As marketers we spend a lot of time focusing on how to get new customers. If we are good, we might even go as far as thinking about how to keep existing customers happy or sell them additional products and services. But one area where many marketers and companies fall down is in what happens when a customer no longer wants to be our customer.
The natural reaction for many companies is to hold on to that customer as tightly as possible and make it hard for them to leave. It's not because they are evil! It's likely because they are thinking short term, wanting to retain that customer - and revenue - even if it means the customer is giving you money for another month or two because they haven't had time to deal with your complicated cancellation process.
I'm not a fan of the above approach. Instead, I believe designing a great cancellation experience matters for 2 big reasons:
1) this customer may decide to use your product again in the future, and the cancellation will be the last impression they have of you
2) the network effect - it's never been easier for people to share their opinions about a product, not just to their friends and family, but also to anyone who can read their blog posts, view their YouTube reviews or see their Tweets
You don't have to look far to see examples of good, bad and ugly cancellation experiences. The ones I use as references are as follows:
The Good - Basecamp offers the gold standard of cancellation experiences in my opinion. (see below) The link to cancel is easy to find in their admin interface. When you cancel, they ask you if you want to cancel for good or just pause your account. After cancelling you get a email that is friendly and clear. And then they don’t bug you again! I regularly use, pause, cancel and return to Basecamp because they make it so easy and pleasant.
The Bad - I tried out a SaaS product as a paid member in order to get the full experience. I don’t feel like shaming them so won’t mention their name. Within a couple of weeks, I realized that the way the product worked didn't map to my own behaviours around that activity. So I went into the app’s admin settings and found out that I had to email them in order to cancel. Not great, but I went ahead and sent the email. The canned reply I got from the CEO offered to help me but instead just gave me two options for a “special promotion” I was eligible for. I had to email him again to cancel, which he finally did, but it left me feeling annoyed.
The Terrible - JFax takes the cake for terrible cancellation experiences. When I was a customer, not only could I not cancel online, but I had to call a number in the UK (at my own expense and during UK business hours) in order to speak to someone and cancel. I had the same experience with two popular newspaper websites.
So you want to be in the Good camp, how do you go about designing a great cancellation experience? Here are some of my own tips that have helped me design better cancellation experiences:
1) Collect and analyze your data - quantitative and qualitative - to understand when people cancel and why (if you don't have this data, do some research). For example, in-app analytics might tell you that people drop off after their 3rd month if they don’t use a particular feature. You might want to interview people that fit that profile to understand the why behind the numbers. I love using the Jobs To Be Done timeline and Four Forces frameworks for this.
2) Map out the customer experience with parallel streams from the customer’s point of view and the company’s point of view. This can be as quick and dirty as a whiteboard session with a couple of colleagues, or an in-depth series of collaborative session with other related stakeholders. Use this information to identify existing paths to cancellation and paths post-cancellation. And with that information, create a new user flows that address the shortcomings or complaints you wish to focus on.
3) Always keep a reference folder of best practices that you can refer to in the future. Whenever I use a subscription product that makes me go Wow or Ugh, I take a screenshot and save it in a folder for when I need inspiration.
With this information you will be able to identify why people are choosing to switch away from your product. In some cases, you may be able to proactively address those reasons and prevent them from wanting to leave in the first place.
In other cases, there may be legitimate reasons why people are leaving - their situation changed, or they were trying to do something with your product and weren’t able to meet their needs.
By designing a great cancellation experience you can’t stop everyone from leaving, but you can leave your customers with a good impression, which will can in turn generate positive word of mouth referrals. and in an ideal scenario, they may choose to come back to you at a future date.
I'd love to hear your examples of companies that are doing good things around cancellations. Please share in the comments below, along with any other tips or feedback.