Offboard the Right Way to Lessen the Burn of Churn

hey reliable - Brian Checkovich by Brian Checkovich
July 3, 2022
Offboard the Right Way to Lessen the Burn of Churn

Today’s Good-Bye Can Become Tomorrow’s Hello: Offboard the Right Way to Lessen the Burn of Churn.

The End?

Some endings have become etched into the fabric of our culture, and they can serve as important lessons on how to offboard customers as positively as possible. The basics boil down to this: you want your offboarding UX to be much more aligned with the ending of Casablanca than the infamous retort of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.

Because customers leave. They shouldn’t, of course, because they’re making huge mistakes when they stop using your service or product. The question you want to ask yourself is this: what kind of ending have you devised?

As has been well documented in the field of behavioral economics, the experience that people have at the end of a process colors their perception of the entire process. The so-called peak-end rule stipulates that this cognitive bias skews the way our memories are formed, and real-world application entails that UX must conform to how the human brain operates.

In others words, avoid a Gone with the Wind scenario.

Frankly, My Dear

Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler have one of the most tumultuous on-screen romances in the history of film. One scene, in particular, has come to define them: when Rhett looks at Scarlett, who’s just begged for his forgiveness and his help, and utters the immortal words: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It’s over. Ouch.

Yet you never want your customers growing so callous toward you that they view account deletion as some kind of moral victory. Alas, certain companies (looking at you, Amazon) have made this mistake, and the prime culprit is what’s come to be known as a dark pattern.

Dark patterns are essentially an exit strategy where an interaction typically benefits the company at the expense of the user. Dark patterns can take many different forms, from exit-intent popups that try to prevent users from leaving a website to making it nearly impossible to delete an account.

Exit-intent popups often appear when a user’s browser moves to the upper page boundary and then asks the user to subscribe to a newsletter or for an email address. You can hear users groan: “Frankly, [name of company], I don’t give a damn!”

Not a pleasant experience, and if we plug in the peak-end rule, users are having a negative emotion that will pervade their recollection of the experience. You aren’t exactly engendering upbeat word-of-mouth when users blacken your name. But, there are situations when exit-intent popups can be used for good–say, when a user is checking out and sees an empty coupon code space and then hustles off to find one (or buy the good from someone else).

In that case, a popup with a promo code can save the day, and save the user money, which is the happy ending everyone is pulling for. A dark pattern is all about taking without giving, and so exit popups should have some goodies associated with them.

We’ll Always Have Paris

A great ending is a thing of beauty, and no ending is better than that of Humphrey Bogart saying good-bye to Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac in Casablanca. This ending also illustrates the power of the peak-end rule.

The two star-crossed lovers must part, but they’re clinging to memories of Paris, before war and fascism descended on Europe. “We’ll always have Paris,” she says to him, showing how we tend to allow powerful emotions to form the memories we make.

The same logic must dictate how we design UX at the terminus of an experience, whether it’s navigating away from a page or deleting an account. While some companies, in order to keep customer churn rates artificially low, make it impossible to delete an account, others have taken a more enlightened approach because user experience matters in how Google ranks pages.

Just as we’re not sure that Rick and Isla’s love is over, UX needs to be designed so that the end maintains the possibility of a new beginning. Account deletion doesn’t have to be a negative, but instead can become an opportunity to grow.

Pain Is Gain

Taking a negative and turning into a positive in no small feat. The entire self-help genre is pretty much devoted to this very topic. If it was easy, everyone would learn from mistakes and grow in countless ways from the hard lessons life dishes out.

As if.

But there are approaches you can take when users are severing ties. Without question, make this process as simple as possible. The severing might be an account deletion or a subscription cancellation, but no matter what, this should happen in one or two clicks.

But smart companies like Facebook and Netflix give something to users upon deletion–the chance to backup files, for example. They also probe a bit with some innocuous, non-manipulative questions that can determine the reason(s) for the deletion, and then offer alternatives to deletion. Again, that word, “offer,” which is so important for good offboarding. Users want options, and you need to provide viable paths for them to take based on their present situation.

Lastly, companies might temporarily deactivate or pause an account (for 30 days) in case users change their minds. And users might do this if the offboarding process leaves them feeling valued and positive about the experience. Proactive offboarding is a great chance to get feedback from users either right before or right after they depart, and that data can serve as a useful tool for tweaking UX.

This Is the End

We’ll always have this blog post…kidding! The end comes for everyone, and we must be ready. A good blog post should leave the reader feeling like they got something from the few minutes it took to peruse. Boiled down, here’s the takeaway. Don’t use annoying popups, let users easily leave, and gather as much data about why they left as you can.

The end.

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