A founder on balancing UX, CX & keeping his business alive Based on an interview with Josh Pigford, CEO of Baremetrics


Timi: So first of all, would you mind describing Baremetrics in your own words? How would you pitch it, so to speak?

Josh: Sure. So Baremetrics is a revenue analytics platform, so we ultimately give businesses insights into how their business is doing on the financial side of things. Really more on the growth side and kind of how that ties into customers as well, but our mission is to help businesses grow.

Timi: Okay, cool. Do you see yourself more as a kind of enterprise tool or for smaller businesses or for anyone?

Josh: It’d be like small, medium-sized businesses.

Timi: Okay, cool. So this particular chat is about your very bold, very, I would say, novel decision to remove the option to cancel straightaway with a button from within the app. Is that correct?

Josh: So yeah, that’s correct. You know, we certainly weren’t trying to prevent anyone from canceling, but it was ultimately trying to get better feedback about why someone was canceling. So we just basically added an additional step to the process.

Timi: Okay. And basically, what was your cue or what was the catalyst for looking at that particular decision or that particular process?

Josh: Yeah, so at the core of it was, or I think what probably spurred it on, was our churn rate had been increasing and was pretty high, and so we knew we that needed to do something about that. And we had tried all sorts of stuff to figure out what the cause of the churn was, so you know, that…

Timi: Would you mind giving some examples of some of the stuff you tried?

Josh: Yeah. So I mean, a lot of it was tracking usage of the product, frequency of login, you know, changes in usage, so like a decrease in usage. We tried reaching out to customers proactively, so that’d be a lot of stuff in the onboarding process, but also reaching out to customers when we noticed that something might have been up based on their usage. We reach out after cancellation and try to schedule a phone call or just, you know, “Hey, hit Reply on this email and tell us why you canceled.” And all that stuff just wasn’t gonna give us anything useful.

Timi: Okay. So at that point, you kind of went, “All right, we’ll try and get them, I suppose, at the point almost where it’s essential to have a conversation on their part.” Because if it’s happening just before cancellation, then another conversation needs to happen.

Josh: Right. I mean, and I…you know, and I think, when someone cancels, it’s the sum of a lot of things. It’s not just, “Oh, something just happened, and I’m gonna hit Cancel now.” So I mean, there’s a story to why they’re canceling. I mean, there’s usually a series of things that leads up to it. But the decision to cancel is fresh on their mind, so that’s sort of the ideal time to get their honest, direct feedback about why they’re choosing to cancel right now. And I mean, you know, again, like that’s not something that we wanted to do long-term, but we needed really, really specific feedback if we wanted to fix our churn problem.

Timi: I think, even in the article which I saw, which I’ll link to when I post this interview, you kind of mentioned that you were very aware, very conscious that under normal circumstances, this would be considered bad UX. So would you say, looking back on the situation, that it was a worth it sacrifice, I guess, or balancing act?

Josh: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, so we took a lot of steps, like you said, to make the cancellation process as straightforward as possible, so making it a quick process, making it really easy to get in touch. We didn’t, like, hide anything to make it hard to get in touch with us or anything. A lot of cancellations, we’d still process within minutes. So you know, we made the process really easy and that also helped give us…I think that probably gave us a little bit of good will from people. There was very little pushback. I mean, I can count on one hand the number of people who were, you know, vocal about being upset about it. And instead, the inverse was that we had lots of really great feedback from people because, you know, that was fresh on their minds. And so we got a lot of great feedback and then, ultimately, were able to improve our cancellation problem that we had.

Timi: Okay, so I’m gonna play devil’s advocate a little bit. I know some people who are listening, hardcore, seasoned UX professionals, will say, “Well, you could’ve done research beforehand to ensure the design in the platform or in the journey,” or whatever the case may be. Would you say that that’s not always a viable option for a small, you know, kind of bootstrapping software as a service business?

Josh: Right. And I mentioned this in the article, I mean like, you know, when you’re a founder…and most of the time, the feedback from people, who kind of, you know, wanna bring out pitch forks about it, are from people who haven’t had to make business decisions. Sure, they’ve had the luxury of making UI or UX decisions, but they haven’t had to make business decisions. And there’s a big difference. I mean, when you can align the two, that’s great. But the fact is like…you know, the quote in the article was something along the lines of, you know, “You can do the A-plus decisions and die or do the B-minus decision and stay in business.” Right?

Timi: Yeah.

Josh: And we kind of went the route of have a less-than-ideal UX for a few people, so that, in the long run, we can have a really great UX for many, many, many more people. So there’s just a balance. Like, there’s pros and cons. It sounds really nice to say customer first on everything, like, “Oh, the customer always comes first.” But if the business comes second, then, eventually, the business doesn’t exist anymore. Right? So they come together, they’re a package deal, and there’s give and take. And this was just one of those scenarios where the business needed to take a little bit more, again, temporarily, so that, ultimately, it can give more in the long run.

Timi: So just to clarify there, I believe, Josh, you guys put the option to cancel back in once you had worked through the issues and churn did go down and customers were happier and everything did work better.

Josh: Yeah, that’s right. So I mean, when we implemented the manual cancellation, so we removed self-serve cancellation, our churn was around, I think, 12% or 13%, and now it kind of hovers between 3% and 5%. So I mean, we’ve cut it down by a fourth in a lot of cases, so yeah, unquestionably, it was worth it.

Timi: What is it about the way that you handled that kind of call or getting contact to cancel process that you think was added to the overall customer experience?

Josh: Yeah, yeah. So I think there’s two things there. There’s one, there’s just within the context of wanting to cancel, again, making it really, really easy to cancel, I mean, you know, not hiding the way to get in touch, responding really quickly. But the bigger thing there is that, when someone cancels, or when someone had canceled, that was not the first time that they’d ever talked to us. So it’s part of Baremetrics’ identity and the way that we do customer support, customer success, is talking to customers from day one, and a lot of times, I mean, even before they’ve signed up. Right? Like, we make ourselves really, really available.

And so when someone comes to cancel, a lot of times, like, people, they’d ask to cancel and they would simultaneously apologize. Like, “I hate that I have to do this,” you know, like, because we’ve had this relationship that already exists. And so that’s why it kind of went against the typical sort of like when you’re canceling your cable subscription or trying to change phone service or something, and you know, you end up spending an hour and a half on the phone trying to get in touch with the right person. Just because we just didn’t, that’s not the relationship that existed with our customers. It was one where we always had had this sort of constant conversation going anyways.

So I think that’s really an important part of, you know, anybody who thinks that they might wanna implement something like that temporarily. You have to have something in place where it’s not weird to get in touch with you. Right? Like, you’ve made it really easy and normal from the start, so I think that’s a big key for why ours worked out.

Timi: Just like being there for people when they need your help, them having access to a human, so that, when it comes to the time when you need to have a conversation with them, it’s not as uncomfortable, weird, or intrusive.

Josh: For sure, and I mean, you know, when people say like, “Well, you could’ve tested X, Y, and Z, or you could’ve changed something with the UI, or changed how the app works, or something like that, and you could’ve fixed this stuff.” That’s the kind of thing people say when they don’t want to have conversations with human beings. Right? You can’t avoid talking to customers, and it’s not a bad thing to talk to customers. In fact, it’s a really good thing, and you’ll get a lot more actionable data when you kind of get inside their head, instead of boiling everything down to some sort of UI element or data point. Right? You have to talk to people, and that’s our core. So this was not that far-fetched for us to do something like that.

Timi: In the future, as Baremetrics evolves, would you say there are things you are doing differently to prevent it from getting to the point where people do want to cancel?

Josh: I mean, any business that wants to grow is constantly, like, tweaking things and trying to figure out how to improve. I mean, that’s just part of building the business. So you know, I don’t know if we would ever do the manual cancellation stuff again. I don’t know. If it got to a point where, you know, we would have an existential crisis on our hands, then cool. We’ll do what we need to do for the business to survive and figure something out. I don’t know. Business is trial and error. Nobody knows what they’re doing, so everybody’s just kind of trying stuff and see what happens.

Josh Pigford, founder of Baremetrics, explains how he balanced user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) at a time when his business was facing certain death.  

“You can do the A+ decision and die or do the B- decision and stay in business. Right?” 

Josh Pigford, Baremetrics Founder

Most CEOs aren’t beholden to the “UX school of thought” or “that other school of thought”. They’re beholden to their businesses surviving and growing, and will follow whichever path they believe leads them there.

Josh Pigford, founder of Baremetrics, made a controversial decision in 2015. He removed the option for users of his revenue analytics platform to cancel subscriptions from the app.

If they wanted to cancel, they’d need to get in contact.

Perhaps, even more controversially, Josh says this was a good decision for his customers and his business.

I can see the steam escaping your ears as your blood boils… but wait—there’s more to this story.

We use Baremetrics at WhatUsersDo (have done for over a year) and I gotta tell you… it’s great. Don’t take my word for it, check out the Baremetrics demo dashboard (based on the company’s actual data).

More importantly, a few claims caught my eye while reading Josh’s article explaining his decision and the effect it had on the company:

  1. The overwhelming majority of users actually appreciated his radical approach—as evidenced by a dramatic (more than 50%), lasting drop in churn rate

  2. Removing the cancellation option was not a dark pattern, as Josh took rigorous measures to ensure users were never misled

  3. Removing the cancellation option was a short-term sacrifice (in terms of UX), that facilitated long-term improvements (in terms of CX)

There’s precedent for Josh’s thinking—Jerry Cao of UXPin has argued that UX and CX are not the same thing, and that bad UX and good CX can co-exist. Don Norman argues the opposite… but that’s another skirmish for another day.

Aside from being a fascinating case study (seriously, go read the article), Josh’s story left me wondering about a somewhat tangential matter.

Making a spider’s web out of a piece of string

Web of design jargonDuring my 15-minute chat with Josh, I got the impression he thought UX design was something other than an extension of what he was already doing. That is, understanding his customers and adapting his product to fit their needs.

Specifically, I got the impression Josh thought of UX design as a way of avoiding talking to customers—when, in fact, understanding customers is the entire basis of good design. I don’t blame Josh for thinking this way though.

Let’s not make any bones about it, UX isn’t as popular with or well-understood by the mainstream business audience as it should be. Then again, the plethora of jargon can be off-putting—from “IxD” to “iA”… to “WTF”.

Jared Spool recently took on this idea of repackaging established concepts when he (sort of) laid into “design thinking”. And although by the end of his article, Mr Spool acknowledges the merits of repackaging, I want to talk about its dangers.  

In an effort to make UX design seem like the new business panacea, we way be making it needlessly incomprehensible.

I know many industries struggle with the issue of jargon… but design is supposed to be a field of lean, efficient thinkers. I often ask myself, “When we talk about UX with business people, should we talk about it in our terms or in theirs?”

“The feedback from people who… wanna bring out pitchforks about it, are from people who haven’t had to make business decisions. Sure, they’ve had the luxury of making UI or UX decisions, but they haven’t had to make business decisions.” 

Josh Pigford, Baremetrics Founder

Is the first (and simplest) step towards balancing UX, CX and keeping a business alive to accept that at the nucleus of each is the same thing—understanding customers’ needs (however we do that) and meeting those needs?

Or is that watering down the UX special sauce a bit too much?

To be honest, this is a thorny issue and I won’t pretend I have an answer—there are people way more qualified than I am to offer a solution.

So, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on the WhatUsersDo Twitter page.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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