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Joel on Software

Superstitious FAQ Writers

by Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Have you noticed that FAQ pages for online services almost never include instructions for how to cancel your account?

It's like they're all subject to the same bizarre superstition ... if you don't tell people how to cancel, maybe they'll lose interest and keep paying you.

A long time ago I wrote an article called Let Me Go Back! The gist of it was that if you want to attract new customers, you have to give them the confidence that there is no risk in signing up or converting from whatever they were using before.

This superstition, the superstition that leaving cancellation instructions off of the website will somehow help your business, is actually probably the result of misapplied scientific method. It's very likely that somebody did an A-B test and convinced themselves that more people cancel if you tell them how to cancel. You see, that's a very easy test to do. What's not easy to test is how many people never sign up in the first place because they're afraid that canceling is going to be a nightmare.

So what you have here is a somebody doing a cost/benefit analysis where they are measuring the benefit while ignoring the cost.

Here's what we do at Fog Creek: we've always had an unconditional 90 day money back guarantee on everything we sell. I've even had people return the movie Aardvark'd because they just didn't like the movie. Our online, subscription-based service, Copilot, states clearly on the sign-up page that "you may cancel at any time, on the Web, without hassle."

Since we started the company in 2000, the moneyback guarantee has cost us precisely 2% of revenues, which also includes chargebacks, credit card fraud, and people who accidentally ordered twice. That figure that has remained remarkably stable through the years and which I think is well worth it, but then again, I'm only measuring the cost, because the benefit is too hard to measure!


Have you been wondering about Distributed Version Control? It has been a huge productivity boon for us, so I wrote Hg Init, a Mercurial tutorial—check it out!

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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, which lets you organize anything, together, FogBugz, enlightened issue tracking software for bug tracking, and Kiln, which provides distributed version control and code reviews. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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