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All things must come to an End.

By Avery Hennings

A conversation with Joe Macleod, author of Ends, that turns into a reflection on the importance of designing offboarding experiences, and the changing history of our relationship with endings.

Ever wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with someone that covers Roach Motels (digital dark-pattern), non-secular Protestantism, Shinto/Buddhist festivals and the industrial revolution? 

Before this week, I’d probably say no, me neither. But the other day I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Macleod, author of Ends – making the case for how our changing relationship with death over time has influenced the way we handle the end of any experience.

I was first introduced to Joe when a mutual friend and colleague shared the Ted Talk that he gave that stands alongside the Ends book. 

Joe’s talk primarily focuses on consumer experiencer, looking at physical product lifecycles. But as an Experience Designer, his talk really spoke to me from a digital perspective. How often do we take the time to plan the end of our experiences?

The answer is currently not very often. In my experience, doing any kind of experience mapping exercise with a client, the final offboarding/renewal phase is always the quickest to do. This is because there’s just so much less planning put into it, and it’s a common trait across all kinds of experiences.

But why is that?

Well if you ask Joe, he’ll tell you it began in the industrial revolution and the rise of the Protestant revolution. Before that, people were a lot more connected to their consumer experiences and to the waste that they produced. For example, their food came in from the fields to the table. The leftovers were passed to the animals. The waste from the animals then went to the fields which fuelled the next cycle of food to come. People were very confident of how to handle their waste.

However, the Industrial Revolution changed that. It distanced us from the waste we were producing and altered the kinds of waste. Before that, our waste was all visible, but with the rise of combustion and chemical processes, people were creating waste that they couldn’t see.

People chose to distance themselves from the harm they were causing the planet, because of the benefits it made to their lives (and their wallets). It’s been happening for so long now that it is baked into basically every kind of experience we have.

We are actively disconnected from the end of our experiences.

Roach motels and dark patterns

When it comes to digital experiences, this disconnect from the end of experiences has been taken to the extreme. We’ve seen the rise of dark patterns (take a look at Harry Brignull’s work here) and concepts like the Roach Motel first that make it very easy for users to sign up to a digital service, but nearly impossible for them to leave.

For those of you who were around during that time, ever remember how damn difficult it was to delete your MySpace account? Think about all of the times you’ve created an account with an online service that you’ve only ever used once years ago? I hate to think about the number of companies I’ve given my email address to. Joe told me that he very commonly hears people in his workshops telling him that they’ve only remembered about a digital service they signed up to when the charge appears on their bank statement.

Digital consumer-provider relationships are so intangible that they are almost impossible to keep track of long-term, and until now have been very easy for companies to exploit.

Fortunately, worldwide politics is starting to catchup. Recent legislation across the globe (GDPR for example) has put a specific focus on the treatment of consumer data online and what companies can and can’t do with it, and what they must do once the relationship is ended.

The popularity of Marie Kondo and Shinto

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie Kondo and her message of decluttering our lives and downsizing the amount of stuff we have has seen a massive boom of popularity in the last few years.

Part of Marie Kondo’s process is to take each item that you’re reviewing and assessing whether it still gives you joy. If not, you thank it for the time you’ve had together and then you recycle it or pass it on to someone else.

What you might not know is that this process is actually founded in a tradition from the Japanese Shinto religion. The only religion that has goodbyes for products as part of its teachings. A Shinto ceremony called Hari-Kuyo (The Festival Of Broken Needles) brings crafts-people together to retire all the needles and tools that they’ve used over the past year. The needles are prayed for and given the respect that they’re due to give thanks for all the work they’ve done over that time. Finally placed in Tofu to give them a soft resting place after all that hard work.

Closing off our relationship with old or no longer necessary things creates a sense of calm, helps to reduce stress and can actively boost our mental and physical health accordingly. If only there was a way we could Marie Kondo our digital lives too? We’re building a huge amount of digital clutter which I’m sure can be just as stressful as real-world clutter. Seriously, someone design this already – you’ll make a fortune.

We’ve had so little control over the end of our consumer relationships and digital experiences for the last few decades, it is no wonder that Marie Kondo is proving so popular now.

Why should we plan our endings in business?

When we think of the end of a business relationship, the first thing we think of is that our client will no longer be paying us for our services. So why should we make it easy for them to leave? Won’t more of them leave that way?

Well, if someone doesn’t want your product or service anymore and wants to leave – trying to keep them and forcing them to stay is going to do a lot more harm to your brand than good.

In a world where customer experience is now the primary brand differentiator in business, there are real advantages for those businesses that do take the time to design their end/offboarding experiences effectively. You’re going to build a lot of brand equity that way and potentially build lasting relationships so that people come back to you when they’re ready or a competitor’s service doesn’t meet their expectations.

Because an ending is really important to us, psychologically.

The recency effect  an order of presentation effect that occurs when more recent information is better remembered and receives greater weight in forming a judgement than does earlier-presented information. 

TLDR (too long, didn’t read) – we remember the start and the ending of an experience better than any other part. 

Final take away –your offboarding process is your final shot at demonstrating your company’s brand values and creating a positive sentiment before someone leaves.

To help you plan your offboarding experiences, here are the four things that Joe states make up a great ending.

It should be;

  • Consciously connected – the person involved should be actively aware of the end of an experience
  • Through emotional triggers – they should feel personally engaged with the ending of that experience
  • Actionable by the consumer – they are empowered to end the experience themselves
  • In a timely manner – and they should be able to action that ending before it is done for them

So if you want to starty to think about sparking joy in your offboarding experiences or maybe putting a little ceremony into your goodbyes. Why not head over to Joe’s website and buy ‘Ends’ in paperback, e-book or audio.

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