Good goodbyes

by Todd

When products and services are young and new and full of fire, we want them to grow. We pour everything into finding the best ways to entice and welcome new customers.

But nothing lasts forever, and the flipside of winning a customer is when one decides to move on. When you’re focussed on growth, it’s hard to think much about a customer’s experience when they stop being a customer.

We’ve all had these “exit experiences”. And they’re often pretty bad, little more than a bare-bones page with a half-hearted farewell, and then it’s just adios. After all, there are existing customers to serve. And new ones to welcome. So why bother?

Memories matter

Maybe you’ve seen this quote from Maya Angelou:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Daniel Kahnema, a psychologist who has written about what he calls fast and slow ways of thinking, and particularly how these modes of thinking affect marketing.

Kahnema notes how the memory, even the anticipated memory of an experience, influences our decisions.

…it is the ‘remembered self’ that matters most, it’s what really motivates people and what makes people happy. We’re all memory machines, driven to make memories for consuming and sharing later.

A helpful, friendly goodbye softens a preceding negative experience, helping ex-customers to remember you well, recommend you, or even consider coming back someday. If someone is leaving because of a bad experience, making the exit difficult or indifferent can only make that hole deeper. Now, it’s worth adding that if someone has a truly bad experience, no amount of sugar at the end will change their mind about you. As with most design work, there is no magic bullet; there is just the work of doing, learning, and the doing better.

Make no mistake: putting resources into a good exit experience is a hard sell for a business focussed on growth. That’s understandable, but the value of things like a good exit experience pay interest over time, so it’s wise to invest early.

The good news is that you don’t have to invest a lot to get a return, so let’s talk about how to approach it.

Before you do anything else, make it easy

A cornerstone of a good exit is ease of use. Cancelling a service should be straightforward: explain any policies you need to stick to, make options clear, and ensure that the space is as well designed as any other in the website or app. The temptation will be to add some kind of friction to the departure process so that a person will reconsider.

Resist that impulse! If you want someone to reconsider, offer to deactivate their account for a cooling down period, allowing a return without any loss just by signing back in. Twitter, Facebook, and many others have offered this feature for some time, and it’s a nice, service-oriented way to retain a customer intent on exiting. No strong-arms required, just a little patience.

Even with a deactivation option, an immediate deletion feature might be important to provide. If your product holds personal or otherwise sensitive information, the feeling of closure and control is too important to withhold when a person has decided to leave.

Ask questions and tune your response

Let’s take another step by showing empathy for the exiting customer, AND collecting valuable information on their way out. There’s a pretty reliable range of reasons that people leave:

A short survey at the cancellation spot is appropriate, but must be optional. Depending on how someone answers this question, you create a lasting good impression. Let’s look at them in more detail:

If a customer’s success pushes them to a bigger provider, you shouldn’t be sad to see them go. You were with them as they grew! You might well be part of their success. Offer congratulations, and see if they’d offer a testimonial or be part of a case study. You are in business to help people succeed, yes?

If they found something better, or you made them upset, you can try to find out what was missing from your product, or how you could have done better. A conversation starting from a painful point is a last chance for you to try and make something right. Even if you don’t succeed, your parting shot is trying to help.

And it has nothing to do with you. Maybe your customer’s company is shutting down, or someone has changed jobs and just doesn’t need you anymore. These things happen. Offer your best wishes.

The portability question

One of the hardest conversations to have around customer exits is data portability – giving people the ability to take their data with them, in a format that they can use in other applications (or, at the very least, in a human-readable format). Giving up a person’s data might feel like you’re giving up a valuable asset, and even making it too easy for someone to leave.

Locking the potential value up in your product by holding back on the data is tempting. It’s work to make that data available, and more work to make it truly useful. A lot of companies feel that way, and decide not to make the data created in their product portable.

Those that do win the respect and sometimes some love from an exiting customer. When Moves was acquired by Facebook, I decided to leave the service. When the requested export arrived, the download size was astonishing: 96MB. Moves had converted my data into myriad formats, and packaged them all up in separate zip files, with a short document explaining what each format was for. Moves may have lost me as a customer, but not as someone who would speak well of them.

Pre-acquisition Moves is extra-generous with data exporting

In a lot of ways, the data portability question is going to be answered in your organization as a matter of philosophy and disposition, and sometimes there are legal requirements around ownership of that data to consider. The only way to really do this part wrong is to not have the conversation.

Return paths

The grass isn’t always greener somewhere else, and part of treating a customer very well on their exit is to let them know how easy you can make it for them to return. You might have a special offer to sweeten the deal, but the real treat is to make it seamless for someone to pick up where they left off.

Crafting your own exit experience

Through each section you probably noticed that the recommendations became less specific. That’s because the scenarios and solutions become more tightly tied to the kinds of customers and products or services you have.

If you want to give a serious think about how to make a good experience out of a potentially unhappy moment, the best thing to do is to create a few personas of customers who decide to leave. Use those personas to explore the motivations, desires, context, and constraints around a customer exit, and from there you’ll see the opportunities to make that experience a good one.

No matter how hard you try, many people just won’t be back. But with a considerately designed exit experience they’re much more likely to remember you in ways that make recommending, and even returning, much more likely.

Bye Bye photo by Lisandro M. Enrique