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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

CX Ignored: Unraveling the Unwritten Rules of Customer Sludge

Updated: Dec 23, 2023



There are a few well-known but unwritten beacons in customer experience. Here’s one:


Don’t give customers the runaround on purpose to benefit your cash flow. 


Example: Setting up an easy, one-click way for customers to subscribe to your services online. Then, to cancel the same subscription, customers are forced to call a contact center where representatives have been trained to do anything but immediately process the cancellation request.


It seems like it should be the exception rather than the rule.


But purposeful sludge—where businesses create ways to frustrate customers and hinder legitimate cancellations and returns—remains an all-too-familiar headache for individual customers.


From where I sit, though, the trend of deliberately bad CX coming into the light is gaining momentum, backing up the unwritten rules of CX with the actual rule of law.


Negative ROI


An ever-present question for CX leaders is: “What’s the ROI of customer experience?” One reality is clear. Recent headlines are shouting about the costs of dismissing CX.


Costs of Ignoring CX: Millions to Billions


SiriusXM may have to pay penalties for trapping customers in their subscriptions rather than readily allowing cancellations. Additional penalties loom for wasting customers’ time on a deliberately burdensome cancellation process.


Toyota Motor Credit was recently penalized $60 million for adding extra fee-based products to customers’ auto loans, leading 118,000+ customers into a cancellation maze with a contact center purposely set up to be a dead end.


Wells Fargo’s years-long saga of customer exploitations and abuses cost them at least $2 billion in legal and regulatory penalties, plus lasting government scrutiny and business restrictions.


Even smaller players like Fifth Third Bank got caught opening fraudulent accounts without customers’ consent to meet aggressive sales requirements.


Recent headlines affirm: Ignoring the unspoken rules of CX is a gamble that only pays off for so long, irrespective of brand size. Treating customers fairly and respectfully is the only pathway to a positive and lasting ROI. CX pros can take that and the proof points noted here directly to their daily talk tracks.


I’ll be on continued hiatus through 2024, watching the customer experience landscape unfold from the sidelines. Happy holidays to all!

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