In this weeks episode of the Rework podcast, DHH discusses how difficult it was to cancel his SiriusXM radio subscription. They deep dive into newspapers as an example of this problem (which crosses industries in my experience, Cable TV comes to mind).

Newspapers make it easy to start a subscription but challenging to cancel. As is clearly outlined in this episode, the difficulty is artificial; there is no reason the newspapers have to make it difficult to cancel, they choose to do so as a tactic to retain subscribers. Papers are in a pickle because of their actions. True, the landscape has changed, technology disrupted the market, but ultimately it’s the newspaper’s actions that have caused their problem.

I’m a good example. I don’t subscribe to any newspaper. I do however spend $10 per month for I do pay around $200 per month on books. I’ve been through situations where I saw first hand the poor quality and biased reporting of journalists enough to know to be suspect of anything written by them. So I look elsewhere for my information. That is their fault.

If you are in a business that relies on these dishonest tactics to hold customers hostage you should think long and hard about what, if any, value your company provides. If your business is dominated by marketing, sales or finance and doesn’t have a reasonable balance of power to ensure the customer’s needs have priority then rethink your structure and organizational design.

No business has a right to exists. No company has a right to be dishonest in its marketing or advertising. No business has a right to customers.

Fortunately, it’s not a complicated recipe to be customer first.

  1. Talk to your customers. Understand the friction or frustration you introduce into their lives and eliminate it ruthlessly
  2. Observe your customers. Look for things they’ve worked around that you can improve and improve those things mercilessly.
  3. Ensure that the builders in your organization have a direct line to customers. Don’t have a bunch of intermediaries. Eliminate anything that puts distance between those who build the experience and the customer. If anyone in your organization says the builders (be they programmers, designers or engineers) can’t deal with customers, question if that person should be in your organization.
  4. Use your product as a customer. Don’t have “VIP” service offering for internal executives. If you are a leader, then use your product just as a customer would. If your customers suffer, you should suffer.