• Bill Petrie

Intentional Cancelation Frustration

Making it difficult for clients to leave hurts your business

I love all genres of music, so it’s likely not a surprise that I’ve had a subscription to satellite radio for about ten years. Back when my work required driving to client locations, it proved invaluable entertainment as the likes of Howard Stern and the original MTV VJ’s kept me company as I rambled down the road. As I enjoyed the content – and thanks to their subscription model – I never thought much about the monthly cost of listening to channel 39. For those not in the know, channel 39 is the home of the greatness that is “Hair Metal” on Sirius/XM, but I digress.

A few years ago, I started having difficulty receiving clear and sustained reception in my car, likely due to some sort of shift in the satellite. When it didn’t correct itself after a month or two, I figured it was just best to simply cancel my subscription. After all, I rarely utilized the service as I preferred to listen to podcasts or music on my phone while driving. So, thinking it would be a simple process of clicking a few buttons, I fired up my computer to do the deed.

It took me less than two minutes to realize how foolish it was for me to think this would be easy. First, it was nearly impossible to find where to start the cancelation process on the website. Then, once I did locate it, it was clear I could not cancel online and that I would have to call a toll-free number and speak to a customer service representative to sever the relationship. I mustered up all the courage and patience I had and dialed those digits only to fall deep into my own personal hell of an intentionally confusing phone tree and hold times of over 20 minutes. So, I did precisely what the Sirius/XM system was designed to do:

I gave up.

That’s right, I gave up because the frustration of trying to cancel the service surpassed the cost I was willing to pay every month. Yet, as I write this, I’m still a satellite radio customer over three years and $1,000 later, even though I never use it.

Introducing intentional friction is becoming more and more of a business model as the popularity of subscription services continues to explode. It’s the idea that a company will retain subscribers and profits not because of their excellent product or fantastic service but because it’s too much of a calorie burn for individuals to invest the time to navigate an intentionally confusing process to stop the subscription.

I’ve experienced similar cancelation challenges with gym memberships where I’ve had to personally go to the facility to end the relationship, internet service where I’ve had to ship VERY outdated equipment at my expense, and DirecTV where I spent over two hours on the phone and had to speak with no less than four “supervisors.” By making it difficult to cancel my subscription, I have sworn off all these companies and will never do business with them again.

By making it difficult to end a business relationship – especially in turbulent economic times – all you really accomplish is resentment and anger. Again, it’s a question of short versus long-term thinking. Short-term thinking seeks to value the monthly dollar amount per subscriber over the customer. On the other side, long-term thinking places the client first and creates experiences – even in the form of a cancelation – that are as frictionless as possible.

When you make it difficult for your customers to cancel their services with you, you may retain some immediate revenue, but the frustration and resentment will last a lifetime. Conversely, by making it easy for clients to leave, you leave the door open for future opportunities while building a reputation of service and goodwill.

As for me, I have a goal to muster up the courage to cancel my Sirius/XM subscription by the time this is posted in a few days. But, even if I am successful, the bitter taste of this experience will last a lot longer than a lifetime of road trips to Atlanta.

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