Can’t? or Won’t.

After listening to a podcast where serial entrepreneur Marcia Kilgore was discussing her latest venture, Beauty Pie, I took to the inter webs and started my discovery and learning process. I was curious to learn how well the overall product and user experience was, from discovery to purchase and post-sale. The end-to-end, so to speak.

Sometimes the ugly, warty parts of those experiences unveil themselves most frequently when a customer needs help. Why? In many companies, the sexy part of product development is the actual development (the tech, the design, the glitz and glamour of it all). All those ‘other’ parts get the silent treatment, or a sort of band-aid “fix”. You might be thinking of those now: the various touch points where friction in that buying process might be rage-inducing, or how after a sale, a customer might not have had the stellar experience your product team [thought they] built, so the pesky customer still needs help figuring out the product.

Too bad really. This of course is where the magic and differentiation lie. And, it’s also where the expenses start to pile up for companies. Underinvesting in the pieces to uncover the warty, difficult parts of their processes ends up resulting in some undesirable outputs; namely, high churn and really bad second-order effects (ahem, WOM).

In Beauty Pie’s case, what I found was, a sexy, glossy exterior that masks some preventable, albeit common, distasteful (at least to paying customers) user experience and customer support practices. The glow of the product marketing and shopping experience is dulled a bit when I started to try and figure out the membership plan scheme. I moved forward, noting that I’d come back a few weeks later to see, if after the normal hum-drum of life and busyness, would I be able to easily understand the nature of my Beauty Pie membership plan? It’s was worth a $20 experiment.

I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but purchasing a membership on a cosmetics and skin care site shouldn’t require a degree in quantum physics. After clicking on a variety of locations, including my profile, membership, payment methods and more, I was frustrated at the lack of easy navigation to a “Cancel membership” button. From my own experience in product management, I knew this to be a decision someone made entirely on behalf of the business. Make the friction to cancel an account so incredibly painful such that no customer will actually cancel! Make them … CALL the company to cancel! And, in the meantime, keep charging the monthly membership! (And then someone else said, “Yeah that sounds great! Let’s do that”)

This was a common practice in direct mail subscriptions for newspapers (digital or not) for a long time. You might remember signing up for a $1 subscription for your favorite online digital mag, but you had to call an 800# , during the hours of (you’re not awake : 00) and (you’re still at work : 00) to cancel, and if you happen to make it between those hours, you were on hold for 37 minutes.

The post-sales touch point is where many things go off the rails. Again, that whole end-to-end thing really is more like start-to….. ‘let the CS team worry about that other part’.

With Beauty Pie, it felt like the post-sales experience was an after-thought. After a few weeks, I revisited the site, and had spent too long (remember, not the brightest bulb on the tree) trying to figure out what my $20 got me. I remembered it was something like some $ value of goods, but when I clicked around my profile, or started shopping, I couldn’t get a clear picture.

To be clear, I’m still just talking about the user experience IN the product that was floundering. But when I hit customer support, I knew there was some team with a script just hitting ‘copy and paste’.

In the spirit of teaching, I’ll outline just a few high level things from this note that you shouldn’t plan on doing, or being okay with doing, to your customers:

a. Remind them of the Terms they signed when they want to cancel.. Did I ask you to send me a bucket of free goods? Or extend me some special 3-month free membership plan? No. I asked you to cancel my account because your site made it difficult for me to figure out what the membership plan was about, and then I learned there was no self-service way for me to cancel it myself. *Maybe think about this: how will you enable/empower/incentivize customer success teams to retain customers at this point? For ideas, visit any article on Zappos and Tony Hsieh’s customer success practices.

b. Tell the customer to email you back in 2 months (or ever). This is so blatantly pathetic, I don’t even think I need to discuss why. (Albeit, Rent the Runway just did this to me recently when I test-ran their new membership plan two months ago. So I guess multi-million dollar companies still think it’s something worth doing to their customers).

c. Let’ em go: Jason Lemke of SaaStr fame (and former Co-founder/CEO Echosign) wrote an article about this — a few actually. The first just told companies to let an unhappy customer go. And we’re not talkin’ a $20/month customer (me) — we are talking B2B customers. If they are that unhappy, and you can’t help them, then let them go and take the rev loss. (But stay in connected).
The other addressed the importance of second order effects on sales (in the positive sense, and for B2B’s, but still applicable to B2C’s, if not more so). This effect works in the reverse as well, and woe is the B2C who loses touch with their “C’s”,

d. Implying you “can’t” or have no ability to help: If you are building a rocket to Mars, then you might not be able to help…. at least through an email. But in this case, implying you can’t help, because of your Terms and Conditions, is simply not your go-to option for CS.
This goes back to your company’s unwillingness to think through the end-to-end customer experience and how you, in CS, are now left trying to figure this out.
Even if you really can’t do something this easy, don’t tell the customer. First try and actually solve the real problem the customer has shared with you – the struggle they are having because of you. Then, only after that attempt has failed, walk over or slack the person who can manually cancel this customer’s membership and then let them know you have done so.
Finally, stay in touch with them, with permission. Let them know how you’ve made updates to the customer buying experience and incentivize them in some way to give your company another try.

In the end, I still bought a boat load of stuff I don’t need. Why? Is there any better incentive than the one I got from CS? Namely, we’re going to take your $20 anyway, so you minus well go spend some more. 10 points for Beauty Pie, 0 for customer….And anyone who gets a white elephant gift from me this year.


Tanya Maslach Written by: