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How To Give Customers A Superior Subscriber Experience (And Boost Retention)


If there’s one thing that has become clear since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s this: Customers are trading in-person shopping experiences for the convenience and safety of eCommerce. 

The shift in consumer behavior has been a boon for eCommerce merchants, but online shopping has become much more crowded. 

“To say that 2020 was a really wild year for eCommerce is the understatement of the century,” Jamie Johns, Ordergroove’s strategic client director, says in From Enrollment to Customer Support: How to Deliver a Superior Subscriber Experience, a webinar co-hosted with our partners at Thankful.ai.

“We know that with stores closing, a lot of businesses put their focus online, which means that the competition online is more intense than ever,” Jamie adds.

Customer acquisition has always been important, but increased competition has put a bigger emphasis on customer retention. And since most direct-to-consumer (D2C) eCommerce happens via subscription programs — ensuring a great experience at every part of the customer journey is critical for holding onto customers long term.  

In the webinar, Jamie and James Hotson, vice president of partnerships at Thankful.ai, discussed the opportunities eCommerce businesses have to optimize the subscriber experience. Here are some of the main takeaways. 

Subscribers Are Your Most Valuable Customers

We’re at the tip of the subscription program iceberg. 

An Ordergroove analysis shows that subscription enrollment jumped 48% in 2020, compared to 2019.

As the popularity of these programs rise, more merchants plan to implement D2C subscription models. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2023, 75% of D2C organizations will have a subscription offering. 

When you look at the data, it’s easy to understand why subscriptions make good sense for businesses. After signing up for a subscription program, customers across all spend thresholds — from the unengaged (who don’t spend very much) to high-frequency purchasers — spend substantially more with a subscription, compared with non-subscription customers.  

Six months after enrollment, a subscriber’s incremental spend (compared to a customer without a subscription) is around 122%.

“Not only are they subscribing, but they’re coming back and shopping for other items as well,” Jamie says. 

Lifetime value of a subscriber

“We know that the experience is going to be really impactful when we’re thinking about how to drive customer retention. Customers don’t want to shop at places where they don’t have great experiences, even if it’s for necessities,” Jamie says. 

4 Tips For Delivering a Superior Subscriber Experience

Subscribers are your most loyal customers. They have signed up to receive products on a recurring basis. 

Opting in to the subscription requires a level of trust on the customer’s part. Similarly, the subscriber wants the brand to maintain that trust and to reward their loyalty.

Any friction in the subscriber journey can violate that trust and loyalty. The risk isn’t just in losing a subscriber, but losing a customer for life. 

The subscriber journey

1. Simplify subscription enrollment and communication 

When a customer visits a company’s website, the availability of subscription programs — and the benefits of enrolling should be clear. Your website should communicate how ordering a product on a recurring basis can save money and time.

There should be multiple subscription enrollment locations on your website, so that customers can sign up at any point along the shopping journey. Reinforcement messaging throughout the checkout process — via quick view or other functionality — is also critical. 

Sneaky tactics pushing customers toward a subscription service without their clear consent are always a no-no.

“You don’t want to trick customers into signing up or make customers feel like they’re being tricked,” Jamie says. 

Utilizing an integrated checkout is also crucial. When the checkout is separate from the rest of a consumer’s checkout flow, subscription enrollment can drop by as much as 40%.

Once a customer joins a subscription program, ongoing and clear communication is important for ensuring a streamlined customer service experience.

One way to do this is through transactional emails about subscriber milestones, like when they first sign up or when they’re billed. 

Key point: It shouldn’t be difficult for customers to figure out what’s going on with their subscriptions and the benefits of enrolling in your program should be consistently reinforced. 

2. Allow for easy subscription management 

Subscriptions that are easy to manage and offer a degree of flexibility are more likely to retain customers. You should incorporate a subscription management portal in your subscriber experience that allows customers to control every aspect of their recurring orders. 

“Customers who know how to manage their subscriptions will stay in the program long-term and tailor the program to their needs instead of feeling like they’re on one stuck schedule that doesn’t always work for them,” Jamie says. 

You can offer customers several different options for flexibility on the order level, like: 

  • Delivery date
  • Frequency 
  • Product quantity 
  • Product swap
  • Billing change 

And yes, you do want to make it easy for customers to cancel their subscriptions. Companies believe that cancellation blockers help reduce churn, but data proves that adding friction to cancellation pages doesn’t actually work. Instead cancellation blockers annoy customers and the experience can prevent them from ever resuming the subscription. 

“Ultimately our goal is to have a frictionless, seamless experience so the customer feels like they’re in control of their subscription, and not just handing their credit card over to a company,” Jamie says. 

If customers do want to cancel, give them the option to explain why they’re cancelling — you can use that information to improve in the future.

3. Leverage artificial intelligence for customer service

Usually, customer service departments are the last thing a brand talks about. But customer service has the potential to be a revenue driver if you do things right. 

AI has offered some promise for improving customer service, but results haven’t been universally strong. Unfortunately, most eCommerce customers are familiar with the experience of getting a poor answer from an AI chatbot

“We realized that these bots were really failing,” James says during the webinar. 

Thankful has implemented new natural language processing technology and built a deep learning customer intent engine. 

The technology improvements have taken bot accuracy from around 70% (on a good day) to 99.9% accuracy. It’s a win for customers who don’t need to wait a few days for a human reply after the AI bot hasn’t provided a satisfactory response.

Customers expect fast and helpful online customer service

The improved accuracy also means that Thankful’s bot can process and respond to cancellation requests within seconds or as James says, “as fast as the internet can go.” 

Depending on what a customer writes in the request, the bot also has the ability to recommend a subscription downgrade instead of a cancelation. “It’s not just a rules-driven bot,” says James. 

Though the technology has improved drastically, you should still consider merging AI with human customer service agents 

“What you want to do is make sure all your programs work together,” Jamie notes. “AI solutions will help with tedious and repetitive tasks but you want that perspective of a human interaction — those interactions are revenue drivers.”

4. Get creative with intro offers

Merchants often use free trials to entice customers to sign up for a subscription service. 

But a free trial isn’t the only way to get customers to opt-in and results can vary widely. They can be limiting for the customer who only likes elements of the intro offer, for example. 

“It can be really successful or it can backfire,” Jamie says. Ultimately, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of your brand’s intro offer — and don’t be afraid to get creative. 

For example, beauty brand IL MAKIAGE offers a detailed foundation and concealer matching quiz on its website. Customers who take the quiz get the option to sign up for the recommended product for 14-days. The customer can keep the product if they like it or send it back at no charge if they prefer. 

The trial approach offers a good way to sell a product category that customers prefer to see check out in-person. Depending on the industry and product category, there are ways for brands to tackle the intro offer successfully and avoid being “margin-negative,” Jamie notes. 

“You can do a lot of fun things depending on what business you have,” James says.

For more insights, watch From Enrollment to Customer Support: How to Deliver a Superior Subscriber Experience.

Special thanks to our friends at OrderGroove for their insights on this topic.
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