Frictionless Client Offboarding (or why you should stop worrying about losing clients and start holding the door open for them instead)

How To Win Back Lost Business With Perfect Client Offboarding Experiences

Quick story: A few years ago I replaced my beloved but dying MacBook Air with a new MacBook Pro without checking MacRumors first. This meant that I was that person who bought a new laptop the week before the new ones were announced. Having realised the error of my ways, I resigned myself to a laborious returns process designed to maximise inconvenience and encourage me to reconsider my decision.

It turns out that I needn’t be so worried, Apple’s customer experience team had a playbook to ensure the process was as painless as possible. Over a short call, the Apple agent organised a courier to pick up the package from my office, and even apologised that the best estimate as to when I’d get my money back was between 3–5 days.

What this episode left me with was a sense that this process didn’t just happen, it was a deliberate and designed experience. An otherwise neglected touchpoint and negative experience was optimised to ensure that returning a product was as delightful and frictionless as the initial purchase.

In the world of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) naturally you want your client to feel as if they’ve made a career defining decision choosing you as a vendor. To this end, you’ll find tonnes of great resources detailing best practices for designing wonderful onboarding experiences in both B2C and B2B models, but this isn’t one of those posts.

Removing friction and delivering ‘wow moments’ during the client onboarding process is crucial, however investing time and money designing a slick offboarding process can be a differentiator in the market. To see how this may relate to your context let’s walk through some of the common pitfalls to avoid and how you can maximise this orphaned client touchpoint.

Let’s assume that despite your best efforts, a client is going to churn. Sorry to be the one breaking it to you but this will happen at some point. Either the client had been flagged as ‘revenue risk’ for a while and your retention efforts didn’t work out, or it may have come as a total surprise. An easy trap to fall into is to take this personally, even more so if the client was an early adopter from your MVP days. Aah the memories; your business lunches and those long calls outside of core hours to solve issues — it hits you right in the feels when it appears it was all for nothing.

It may be due to changing priorities in their organisation, a change of personnel or perhaps the level of service they receive is no longer fit for purpose. Regardless of the reason, they’ve made a business decision and they need to exit the relationship as smoothly as possible.

Just as in onboarding where the goal is to reduce Time to Value (TTV), the goal with the offboarding experience is to reduce TTE (Time to Exit). This doesn’t mean that services are switched off or accounts suspended at the earliest opportunity, rather this is a key touchpoint to remind your client that you are great to do business with. The key is not just to make it quick, the key is to make it quick and easy.

This may initially appear to be counter intuitive but it’s vital to find out what success looks like for your client when they migrate to a competitor. What are the timescales? Is it an overnight transition? You have an existing relationship with them and you know their business. How much effort or cost would it take to ensure they have everything they need for the journey ahead? Not much I assure you.

Does your client need help with a data extract? How can you help? Would a break from your usual annual renewal help? How about a single month extension or even better how about a free month to run your software in parallel with their new vendor?

Let’s put it this way, if this process isn’t designed well enough or if you disengage from a previously fruitful relationship then you’re effectively validating their decision to scrap you as a vendor.

Alternatively, imagine a scenario where your offboarding process is better than your competitors onboarding.

Would I recommend a friend buy a MacBook directly from Apple? Absolutely! Do I own one? No (Dell XPS13 FTW). My experience with Apple has stayed with me even though I’m no longer a Mac user.

In SaaS, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a well established concept that is broadly defined as the willingness of clients to recommend your product to others. So when a client becomes an ex-client, this doesn’t mean that their opinion of you suddenly disappears. A great NPS score for an ex-client is your legacy that stays with them, and when they leave you can no longer influence that score — it is what it is forever.

If your software serves a specific vertical or job function, you can bet that professionals in that space talk to each other. What better than for an ex-client to recommend your services to a potential client at a conference based upon your great customer experience. Further to that, perhaps the new software vendor isn’t quite what they were expecting. Perhaps the new vendor doesn’t quite understand or doesn’t care about their business model. Should your ex-client start feeling the pangs of buyers remorse, then make it an easy decision to come back.

“I know from tomorrow you will no longer be a client but you know where I am if you ever have any questions” Don’t make that first contact after your breakup be an awkward or reluctant one.

It would be remiss of me not to bring up Open Banking and PSD2 as part of this conversation. In the EU there are a bunch of new regulatory changes that are forcing changes in the way that user data is being considered.

Allow me to (poorly) explain, the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) was adopted by the European Parliament to promote greater data transparency options to end users of the data that financial institutions hold on them. End users (bank account holders) will effectively become owners of their own data and in charge of who they grant access to it. As you move from one bank or service to another the service provider is obliged to either provide access to, or hand over your data to the next.

From one perspective it’s a regulatory change, from another it’s a unique opportunity to design industry leading offboarding experiences. In this new world client offboarding won’t be an occasional event it will become the norm. It will be easier than ever for your clients to leave and switch between service providers — and switch back to you if things don’t work out. It’s inevitable that we will see industry comparisons and benchmark reports on who is doing offboarding well. With that in mind if you’re first to market with a great offboarding experience then you’ll be setting the benchmark for others to follow.

In summary, offering a great client offboarding process shouldn’t be perceived as negative, rather it’s a way to ensure clients walk away feeling valued and more likely to return in a market where returning is made easier by regulation.

Frictionless client offboarding experiences are new ways to differentiate in the market where last impressions last.

High Growth Ops, CX & Tech Consultant // Prev @Access_Pay, @fatsoma, @computerlovers, @bbc & @BNYMellon // Ex banker, startup cofailer & @mcrfintech organiser

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