End As You Mean to Go On

My list of COVD lockdown purchases is highly impressive. 

Using the money refunded from a couple of Italian holidays (because money that’s already been spent isn’t real money anymore) I bought a standing desk (used a lot), a telescope (used a bit), and a new electric guitar amp (no comment). 

Most of the money went on one, much bigger purchase though – new patio doors for the living room. Except unlike the other impulse buys, this one didn’t even make it into the house.

I’d gone through all the required steps when buying double glazing. A salesperson had come to the house, stayed for longer than I would have liked, offered me a ludicrously high price, called his manager several times to ‘see what he could do’, and eventually we settled on the amount that I wanted and he was probably able to offer me right from the start.

When the surveyor visited to plan the job, however, it was a different story.

He walked in, took one look at the current doors, and let out a sigh. Not just any sigh, but the sigh of a man who’d been here a hundred times before, a sigh accompanied by the faintest shake of the head, a sigh of a man who knew exactly what the next five minutes was going to be like.

Martin Adams via Unsplash

‘You can’t have the door you’ve bought in there. It’s too small. It won’t be able to open from the outside’

‘Right. I was really hoping for a door that opened from the inside and the outside’

‘Yep. You’ve been told the wrong information. You’ll need a bigger hole which will cost a few thousand more’

(Sees my face)

‘You can cancel it and get a refund. It’s what everyone else does’

So cancel it is what I did. Or, at least, I tried to do.

The company had been incredibly easy to get hold of when I wanted the quote. A call back the same day. An appointment in the diary within 48 hours. Text messages to keep me updated with the visit time. Email and phone contact details for the Regional Manager. Sales documents delivered rapidly after the appointment.

However, it was a different story when trying to get back my deposit.

A generic ‘customer service’ email address to contact. A default reply passing me on to the local team. Silence for a few days. No replies to emails. A call-back promised that didn’t materialise. Then another. Then another. Finally an email, and a refund, but with no apology for the mistake or the hassle it caused, or alternative suggestion for how I could get the doors I wanted.

From contact to quote to purchase: three days

From contact to call to refund: three weeks

In 2017, Joe Macleod published a brilliant book called ‘Ends’. In it, he discusses ‘why we overlook endings for humans, products, services and digital. And why we shouldn’t’. It’s a fascinating book delving into the general discomfort humans have with endings (saying goodbye really is hard to do), and the impact it has on the way organisations design their customer experiences.

Most companies believe that all the hard work is in winning a customer and then keeping a customer, and once a customer has been won, they’re there forever. 

But in reality, there’s very few companies that customers will stay with for their entire life. Especially in industries such as utilities, telecoms, and insurance, it’s likely a customer may well be with a company for a bit, then go to someone else, then consider them again in the future. 

So it makes sense for companies to make the last impression a great one. Yet so often customers are treated to either the hard sell (‘have you spoken to our retention team to offer you all the great things we didn’t offer you when you weren’t thinking of leaving?’) or the cold shoulder (‘you’re no longer interested in us so we’re no longer interested in you’.)

My colleague Graham Allinson recently shared his experience with Amazon. He received an automated phone call letting him know that his Prime service was about to renew, and the money would soon be debiting his account. More importantly, it then said ‘Press 1 to speak to an agent if you want to cancel your subscription‘.

Really proactive, making it easy to leave and, in doing so, making him feel more favourably about the company.

In the case of my patio doors, we’re still going to get them replaced in the future, and I accepted that the salesman had made an honest mistake. But the way the experience ended, creating hours of physical effort in chasing and in mental effort of worrying, means that company has now fallen far down my list of options to consider next time I’m going to impulse buy some home improvement. 

An ending isn’t just the final step in the customer relationship; it’s the first step in winning them back in the future and maybe, in doing so, it will make them think twice about leaving at all.

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly update below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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