How to lose a customer, forever

Typically ease of use is something we think about when it comes to signing up for and beginning to use a service. I increasingly believe it’s the ease of use in leaving a service that has an equal impact on customer loyalty. The worse the experience of leaving is, the more your former customers will tell their friends not to even start.

Ultimately the cancellation experience should surpass, or at the very least meet, the signup experience in ease of use. Invert that relationship at your own risk because the harder it is to leave, the easier it is to decide to leave forever.

To illustrate this, let me recount my experience renting a small private office a few blocks from home. I toured the space on a weekday afternoon in February and decided to rent it on a month-to-month basis. 45 minutes after emailing the office manager I had everything signed and paid for.

On March 7th I was incorrectly billed an extra $15. On April 8th I was billed an extra $30. And again on May 8th I was billed an extra $30. On May 18th I got a refund for $45. But the remaining $30 was never refunded, despite multiple emails and in-person reminders.

Earlier this month I decided to switch back to working from home full-time. I emailed the office manager in the early afternoon on August 3rd, a Saturday. It will be 59 days later, on September 30th, that I will no longer be paying for an office I’ve not used since July.

There’s an asymmetry to the timeline of these transactions. I paid them thousands of dollars. They can’t be bothered to refund me $30. Signing up to pay them took an afternoon. Closing the account will take longer than it took to buy our apartment. And getting a refund is simply a lost cause (as is any inclination I have to ever use their services again).

There are parallels here to some of the more notorious customer experience complaints. I’m thinking of those companies with retention specialists, those that require you to pick up the phone to cancel a service you paid for online, that sort of thing.

We all know these companies. And when we do use them it’s more often due to the sheer lack of alternatives than it is out of loyalty. If you’re in a market where there are alternatives then you better pay attention to the ease with which customers can leave your service. If it’s an order of magnitude easier to signup than it is to leave then it’s only a matter of time before your customers have left for good.