How to cure cancellation heartbreak in your business
It's easy to be pissed when a client cancels.
I struggled with this as a gym owner when members cancelled their memberships, and I still struggle with it now when clients of my SaaS company cancel their subscription. Each one hurts.
I think it will always affect me.
When you’ve worked very hard on something and spent time with someone, and they tell you that they don’t want it anymore. Ouch.
In my experience, it doesn’t get any easier; the same as breakups don’t get any easier, even if you’ve been through a lot of them. But there are ways you can change your mindset around cancellations.
Here are some of the things I do to make cancellations break my heart less:
(The last two will help you A LOT. )
Delegate the process to someone else
We all know that feeling: "Ping", an email comes in. The subject line is, "Need to cancel", and your heart sinks. You immediately go to your subscription software and check their billing date, their attendance, their communication with your team, their results, and run around in circles trying to figure out what went wrong.
This completely derails your day. This also completely ruins your day. You would have had everything go right that day, and this one email made none of that matter.
Delegating this process can be a challenge and you will need to find the right person for it. Hiring a smart, empathetic, independent account executive who can also communicate well is key for this role. You will need to spend a lot of time training them since they will need to know almost every aspect of your business. They can field those heartbreaking emails, communicate with the client, and potentially save them.
Separating yourself from the process will immediately give you relief and help to keep you focused on the business.
Only look at the pure numbers at the end of the week/month
Try not to fixate on the number of cancellations every day and do not look at the list of names.
Yes, you have to be aware, but you don't need to be obsessed. Every business has churn. If you can set a goal to stay below a certain percentage and then only evaluate that number, it will make it less emotional. You will be able to have better conversations with your team.
Bonus points if you can get this number reported to you every week instead of you having to go find it.
Remind myself that not everyone is a good fit / I’m not a good fit for everyone
As I wrote above, every business has churn. It is unrealistic to think that you will keep every sale you make. Situations change, people move, businesses close, lifestyles change, budgets get cut, and people are sometimes just a-holes.
It's okay to not be a good fit. By removing or letting go of people who don't fit, you are making room for people who are a better fit. Churn is sometimes a good thing!
Be grateful that I was part of their journey
Once you can accept that people will eventually leave, you can practise gratefulness.
I am grateful for every person who set foot in my gym because I know I taught them something, tried my best to instill confidence in them and my gym was part of their health and fitness journey. I could be grateful for that time I saw them PR, that time I told a joke and made them smile, the fact that they chose fitness over TV, even if it was for a short time.
I am grateful for every sale I've made at Kilo because I know I was able to form a connection with another gym owner. I am grateful that I was able to take the burden of website development and get them some free time back.
Wish them well (and mean it)
If you can wish the cancelled client well and treat them with the same respect and dignity as when they entered your business, you will stand apart from your competition.
Many of your competitors will hold clients to cancellation fees and notice deadlines. Start-ups and small business owners have an advantage here. They are not held to corporate policy, so you can adjust as you see fit. If you see a client is struggling financially, maybe you reduce or waive the cancellation fee. If the buyer changed their mind due to business overwhelm, you can put the account on hold until it's the right time for them to start.
I am not saying don't hold to your policies, I just encourage you to do what is right.
We decided early on at Kilo that we would have the “nicest” cancellation process possible. We package everything up for them and sent them all their IP, we make sure we give people enough time to find alternate plans, we keep their assets for 30 days and let them know when we will be deleting them a few days before - just in case they need something. This is very unusual for a software company to do, but I wanted the process to feel good for the both of us. If people do leave us, they usually leave on good terms.
Fun fact - we have a lot of people return to us because of this.
The grass isn’t always greener.
Addition: This blog post was originally posted as advice to a question asking how to "turn off the emotional side of cancellations". This is what one of my clients responded with.