the probability of doubts around the decision made.

I still remember the times in my previous assignment where we adapted the above strategy with extreme conscientious. While buying IT devices for our PAN India requirement, we reached out to the clientele of all OEMs/suppliers to understand their level of satisfaction. We also asked for prototypes from the suppliers which undergone various test scenarios at our user lab to understand the performance of the product. When we eventually shortlisted the product, we managed to negotiate either money-back guarantees or penalties in the event of failures. Thus by executing the above framework, we minimized the probable doubts around the buying decision to be made.

As a procurement professional or a consumer, you might also have adapted a framework to make your buying decision sound consonant. If they are not covered above, please leave it as comments....

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