ClusterFrak to the Darkside / Episode II

Episode II. Attack of the Moaners.

Like I said at the start of my Episode I post, as an entrepreneur, you are naturally very optimistic. One of the interesting results of this is that you spend 99.9999% of your efforts focused on everything related to when things go right. You’ll sweat scaling, customer development, feature sets, bug testing, social media, adequate coffee and pizza… The list is endless.

But the one thing you probably won’t sweat over is optimizing processes for when things go wrong.

And yes, here lies an oft-trod path to madness. Welcome to Episode II of Clusterfrak to the Darkside…

Here’s an example that happens to be a huge pet peeve of mine. I want to cancel your service. How hard are you going to make it for me to do so?

I have seen smart people that I respect actively defend the “hide it and they won’t come” version of service cancellation. You know exactly what I mean. You can upgrade, sidegrade, recommend or otherwise engage with the fine minutiae of any aspect of a product except one.

“To cancel your account, please call…”

This is bullshit.

It is built on the premise that if you make it hard to cancel, a customer won’t cancel. That’s the underlying assumption. If you can make them call, you can talk them out of it and avoid losing a customer.

NEWSFLASH: if a customer wants to cancel, it’s because the DON’T WANT YOUR PRODUCT. It may be for a dumb reason. It may be for a good reason. It doesn’t matter. If they want to cancel and you get in their way, you’ll make them angrier than they were already.

“But what if they don’t understand and we actually do what they want, they’re just using it wrong?” I hear you cry.

Well, I never said you shouldn’t find out why someone wants to cancel. I just saying don’t put roadblocks between you and them if they want to cancel.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Think of the last product you paid money for that pissed you off. Did you cancel the service and/or get your money back? I bet yes. Did you have to fight to cancel it? If yes, did that make you happier about the company you were dealing with? I’m guessing no.

Exhibit A: Shortly after I moved to the US, I recall trying to buy my first car and stopping in at a Mitsubishi dealership. The sales guy asked if I wanted to talk numbers and I said I wasn’t ready to buy but would like to know what the numbers would look like. I was then ushered in to a room in the back while they did their thing. He brought the numbers, and his manager, and asked if I was ready to buy. I said no. Lots of paper shuffling, big markers circling all the key points of the ever-so-amazing deal I was getting and increasing rhetoric about wasting his time. And then, (and I’m not kidding) two other guys turned up and stood in front of the door blocking my exit while the manager proceeded to rant about what a great deal he was giving me. Needless to say, I left. I have never visited a Mitsubishi dealership since.

Exhibit B: I signed up for a VisualLink “Learn Spanish” CD-ROM a number of years ago (please note: the company may have changed its policies since then). It was a standard subscription deal with some kind of intro period. The discs were arriving way faster than I was able to get through them, so I tried to cancel. The only option was to call, and when I called the wait times were enormous and then the operative put me on hold. It took multiple calls before everything was taken care of. In this case I actually liked the product, it just wasn’t right for me at that point in time. But I’ll never spend money with them again.

Exhibit C: I recently canceled my AT&T service. Even though I had already ported my number, it still took three calls. On the first call, the guy refused to let me cancel. He pointed out that we were in a “good” coverage area, based on AT&T’s map. He suggested I ditch the iPhone on the account for a different phone with better reception (yes, I swear he did). He refused to put a supervisor on the phone. I hung up. The second call, we got repeatedly cut off due to AT&T’s shitty service. Oh, the irony. Then the battery in the phone died, so I had to call again. On the third call, I explained that I did not want to talk to a “Retention Specialist” (that’s what they actually call their cancellation department — a big clue, no less) and that nothing would prevent me from canceling the account. The CS person I spoke with was one of the few humans at AT&T. She politely informed me that the hold times were currently very long for the cancelation department and proceeded to take care of the cancelation. She was professional and apologetic, and I was done in about 5 minutes. While that didn’t go terribly far in offsetting the general abuse I experienced at the hands of AT&T, it’s definitely the best ending of the three examples I’ve talked about here.

So when you launch your Next Big Thing, spare a moment’s thought for the unhappy customer. If they’re not happy, make it easy to cancel. Ask for feedback when they do. Follow up with them gently, and respect when they ask to be left alone.

Don’t fall in to the classic sales trap of a NO being a YES waiting to happen. It’s BS. And it’s a swift road to the darkside…

I’ll perhaps talk about ways to optimize customer service in another post…