Set them free: why you should let service relationships end positively

Paul Taylor tells us why managing customer experience at the end of a service relationship is equally important as other stages of the relationship.

Paul Taylor 180Is it just me or do our services make it much easier to sign up than to close down? We’ve probably all been signing up for various products and services for almost 20 years, and in that time we’ve started hundreds of different service relationships with companies.

The marketing field spends a lot of time and focus on the onboarding experience, and rightly so, getting new users, subscribers and customers is often a key KPI we need to meet.

The design field too has been very focused crafting delightful onboarding experiences – and there are some great examples out there from online services such Canva, Tumblr and Slack, to start-ups like Uber and AirBnb. All of this with the focus on making the ability to start a new service relationship as easy as possible for customers.

But have we lost touch with closure? How often to designers get to spend the same time and effort crafting the experience customers have when ending a service relationship? And should this be an area that we even focus on at all?

Well, a quick look at our current service landscape suggests this is an area that needs more attention. Whether it’s a satellite TV subscription that is really easy to sign up to online, but when you come to close you have to call and battle your way through, or gym memberships which lock you in, or even something as important in terms of a service relationship as a home loan, there are lots of examples where the closing experience leaves a lot to be desired.

But why? Why should we even focus on the closing experience at all?

Let’s be real. Our clients, or the organisations we work for, all operate with limited time, resources and budgets – and they all have KPIs to meet. In this environment, the last thing a CMO or any senior staff member wants to think about is customers leaving their service. As designers, we know that sometimes customers have a good reason for leaving, maybe they just don’t need the service for a while and they will be back in the future.

Great designers also want to design every aspect of a service to be delightful, even the closing experience. But sometimes, this isn’t enough to convince the organisation to focus on designing delightful closing experiences.

So if this is you, and you need to influence your organisation to focus on the closing experience, here are three things to consider:

1. A bad closing experience can be a PR disaster

Having a badly designed closing experience, or even staff who are trained or incentivised to make it difficult for customers to leave, can lead to huge negative impact on the brand. Comcast in the US had a recent case where a customer was so frustrated by not being able to cancel his service that he recorded the staff being deliberately difficult on the call and published it on SoundCloud where it has been played over 6 million times. The financial impacts of this negative brand exposure seen in this example, and others that we have seen in Australia (Jeep with ‘I bought a lemon’ anyone?) are a business case for a bit of investment in the closing experience alone.

2. New competition is moving into this space

Companies like uSwitch are moving into this space and providing an ‘assisted closing experience.’ Not only will these companies help customers find new providers, they will also handle some aspects of the closing experience on behalf of the customer, thus taking away this administrative burden.

We don’t just see this happening in the energy sector, price comparison websites are starting to offer similar services, superannuation companies handle the consolidation experience for members and services like make it easier for consumers to unsubscribe from email lists. These companies are telling consumers they have the right to leave, and are making it easier for them to do so.

3. Peak-End Rule

In his book ‘Thinking fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman illustrated the concept of Peak End Rule. He shows us that after time customers remember the peak of an experience and, most importantly, how it ended. Therefore, a great closing experience could be an opportunity to delight customers making them more likely to return in future, or recommend your service to others. However, most businesses choose to keep pushing peaks down the throat of customers and actively make it difficult for them to leave. Peak-End Rule shows that having a poor closing experience could be a very risky strategy, especially when you consider 78% of consumers trusting recommendations more than any other type of marketing or advertising (Nielsen) and, as we’ve seen, a bad closing experience for a customer can quickly translate into negative word of mouth for a brand.

So now that your organisation is convinced about the value of consciously designing great closing experiences, how do we actually start doing it?

  1. Recognise there are different stages to a service relationship, and that ending a service relationship is a natural part of the cycle,
  2. Always include post-service users as part of your customer research. Don’t just focus exclusively on prospects. This will help us design better services that people won’t want to leave, and if they do, it will make them more likely to return in future,
  3. Move beyond creation of a new customer as a conclusion and start to design delightful closing experiences. Paul Taylor presented recently at the Service Design Conference in Melbourne. He has been designing product and service experiences for over 13 years both in the UK and Australia.

Much of the focus has been on onboarding experiences without much consideration for how customers might bring a service to end. It’s time for this to change.


Paul Taylor is creative director – experience design at SapientNitro, Australia.