Let's come back to those satisfied customers who defect. We tend to assume, because of the strong link between satisfaction and loyalty, that defecting customers are dissatisfied with us. If we accept the idea that satisfied customers defect, then some defecting customers must be satisfied. That must be worth thinking about.
What are the implications? Firstly, and most importantly, a satisfied defector is a customer who is not lost forever...yet. Handling the defection process well is the last chance we have to influence how a customer feels about us. Nothing we do should turn that customer into a dissatisfied defector.
Recently I signed up for a free trial of one of the leading online DVD rental services. The service was okay, I had one or two problems with faulty discs, but overall I was quite satisfied. When the trial came to an end I decided that it wasn't, on balance, worth continuing at the normal rate. So from their point of view I had signed up in response to an introductory offer and was now defecting, costing them money. In monetary terms I was a terrible customer but, importantly, I was reasonably satisfied with them. I would have considered signing up for the service at another time, and I would have said quite positive things about their service to other people.
That all changed when I went through the process of cancelling my subscription. There was no option to cancel online (by contrast to the super-easy online sign-up process!), you had to phone up. That's an irritating policy, and the reasons are transparent, so I was a little bit riled when I did call them. After twenty minutes of the most frustrating telephone conversation ever, including obnoxiously worded threats about returning DVDs on time or being charged, I was seething. But I did finally manage to cancel my subscription.
This company has recognised defections as a problem, probably because of its strategy of accepting a high cost of acquisition in the free trial, but it deals with the problem in precisely the wrong way. Instead of trying to manage my attitude about the company they tried to directly impede my behaviour by making it difficult to defect. In doing so they turned me from a satisfied defector, a potential source of profit, to a virulent antagonist.
Never try to keep your customers hostage. If they want to leave, make the process as pleasant and easy as possible. You will make priceless attitudinal gains, and that defecting customer is far more likely to use you in the future and say good things about you.