5 ways to provide the support your subscribers want
By Georg Richter, CEO and founder, OceanX
Retailers of all kinds need to understand that today's consumers are looking for a lot more from them across all parts of the shopping experience. Many businesses, both of the online and brick-and-mortar variety, are adding new technologies they think are a means to that end, from a virtual reality room at home improvement store Lowe's to Nordstrom's customer service chatbot. As it turns out, some of those investments are falling flat, and other customercentric investments might be more valuable in the long run.
It's imperative that as the subscription economy grows, direct-to-consumer subscription businesses continue to focus efforts and investments on improving customer service.
Fortunately, there are steps successful subscription brands can take to ensure their customer service efforts address customers' actual pain points and provide the support that subscribers demand.
Getting subscription customer service right
How you provide support to your subscribers will depend on your product or service, but the following tips offer good places to start:
1. Recognize the differences inherent in a subscription business model. Transactional businesses are different from subscription and membership programs. The former often focus on new customer acquisition, while the latter are more focused on engagement and retention.
Make sure your customer service, no matter how it's delivered, is focused on retention. Don't just get people through the door — give them a reason to stick around by recognizing their desire to belong to something special.
2. Save worries of scaling for later. Sure, you want to scale to millions of subscribers as soon as possible, and you should develop a plan to get there. But remember, all companies start with a first customer and his or her interactions, so you don't need to focus on scalability right away.
Worry more about quality. Start with a well-trained customer service team, and encourage your team members to get to know your customer base. Learn from every customer interaction, and use what you learn to create self-service tools to answer questions. Find new and different ways to make subscribers happy. Take advantage of being small, and turn your first subscribers into evangelists who rave about your brand, product, and customer service.
3. Keep all information current. Most retailers know to put as much customer service information online as possible, but many subscription businesses fail at proving they've learned from new data and past customer experiences. Many brands launch with a helpful set of FAQs but never update it as customers report new issues.
When possible, document all interactions, and look for commonalities in consumers' questions and concerns. Mine that data to update your homepage; add a new FAQ section to your site; create a video that helps explain information in more detail; or include info in transactional emails, like shipment confirmation emails. You might even include the information with the printed collateral in your next shipment.
4. Follow your subscribers. Customer service was provided in person before it moved to phone, then email, and then chat- and web-based self-service options. It's now all that, plus social, reviews, text, and chatbots. And chances are high that we'll soon see it move to voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
In other words, as tech evolves, so should your customer service. Pay attention to where consumers interact, and meet them there. You might not be able to be in all places, but an 80/20 analysis of your efforts for your best customers can show you where to devote your resources.
5. Be proactive, not reactive, in providing customer service.Many subscription brands fail to realize — or even just ignore — that membership alone does not make a subscriber's experience perfect. It's all about being proactive in your approach to customer service. Every month customers stay on, their lifetime value increases, and how you service them affects their decision to stick around.
Take, for instance, payment processing. Subscriptions only work when payment methods don't fail, and they can fail in a number of different ways. A credit card might expire or be lost, or an account might be short of funds. Either scenario can result in, at best, an opportunity to connect with a customer or, at worst, a lost subscriber. A little customer service, coupled with automated emails and a self-service functionality to update billing info, can proactively solve this problem for many customers and turn a potential lost subscriber into a happy member.
Subscription success stories like Spotify, Netflix, and Dollar Shave Club do an excellent job of informing subscribers when they have issues and providing multiple ways to fix those issues.
Reaching out to customers in unexpected ways can help you gain valuable insights, save a sale, create brand affinity, and do much, much more. Most customer service for subscriptions is reactive, so a nice email, note, or call just letting customers know you care can go a long way toward keeping subscribers happy and committed to their memberships.