Kindness to Customers: Let Them Go!

A simple word of advice to businesses: when customers want to leave, let them go. A kind approach to service may just bring them back one day.

We hear the customer stories again and again–a customer attempts to cancel a subscription or service, only to face endless runaround. On a good day, a business may counter with an offer reduce price, add features, or include some other kind of premium. On a bad day, the business manipulates, threatens, and ultimately punishes the customer for leaving.

I personally experienced the bad-day scenario this week. I had a monthly subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, for incidental use of Photoshop. I realized I don’t have much need for it anymore, so I tried to cancel. I logged into my account page, which offered an explicit “Cancel” button. “Easy,” I thought. Until I tried it. The button created a popup telling me I had to contact customer service, with a link to do so. I clicked the link and got to an online form. I had to answer questions about what I wanted. I selected the option for canceling my account, and got to a dead-end, because you’re supposed to cancel accounts using the cancel feature on your account page. I went through this loop one more time, and same result. Great…

After a bit of hunting, I found a link to open a chat with customer support. The session began and I told the service rep what I needed to do. He started to explain how I can do it myself, and I told him it didn’t work. He checked and told me that the monthly account actually comes with an annual commitment.

Me: What are my options then? Are you telling me I actually can’t cancel this?
Adobe: Yes, please allow me a moment.
Adobe: If you are willing to continue your annual membership for the next year too, I can get you one month free of your annual Creative Cloud membership in order to save one months of subscription fee and you will not be charge for the next one payment.

I started hitting those keys for my next response a lot harder. He had just told me I cannot cancel my account at all, and tried to upsell me to an annual membership for an additional year. I honestly lost my cool a bit. His fumbling around through an unkind company policy triggered a bit of unkindness in me as well. Having him respond “May I know when did I say that you cannot cancel your subscription ?” put me over the limit, and I admit I got a bit nasty. I pasted his answer back at him, and added “I can cut and paste. Don’t play games.” He then shared a link describing their policies to me, pages of small print and legalese. I probably had agreed to those terms when I signed up, but using arcane, obfuscating terms to hold on to customers just creates anger.

After increasingly tense negotiation, and after I found the early termination language, I insisted that we proceed, and they fulfilled my request. But at what cost? An infuriated customer, who will never do business with them again, and who is more than happy to tell his story.

But why am I telling a story about losing my temper on a blog about kindness? I think businesses can do better, and easily. They can focus on delighting customers, not holding them captive. This is a kind approach to service and retention.

  1. Ask customers why they want to go.
  2. If you have an easy way to address that reason, offer it.
  3. If you don’t have a way to address it, ask if there’s anything you can do to keep their business.
  4. If the answer is no, let them go.

Adobe extorted a mere $15 in revenue from me, as I had only three months left to my invisible indenture to their terms. The price of that $15? A lifetime non-customer who absolutely would have resubscribed when the need arose, but who now is willing to share the story publicly and make sure others think carefully before subscribing to any of Adobe’s lock-in cloud services. A kinder approach would have created so much more value for them in the long run.

2 Replies to “Kindness to Customers: Let Them Go!”

  1. I watched someone struggle with this very thing yesterday, trying to get out of something he thought he’d already gotten out of. You’re right. Things would work better for businesses – and individuals – if they adopted a kindness base underneath all their operation modules, but the bedrock of our society is: find a way to get what you want by any means possible, even if you have to sweet talk them while going after them with the chain.

    But no part of that is empowering or authentic. Kindness is a new and weird paradigm to so many, but it’s the right way. And sooner or later, if enough people keep broadcasting it, the beacon will get bright enough to challenge those who don’t see it yet. Or don’t want to. Good post!

    1. I think that’s right…”enough people” can make a difference. Until we have enough kindness allies, we can just lead by example. If nothing else, we feel better about how we conducted ourselves, but more than that, it influences, and helps inspire change.

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