The subtle art of ‘endineering’

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Endineering: Businesses often fail to consider the final stage in the experience they give their customers, writes author Joe Macleod. What happens at the end of a product’s lifecycle should be decided at its earliest design stages

Despite paying careful, thoughtful attention to a product’s appeal and function, many businesses overlook an enormous gap at the end of a product’s life.

Within this gap, brand equity drops, sustainability targets are missed and consumer satisfaction is thrown away. Businesses constantly overlook the end of the consumer lifecycle as a place to add meaning and yield benefits.

We can break the consumer lifecycle into three sections: on-boarding, usage, and off-boarding.

Consumerism is great in the first two sections. Marketing inspires meaning and purpose in a wonderful marriage between consumer and provider. Good design, research and execution results in products that solve problems, complete tasks and that people love.

But at the final stage, the consumer/provider relationship breaks down. Consumers are abandoned and stumble on alone, with little or no advice on how to manage the end of the product experience.

The end is nigh

A common business justification for this problem goes as follows: ‘Why should we care? They are not our customers anymore.´ This is a traditional, twentieth century argument, and it needs to change.


Modern branding is about relationships. A bad ending can irreparably damage a consumer relationship.

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s work around human memory finds that a person has only two moments that they clearly commit to memory – the peak of the experience (good or bad) and its ending. If brands fail to create a good offboarding experience, their reputation is cut in half, slaughtering the opportunity to engage again in the future.

Modern products need to be better for the environment, but without engaging the consumer in an off-boarding experience at the end, new ‘circular economy’ products won’t close the loop. They will continue to fall into landfill, just like last century’s waste.

Take the issue of plastic in the sea. How much of that plastic is made from recyclable plastic? Given that Coca-Cola, a massive producer of plastic bottles, introduced lightweight, resealable and recyclable 2-liter polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles in 1978, I think we can assume that the material capability of a lot of that plastic in the sea is ‘recyclable’.

The reason it has ended up in the sea isn’t because it is made from the wrong material. It’s because it dropped out of the consumer lifecycle at the end.

Building customer satisfaction is short-lived when the ending isn’t easy for the consumer. Netflix says: “We are proud of the no-hassle online cancellation. Members can leave when they want and come back when they want.” Netflix subscriber growth hit 118.9 million in 2018, up from 94.36 million the previous year, achieving customer satisfaction of 78%.

That beats the 62% notched up by traditional cable TV, an industry that traps customers in long-term, often punitive contracts and where customer satisfaction ratings have been dropping for more than a decade.

One of the biggest hurdles for businesses around endings is getting over their fear of the consumer relationship ending, too

Where to focus

One of the biggest hurdles for businesses around endings is getting over their fear of the consumer relationship ending. It holds back so much innovation. Businesses need to have discussions about the end. They need to build understanding and confidence.

The first thing to understand is what happens at the end of your current product relationship with the consumer?

What are the stages of this journey? What are the most common endings for your products? This will also help businesses adhere to new legislation, such as Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission targets, which require businesses to measure the emissions at product end-of-life.

Next, they need to start thinking about what their brand does elsewhere in the customer lifecycle. Many companies have brand values, such as transparency or freedom, which they celebrate elsewhere in the consumer lifecycle, but they tend to quickly reverse these when it comes to retention tactics at off-boarding.

Start working out what you want your product off-boarding to look like. What vision does your business have of a good ending? There are lots of insights, models and techniques described in my book, Endineering, to help with this. Lastly, be positive about the end. Start becoming endineers, as well as engineers.

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Joe Macleod has worked in product development and now trains business influencers, policymakers and product developers about the need for ‘good endings’.

He is the author of two books on the subject, most recently, Endineering: Designing Consumption Lifecycles That End As Well as They Begin.

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