So you have finally weighed all your options and decided that the best thing you can do for both product and business is to close the product. Maybe it’s because it’s too much of a burden for your company to shoulder sans any returns. So how to close down a failing product?
Remember that your users have a personal relationship with the product. You wanted to make the world a little easier, so you went and created this product, which users believed in and poured their resources towards (it doesn’t matter whether the product was free – users devote time, support and effort in various other ways) – this is a sacrifice that you should treat with respect.
Closing a product is very much like a personal breakup. You tell the users that you don’t think it’s working out anymore, that you have to cease all contact with them regarding this matter and that you will no longer share a future together.
It’s a movie and breakup cliché, but you have to make sure your users understand that it’s not them, it’s you. You created a product, put it out there and encouraged them to share it, then you’re now going back and saying you can’t handle it anymore. Take any frustration, anger or negativity that they express gracefully, remembering that they are just angry at losing your products.
As much preparation as possible will be necessary to make sure that you go through the closure process smoothly. You certainly cannot plan for every eventuality; there will be surprises on the way, but if you’re well prepared you can deal with then better.
The following is an outline of 10 steps to follow. While each product is unique and has different requirements, these step will offer a good foundation you can build on to ease the transition.
This will be your first public act and you should let users know as soon as possible after making the final decision so that they have as much time to adjust to your revelation without feeling cornered. The least amount of time allowed is one month, and if you’ll be providing users methods to export data from your products, you need to give 2-3 months’ notice minimum to give them time to find alternatives and move their data.
If you have any information that can ease the transition, do not hesitate to offer it up – you can recommend competing products or any other necessary information to help. Imagine you were having your favourite product discontinued, what would you like to know? Also run usability tests for the closure process to identify points that may interfere with the closure process. Even in closure, never compromise your user experience.
Once you have announced your intentions to close, disable new registrations. It’s likely that interest and traffic will increase following the disclosure, but dealing with new registrations offers no benefit and will only complicate the transition process further. Another reason is that some people may have missed your closure announcement, and you’ll be additionally burdened with the task of telling them you’re closing – yet you haven’t even had a chance to make a good impression on them.
If you have webpages, websites, online ads and other marketing efforts set up for product promotion, it’s time to end them since they are no longer necessary. Stop automated email marketing as well, once you’ve used it to communicate to subscribers that you’re stopping the product. If the sites/pages existed for any other purpose, you may not have to close them down, since the information offered could still be relevant.
If you have online support, update it to include closure information and address common issues likely to be faced in the transition process. Answer questions that arise from users in the closing process to help through the transition.
People may have forgotten what you said about closing, so send a reminder about your intentions to give some time for them to act if it had slipped their minds.
Offer users a last chance to take action. Some people may think that you’ve over-stated the closure, but it’s better to overstate than to have people missing out on the closure. Also, your previous emails could have found their way into spam folders.
Settle any outstanding debts that you owe users, like unused subscriptions among others. Before dealing with anything else, pay the users. If you choose to end your product soon after users are due to re-subscribe, you may consider foregoing the subscription fees for the new period. However, the answer to that question can only be determined by the nature of the product.
Decide whether you intend to maintain an online presence. You may choose to maintain the domains to offer the information you shared in the past and share the story of your closure. Also set up redirects for any links to your site that you’re aware of. Decide what you’re going to do with email addresses that were associated with the URL and product. Even if you close them down, it’s important to maintain one line of access should users need access to their data or if they have questions.
Terminate any pages that existed as a result of your product e.g. your various social media profiles. Just like the website, you may decide to keep them alive for information’s sake, in which case update them with the nature and terms of closure and the story behind it. Remember that if you keep them open you have to engage with users that communicate with you or else you risk a negative image.
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Depending on the product, you may need to do more or less, but addressing these main issues will give you a solid foundation to deal with the surprises that come up on the way.
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