Steve Sullivan

Is time running out for the (hard to) Cancel Culture?

Steve Sullivan, Head of Regulatory Compliance, Contact Centre Panel

How easy is it to sign up or subscribe to your company’s products or services? Pretty easy I should think (or hope). Now more than ever, organisations understand that in our hyper-competitive world, a friction-free way to make consumers aware of what you offer and to make it as easy as possible to become your customers, is vital.

However, deliberately creating friction and barriers for customers looking to leave is almost as common. We all know that it takes a lot of effort and expense to acquire customers, so surely making it a bit of an up-hill slog for customers to leave is just common sense?

Maybe, but possibly that’s all about to change. Be warned!
In the US, Ericsson-owned Vonage has been fined $100m by the US Federal Trade Commission for using a raft of measures which meant that domestic and small business customers found it almost impossible to cancel Vonage’s VoIP services.

Vonage’s services were easy to start using, with many customers offered ’free trial’ opportunities allied to less-than-transparent switches to default sign-up and auto-billing. But when it came to trying to cancel their membership, things were difficult and ‘friction’ was everywhere. The tactics Vonage used ranged across: the sophisticated use of ‘dark patterns’ on the web; making customers speak to ‘retention team’ advisors in order to cancel; hiding the ‘retention’ phone numbers; routing cancellation calls to barely-staffed phone lines with inconvenient opening times.

“Do as I say, not as I do”

The FTC gleefully highlighted Vonage’s own advice to its business customers which it totally failed to take itself – a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Vonage’s advice included:

  • “not offering other channels practically guarantees a poor customer experience”
  • “offering only voice in your contact center won’t cut it in the new normal.”
  • “[Don’t] frustrate customers by requiring them to contact you for support that should be available on a self-service basis” and
  • “it should be just as easy to return your product as it is to buy it.”

They don’t mean us though, do they?

However, most of us aren’t in the US and not under the jurisdiction of the FTC, so does this really matter?

Well, first of all, a lot of us work directly or indirectly supporting US clients and their customer experience delivery, so it’s always helpful to know if you’re potentially part of delivering illegal customer journeys!

But equally, government regulation tends to – slowly – follow international trends. So, Vonage’s recent experience might be a $100m sign of things to come in other markets and jurisdictions. In the UK we know that government is still determined to tackle the consumer ‘loyalty penalty’ (the fact that many products and services are cheaper for new customers than for loyal, long-established users), which is closely related to a customer’s ability to exit expensive deals and relationships – and similar concerns are voiced in the EU and expressed through its Digital Services Act.

So, if part of your customer retention strategy is the creation of challenging journeys for people looking to cancel, then it may be time to do some redesign!