Offboarding: What It Means and Why It Matters

In November I attended a workshop at the UX Live conference called “How to End…,” The workshop covered many interesting topics around endings in the customer experience.

It got me thinking about the journeys we all go on as customers and how many businesses today fail us in the closure of those journeys. A recent example comes to mind when thinking about my own experiences.

My poor offboarding experience

Earlier this year, I relocated to the UK from overseas. Before moving, I needed to end a contract with my mobile phone provider – a provider I had been loyal to for many years. Throughout the years, they made it pleasant to interact with them. I could quickly change my plan, upgrade my phone, or use credits from their loyalty rewards program. And, I could do so through many channels – in store, through mobile app, on the website or over the phone. It was a frictionless experience, and the provider made it as easy as possible. When it came time to end my service, though, the experience took a drastic turn.

On my last day in the country, I went into a store, expecting a bit of hassle, yet still being able to achieve my goal. But, an associate told me they cannot cancel service in-store, so I would have to call the customer service line. Upon returning home, I was on hold for hours on end until finally the customer service line closed for the day, never speaking to someone and never getting a call back. I headed to the airport that night comparing this experience to how easy all of those other interactions had been over the years.

Upon landing in the UK, it took chasing customer service on the desktop chat to shut off my line. What a frustrating, hassle-filled end to a positive, years-long relationship. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I will think twice before recommending them to someone else.

Why are most companies ignoring the design of their offboarding experience?

Considering the peak-end rule, what opportunities are we missing out on? Why are we ignoring the end of experiences when they can be so memorable to our customers?

When we talk about designing experiences, we put much focus, care and thought into the onboarding process. We look at grabbing people’s attention, drawing them in, explaining our product’s benefits, and closing a sale. We draw upon people’s emotions and aspirations to build a use case for what we’ve put into the marketplace.

But, at some point, that journey has to end for whatever reason. A majority of customers end a relationship because of proximity or fit for use. A product has become obsolete to the customer – no longer has a life or usefulness based on its intended purpose. Or, the customer has simply moved beyond the product or service area, like in my case with the phone provider.

What if the focus changed?

What I’m about to say will be controversial to some. But, what if we stopped focussing on retention at all costs? What if we designed frictionless, simple ways of drawing customer journeys to a close, making the experience as pleasant as possible.

Consider the potential opportunities for business. Think about the good will we could generate instead of ire. And, in turn, build a model for potential re-engagement down the line. With positive closure, we have potential advocates and allies in our former customers. Although a customer has left us, it doesn’t mean they won’t re-engage in the future or recommend us to others.

By creating positive endings to the customer experience, we have the potential to capture valuable feedback. We can apply this feedback to our products and messaging to improve future customer satisfaction and engagement. A well-designed positive end experience could become your competitive differentiator.

So, how do we design for endings?

  • Empathise with your users and make it easy for them. Don’t hide away the process for discontinuing your product or service.
  • Surface what customers would be leaving behind if they leave. Give them a reason to stay.
  • Build in a feedback loop. Ask your customer why they’re leaving.
  • Suggest alternatives, and this is where feedback comes in handy. If you know why a customer is leaving (e.g. price), you can present an alternative product that may make them stay.
  • Be memorable. End on a high note and draw on the emotional connection you’ve built with your customer because they may be back.

As Paulo Coehlo said, “If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” When we mindfully design for closure, we can create the positive, lasting impressions we want, building avenues for customer good will and multiple engagement models.

If you would like to talk about how to improve your offboarding experience for customers, get in touch, we’d love to chat.

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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