But how will it end? The power of goodbye in your content, design and customer relationships

Inspired by Joe Macleod's thought-provoking talk on the importance of endings at Camp Digital 2018, we look at how this relates to your web content and customer relationships. How can you create a meaningful goodbye that means people might actually come back?

So I bought this blouse. I clicked on a promoted post in Instagram and got chased round the internet by retargeted ads until I caved in and bought the thing. White chiffon, black trim along the neckline, pretty and versatile too - winner. 

Except when it turns up, the sleeves are so tight I can barely get it on. 

So I look on the website for the address for returns. Not there. Weird. 

I email customer services and ask for the address.

But instead of giving it to me, she asks what seems to be the problem.

Well, the sleeves are so tight it’s like trying to force a sausage through a test tube. So may I have the return address please?

You do know you have to pay the postage….?

Yes, I realise this, please may I have the address.

If you keep the item you can have a 10% discount code on your next purchase…?

What, and go through all this nonsense again? No thanks! Can I just have the return address please.

We’ve given you the option of a discount code or returning the item. Please confirm what you would like to do and we will send you the address in the next email.

This is getting ridiculous. Just give me the address for returns before I totally embarrass myself and have a massive toddler-style tantrum.

She sends the address. Finally. I haven't got high hopes of ever getting the money back, but either way, I know already that I will never buy from these people again.

"What's it like to say goodbye if you want that person to come back?"

So this bizarre interchange came to mind during Joe Macleod’s talk at Camp Digital, a brilliant event for anyone who likes feeding their brain with the latest thinking in design, digital and UX. 

His focus is on the importance of meaningful endings. Which resonated with me, because I talk a lot about the importance of good beginnings.

For example, when I'm training people about writing for the web or social media, you will often hear me talk about:

The power of a good title. You can spend all the time you like writing your blog post, but if the title doesn’t tell people what it’s about, no one’s going to bother to read it.

Front-loading your content. You need to put the valuable bits first so you meet the needs of your users.

Orienting your reader. They need to be able to tell at a glance what your content is about – a clear page heading, keyword-heavy introductions and a striking visual which complements the text.

But endings are important too. So I also talk about:

The recency effect, which means the last thing you see makes a strong impact. People spend a lot of time above the fold, then often they whizz to the end to see your conclusion and seek out key information, before going back to read the bits in the middle.

The value of a strong call to action. You have their attention, so get people to DO something after they've read your post, like book a ticket, try a demo, get in touch.

Related content at the bottom. This encourages people to explore your website and discover even more posts that will be relevant to them. Good for your reader, good for Google.

But I’ve definitely not spent as much time thinking about endings as Joe Macleod has.

The importance of a meaningful ending

He kicked off by pointing out that we used to have an abundance of endings around us.

Think back to medieval times when life expectancy was short and everyone was generally having a pretty grim time. You quickly got used to people around encountering the most absolute form of ending there is!

It’s no surprise to see that strong endings became a core element of good storytelling. You get happy endings. Fairytale endings. Sad endings. “Humans love endings!” said Joe.

“But the only place where we don’t have endings is in the consumer structure.” Ooh. 

If you think about it, so much work is done to grab your attention and keep you, and a lot less on making sure you have a positive closing relationship too.

Makes sense - I mean who wants to make it easier for their customers to leave?

“We say hello all the time," explained Joe. "But we never say a thankful, meaningful goodbye.” Why do we make people feel bad for leaving? Why don’t we embrace it and do better for our users?

So think about gyms, which have a reputation for locking people in for whole years at a time, and don’t do a lot of work to motivate them to come and actually use the place. When you finally wriggle out of the contract you feel pretty bad - maybe even ashamed - about the whole thing, and you will never go back.

Or think about the last time you changed phones. Did you do anything useful with the old device, or did you guiltily just put it in the drawer with all the other ones?

When you sign up for a new service and click yes to 52 pages of terms and conditions, the wording offers little opportunity for an amicable ending. As Joe pointed out, the language can be a little...unfriendly... 

To highlight this even further, he's helpfully popped it on a t-shirt:

Sometimes the beginning of the consumer relationship is built on doubt and negativity. Like price comparison websites, where you start on the basis that you'll be kicking your current supplier to the kerb.

Or Burger King telling you to unfriend ten Facebook connections to get a free burger. Well, that's not very nice, is it?

How should we bring things to a close?

What Joe is calling for is for the industry to build better, more positive, more meaningful endings. Accept that people may stop using your product or service, and stop making them feel bad about it! Make it easy for them to come back.

When it comes to your web content, always try to lead them somewhere useful. Wrap up with a helpful conclusion, share something valuable, encourage people to take another action that will benefit them in some way.

And as for this blouse. Well I'll carry on spending money with the retailers with whom I can make guilt-free returns. And never buy anything from this other place again. I'll let you know if I get my money back...

Thanks to our friends at Sigma for organising such a great day and inviting us along! To chat to us about content with strong starts, powerful endings and interesting bits in the middle, do get in touch.