Let me out

When you can’t find the exit.

Why not letting customers go is hurting your product and your bottom line.

In my very recent past I wanted to get rid of a couple of contracts in an attempt to save time and money. During this time I experienced a wide variety of how companies let you cancel accounts or contracts. Once again I noticed what an integral part it is to let your customers leave and this led me to this post.

Everyone knows why companies — and especially startups — want to keep paying customers, but they sometimes do it for the wrong reasons, like trying to keep high active user count for investors, or trying to make non-paying customers pay or just focus on having more customers. At this stage making it hard for a customer to leave is from my experience a quite common tactic. This is a huge mistake and it hurts your product and the bottom line.

Let me give you a real life example of how you can ruin an otherwise good user experience by making it hard to leave:

The story of a bank account at a fin tech startup

As a product guy I am always interested in the lastest products and when a banking startup promised that the “future of banking is here!” I thought: “FINALLY!” and got an account with them.

Getting a bank account in the future was incredibly easy — no paperwork and no hassle: Everything including the identification was done via my smartphone, because you know: Mobile first. Awesome! This is what I always wanted.

After using the account for a while in parallel with an existing account at my current bank I switched back completely to my old account. Why? Because they did not yet(! — keep this word in mind for later) offer everything I need and I do not want to have 2 accounts as this is too much hassle and it also goes against my credit score. So I decided to close my account with them, I liked their product, but it was not “there yet”.

How can I get out?

I thought getting rid of the account must be easy: Mobile first, do it quickly on my phone? Should be easy, right? Nah. Here is where “mobile first” stops and Satan takes over the user experience:

Being the internet & app power user I am I started with checking in their banking app: Settings? Some hidden buttons? No- nothing. Maybe on the web app? Also: Nothing. Finally in the FAQ I found something:

To cancel the account I needed to: Download a PDF form. This form is rendered as an image, so no filling out on my laptop, let alone my phone— remember the “mobile first”? So I decided to print it out, fill it in by hand and scan to send it via email. As a response I got a ticket number and the information that it would take “4–5 business days to process my request”. That sounded reasonable.

9 business days later…

… I had received nothing, so a quick call should fix that, right? I searched their customer support page for a phone number, maybe they missed of my email somehow?

Calling them turned out to be harder than expected: There was no phone number to be found on their website (Later the friendly customer service agent told me that they provide a number in some places in their FAQ — apparently terminating a bank account is not one of them). I used their contact form instead this time:

We are currently getting many requests, so responses might take a bit longer than usual. Don’t worry help is on the way. (translated)

So I didn’t worry and waited again for another 8 business days: Nothing. To get something I decided to tweet them and see if you can reach them somehow. In my tweet I asked about the status of my ticket and for a phone number. After 2 tweets I had the phone number and got told to call them for an update on my ticket.

This is what I did: I called them and after 15mins on the phone with first a robot and then a very friendly human they closed my account the same day and send an email as confirmation. Apparently that is easily done and very fast. Just one question:

Why are you making it so hard?

So getting rid of this account took: 22 days in total, 2 emails, 2 tweets and a 15min call with a customer care agent. That doesn’t sound too bad? Are you sure? This was about 2.5h of my spare time including searching the FAQs etc. which I would have preferred to spend otherwise, maybe eating ice cream and watching Netflix…

This is what happens when you make it hard for people to leave:

#1 They will create cost, not on purpose, but if you take my example from above it: 2 emails, 2 tweets and 15mins of time of your customer support to just cancel an account. In the time necessary to work on this you can not take care of more important requests of other customers annoying them too.

#2 People are less likely to try your product again: You most likely spent a substantial amount of money to acquire a customer. And I get it: You don’t want to lose them, they look nice in statistics and maybe they will buy again or just continue to pay! But what if I liked your product and just don’t need it for now? I might be interested again in the future or you might add new features, that make it valuable to me again. How likely do you think it is that I am trying out and paying for your product again if I know changing my mind will again take 2h of my precious time?

#3 I strongly believe that people are less likely to recommend your product. Simple: How can I tell my friends: “Try this one — I used it, but it was not the right one for me — it might be for you though. Give it a shot!”

#4 If that is the last experience with your product this will have spillover effects into the whole user experience. Just like a great meal can be spoiled by having a cockroach in the mousse au chocolat at the end— even if the main course was the best food you had in a year, you are not going to come back to that restaurant and you will tell your friends (and the internet…) about “that one time there was a cockroach in my dessert”.

All of the points above directly impact your customer experience and with that your bottom line.

Just let me go

A lot of successful companies make it easy to leave: Netflix has a “cancel membership” button right on the settings page — just two clicks away from the main screen, Github has one on the billing page — 3 clicks away from the dashboard and Amazon Prime can easily be cancelled as well, you can even tell Amazon to send an automatic reminder 3 days before the next extension. This is how I would expect it to be — I am still using Netflix and won’t cancel it just because the button is there.