The Art of Turning Away Customers

A couple weeks back a “friend” of mine ( :) ) tried eHarmony based on a friend’s suggestion and got the following message:

"eHarmony is based upon a complex matching system developed through extensive research with married couples. One of the requirements for successful matching is that participants to fall within certain defined profiles. If we find that we will not be able to match a user using these profiles, we feel it is only fair to inform them early in the process.

We are so convinced of the importance of creating compatible matches to help people establish happy, lasting relationships that we sometimes choose not to provide service rather than risk an uncertain match.

Unfortunately, we are not able to make our profiles work for you. Our matching model could not accurately predict with whom you would be best matched. This occurs for about 20% of potential users, so 1 in 5 people simply will not benefit from our service. We hope that you understand, and we regret our inability to provide service for you at this time."

What can I say? These eHarmony guys are simply brilliant. . . they understood that they are a network effects business and as such “nodes” in their network (ie people) must fit an exact profile/segment in order to add value to its network. The wrong people (saying nothing about my friend’s eligibility :) ) will not only NOT add any value but could potentially SUBTRACT value from its network.

Also, by rejecting people which it doesnt think it can serve efficiently, profitably, or satisfactorily eHarmony is reducing negative word of mouth. Progressive Auto insurance does this by not only sending customer away but to directly a competitor. If it doesnt believe it can produce the lowest insurance quote for that customer, it has the confidence that its competitors will LOSE money serving that particular person.

Furthermore, by simply rejecting a small percentage of applicants, eHarmony can create a falese (?) sense of exclusiveness and furthre reduce churn once an user is acquired. Its an age old technique employed by fraternities and the military to instill a sense of pride and ownerhsip which in turn translates to dedication and committment to the community he/she is finally inducted into.

It takes balls for an internet company to turn away users, but eHarmony is successful for a reason. . .