Intro to Social Hacking - how we lowered our cancellation rate by 90%


Grouper sets up drinks between 2 groups of friends who don’t know each other: 3 guys and 3 girls. We call these interactions Groupers. They’re a really good time (you should go on one), but they’re not easy to organize. Getting people together in the real world is a hard problem. People are busy. People are flaky. And groups of 6 are exponentially harder to corral than, say, groups of 2 or 4.

While the problem may be difficult, it’s certainly one worth solving. We’ve found that, somewhat ironically, the recent abundance of “social” software like Facebook and Twitter has only deepened (instead of satiated) peoples’ desire to connect with each other in person.

We have two main tool sets at our disposal: technology and psychology. We’re programmers by trade, so we can write code to automate things and streamline the process. But for what we’re trying to do that’s not enough. Maybe Facebook can get away with pure-engineering solutions (since they only exist online), but the offline nature of our product means that we have to go beyond that.

We like to call what we do “social hacking.” In other words, using technology and psychology to take a social situation and improve it. Grouper, as a whole, fits under this umbrella. But here’s a recent example that really puts it into perspective:

How we Lowered Our Cancellation Rate by 90%

We had come to accept cancellations as a fact of life. Shit happens. Things come up. One of your 2 friends gets stuck at work. What can you do?

Several weeks ago, however, we noticed that cancellations had slowly gotten out of control. People were cancelling fairly frequently and we had no idea why.

So we asked ourselves: what gives?

We came up with a hypothesis: cancelling was way too easy.

And not easy in the sense you might expect. I hate apps that make it really inconvenient to cancel your subscription (like when you have to click through a dozen links then send a fax to someone… which, by the way, is an actual experience I had with GoDaddy). We wanted cancelling to be easy in that it was fast and simple (i.e. the opposite of GoDaddy), but we also wanted it to be fair for the other group that was getting cancelled on (i.e. not happen all the time).

We also had a hunch that people weren’t cancelling for actual emergencies, but rather for more minor reasons–like being a little tired or having a little too much work to do. In other words, lame excuses. What if we could simply get these people not to cancel?

Previously, to cancel a Grouper, all you had to do was call us up and tell us, then (with no questions asked) we’d do all your dirty work: give you credit to reschedule, cancel your reservation and, most importantly, call the other group and break the bad news. But in an attempt to provide excellent customer service to some customers, we were accidentally providing a subpar experience to others.

While a cancellation is only a slight bummer to us, it’s a HUGE bummer to the other group. Oftentimes they’ve already travelled across town, gotten dressed, etc., and then we’d have to call them the day of (or sometimes even a few hours before) and potentially ruin their night.

We needed to fix this. Not for us, but for them.

We started with the general premise of: how can we make the would-be cancellers appreciate that they’re actually cancelling on 3 real people? Not us, not some imaginary group, but 3, actual, fellow human beings, who, like them, had rearranged their schedules, organized their friends, and gotten all excited for their Grouper.

What we came up with was simple. We’d leave everything else the same, but for one slight tweak: if you wanted to cancel that was totally fine, but after you called us, we would give you a number for the other group, and YOU WOULD CALL THEM (not us) TO APOLOGIZE. (Edit/Note: We don’t actually give out their real number, instead we give out a proxy phone number and relay the call. You shouldn’t get rewarded with their digits for cancelling on them, after all!).

Within 2 weeks, our cancellation rate dropped 90%.

Now people almost never cancel. And when cancellations do happen, they’re for extremely good reasons. We like to joke that while our cancellation rate dropped by 90%, the quality of excuses increased by about 1000%…

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