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Why making it hard to leave your service makes regaining lost customers even more of an uphill battle

Most of us use a number of online services. Be it e-mail, social media, or online banking (to mention but a few). From time to time, we also decide to leave a service. For some reason, a number of services have decided to make this very, very hard. I would imagine that the reasoning goes something like this: “making the customers jump through hoops to cancel their service is disincentive to their doing so, which should equal increased retention”.

The problem with that reasoning, is that it is bullshit. If your customer has gone so far as to start the cancellation process, they are already out the door, nine times out of ten. A while back, I canceled my subscription to Scribd. It was nothing dramatic, I simply found I wasn’t using the service, and was unwilling to continue paying for it at this time. The experience went something like this:

  • Me: I would like to cancel the service
  • Scribd: Are you sure?

  • Me: Yes

  • Scribd: Why are you leaving us?
  • Me: Because of reasons

  • Scribd: Would you like to contact support?
  • Me: No, I wouldn’t, now sod off and let me cancel the service!

  • Scribd: Would you like to start a new subscription?
  • Me: NO! I would really not

That took five steps. Now, before going through the process, I did intend to return to the service at a point when it would be of value to me. Now, though? No way. I am lost to Scribd in perpetuity.

In a recent episode of the podcast Reply All, they had a new segment, Super Tech Support, covering this exact issue, telling the story of how one of the hosts, PJ, was trying to cancel a house cleaning service. Worse still than Scribd, the service in question, Handy didn’t have the option to cancel a subscription on the site, instead requiring that their customers contact them via e-mail to have them perform the cancellation.

The point is; if you  make it hard for me to cancel your service, you also piss me off. This makes me significantly less likely to come back to you as a customer. Now, I contend that criticism for its own sake is worthless, so here’s my two cents. When someone wants to cancel your service, you let them do that. Feel free to ask them why they are cancelling, but don’t hinder them. If you’ve got a good offer to customers who are leaving, do make that offer. Other than that, leave them alone, and hope that they remember that you were graceful when they wanted to leave.

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