Being put to death by Google should be a good thing

I don’t tend to punch guests as they leave the party, but some companies do the metaphorical equivalent. Not saying goodbye graciously can create a terrible reputation with your customers, and party goers. Now, I could drag up the usual suspects of big old corporations that fail to create amicable endings with their customers but I want to talk about start-ups, and the tech industry, who are sadly drifting down the path of short-termism that we usually associate with the financial services industry. 

Due to its Papal like infallibility, we rarely question the way start-ups and tech industries approach things - especially when it comes to endings. But with the recent news about Revolv and its customers I feel I want to share some thoughts about Closure Experiences and how customer endings should be handled, even in tech.

A few short years ago, in the early hype of the ‘connected home’, some bold pioneering customers committed themselves to a company called Revolv. Tempted by the prospect of handling some of their homes’ more tedious functions - heating, garage doors, lighting - through an app, these people became Revlov’s first customers. That was only 2012 and - with a couple of talent acquisitions later - first Revolv by Nest, then Nest by Google/Alphabet, those customers now find themselves in a very different situation. Nest has decided to stop supporting Revolv as of the 15th of May. 

You might think that experiencing the end of a product isn’t unusual, many tech companies stop supporting outdated products and services. You might have experienced this with your old computers not being able to deal with the latest updates to software, but in the Revolv case it is a little different. It’s not a ramp down, they are actively stopping the service - turning the server off and killing the app. So the products in Revolv’s customers’ home’s will be dead immediately. This is not an unusual situation in the high-risk world of start-ups; where there is a casual attitude towards death and rebirth, uncaring of the consequence to the users, or the environmental impact when you brick functioning hardware at 4 years old. 

From the work I have been doing with endings in products, services and digital, I know that good Closure Experiences require 4 broad elements to be present. 

They should be…
Connected to the rest of the experience through Emotional Triggers that are Actionable by the user in a Timely manner. 

Revolv surprisingly fails on all. 
Doing things in a timely manner means showing a realistic timeline agreed upon by the user and the provider. For example, Kia cars offers a 7 year warranty. This allows the customer to imagine a time frame that is realistic to the expected life of the product and the provider an opportunity to access the customer around the time they are thinking of purchasing a new car when that warranty runs out. Its timely for both parties.
In contrast some companies imagine their products to be immortal. Revolv seemed to follow this cliche. Offering a “Lifetime Subscription” as part of the product purchase. This has an obvious semantic problem of defining “Lifetime” in this context? So this fails in being ‘timely’.

The Revolv customers were not consulted before the public announcement. This undermines the commitment those customers showed when investing in the start-up all those years ago. The link between the start of that relationship and the end of it, is therefore very different. Where as Revolv appreciated the commitment to the company from that customer in 2012. Now, at the end of that relationship its failed to show similar respect. So its not really ‘connected’, to the beginning of the relationship.

The emotionally barren language used by the Revolv founders in their letter shows a cold hearted indifference to the customers. Those users were, at one time, pioneers of the ‘home automation’ scene. Investing their personal money in to new ventures by start-ups like Revolv. They are owed a thanks. Not indifference. So if there are any ‘emotional triggers’ going off, they are ones of anger.

The FAQ (below) has been clearly limited by Revlov. Consciously closed language that leaves no actionable options to the user. 

What happens to my Revolv service?
As of May 15, 2016, Revolv service will no longer be available. The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work.
Is my product still under warranty?
No. Our one-year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship has expired for all Revolv products.
What will happen to Revolv data?
Revolv data will be deleted.
How can I get customer support?
Please contact Revolv customer support.

Nest could have provided a way to move over to their platform for little effort. Instead they have currently made it as legally cold and absolute as possible. 

What should be… Connected to the rest of the experience, isn’t. Where positive emotional triggers should exist theres only options for resentment. Where there should be actionable options, there is cold denial. And where events should be timely, they come as a surprise.

The end of one relationship signals the re-birth of another. Of all people, the celebrated entrepreneur of the start-up industry, the type of person that started Nest, Revolv, and even Google should know that. Those who enjoy the benefits of re-birth, should respect the functions of a good death.

We can do a lot by designing closure experiences for users and in turn prepare the user for a healthy re-birth. Users that experience a good closure will be prepared for a new trusting relationship with another start-up, but the more we give them terrible endings, the less they will tolerate risky starts. 

If you're in a start-up, you should think a little more about closure experiences. If around 90% of start-ups fail, thats a lot of death to overlook.