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How to Destroy a Customer Relationship in the Final Moments

October 3, 2023

It’s amazing to me how many companies destroy a customer relationship at the very end. How their attitudes change towards a customer at the end of that customer’s “customer lifetime”. A company that’s worked hard to deliver a good product, good service, and good experience, throws it all away when the customer leaves.

Now, I don’t really rant for the sake of ranting, because that makes these posts about me and not you, and that’s not what we’re about. However, I’m okay ranting with a purpose — when there is an underlying lesson that can help you improve your approach to customer experience.

So let me tell you a bit about this company we’re dealing with right now, and in doing so, hopefully help you pay more attention to this critical moment in the customer’s journey – the end of the journey.

We have a SAAS (service as a software) provider that we’ve used for the past year or two. They’ve been nice in trying to help us get the product set up and worked with us to try to use the product more. In the end however, we just didn’t use it. Okay, that’s on us. We’re not asking for a refund. We paid for it; we didn’t use it. The product was there to be used; they held up their end of the contract. We’re all good.

Except…

Now, we need to cancel the product before we get charged for another year, and it’s not a small amount. So, we went to make sure that we canceled before the product renewed. Within this one process, this company transformed itself from a nice, helpful little startup to one of those sketchy tech companies that makes it almost impossible to get out of their service. 

Let me tell you a little bit about what we went through first — and I want to break down a few of the details in case you find that your organization has some of these things. 

First, when you’re logged into your account, there is no support phone number or way to just click a button and cancel. Literally, it is very obviously and purposefully not there.  You go to all the different accounts screens, there’s nothing! So, how does one cancel you might ask? Well, you have to find a help article on how to cancel your account, which is essentially a short version of a terms or conditions – literally, thick legalese mostly about all the ways they can charge you and you don’t have recourse. 

Now, once you get there, the fun starts, because you can only cancel two ways – and they’re very emphatic that these are the only two ways — you can cancel using the form when you’re logged into your account or to speak with an individual on the phone. You absolutely cannot cancel your account using an email.

Okay fine, they have their systems. Of course, if these are the two ways to cancel you would think that the form would be easy to find and the phone number obvious. Not so much. 

Okay, I’m going to bring this home without walking you through every last detail.

Here’s where we are: we filled out a form (which was at the bottom of the cancellation article but not in the account where, the one we are told we must use to officially cancel, is supposed to be).

We received no autoresponder or email confirmation that the form was received.

We found a phone number for someone who had helped us with product set up before buried in a calendar invite and canceled with her via phone. She was not the correct person but said she would get the info to support. It is now 12:30pm and we have not heard from them.

Now, it’s a Friday as I write this and we will be charged on Monday. They very clearly say that you have to cancel 24 hours ahead. We’re way ahead of that but have no confidence that they won’t charge us, and we won’t have to deal with getting it reversed and all of the fun that comes with that.

So instead of focusing on important things, when we finish this post, guess what we’re doing?

Here’s the thing – they ruined this relationship by treating me differently as an exiting customer than as a current customer.

This is a service that I and a number of professional speakers use. I would have recommended them. I would have said, they were good to work with, we didn’t use the product ourselves, but if you think you will, definitely check them out. Now, I absolutely cannot recommend this company anymore. Why? Because they tried to hold me hostage at the end. 

And for the record, I’m not somebody who thinks you should just let customers skate in every situation. There are memberships and contracts for a reason; often companies incur upfront costs and the contract terms are reflective of that. Each case is different, but this is not that. This is purposely creating Byzantine hoops for someone to jump through to cancel a product that you have the right to cancel. They’re just making it difficult. 

In my keynote on customer experience leadership, Be Your Teams’ Hero, we talk about a 3E process for customer experience leadership. The first E is Embody, do leaders walk their talk, do they support customer centricity with their actions? 

One of the best ways to tell if a leader walks their talk, if an organization is truly customer centric, is how they treat you when you’re going to no longer be their customer, how they treat you, when say you don’t need the product or service anymore, because some of the companies that are customer centric when you’re their customer change when you tell them you’re not going to be their customer anymore.

Here are three ideas I want to offer for your consideration:  

First, it’s okay to ask a customer why they are leaving. It’s more than okay, you should ask them. “Hey, why are you leaving? How can we help? Is there anything we can do better?” This both gives you intel on why they are leaving that can help you improve and gives you the opportunity to resolve any issues that might be behind the defection.

Second, it’s okay to prioritize paying customers over exiting customers. In fact, in our post a few weeks ago, Is Your Baseline Experience Best In Class, we discussed that it’s okay to prioritize certain paying customers over others based on lifetime value.

For example, platinum status customers versus silver status. However, as we mentioned in that post, there’s a baseline for how you treat the customer. And if you’re truly customer centric, then part of that baseline is you treat them with dignity and respect and value when they decide to not be your customer anymore.

And I’m not talking about the small percentage where there’s a “bad breakup” so to speak; I’m talking about what is your standard experience for a customer who is exiting? How do you make every customer parting a positively memorable experience?

Finally, it’s just bad business. It’s like investing in a great mutual fund for years and then throwing it all way on one roulette number in Vegas.

If an organization’s built brand equity, brand deposits, as we discussed recently and then they’re going to make the last interaction a negative one — from what we know of the peak-end rule, this will be the experience that defines the organization for the customer, generating both a peak negative emotion and being the last interaction.

You don’t want to kill any chances of the customer coming back or referring you, because someone in your organization who isn’t customer centric thought it would be a great idea to hold your customers hostage and make it really painful to stop doing business with you.

Just remember if you’re designing experience, if you’re leading a customer experience team, make that last interaction a positive one.

Make it hassle-free. Be supportive. Be service-focused.

Because if you lead a truly customer-centric organization, then you care about customers, no matter what stage of the customer lifecycle they are in.

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