Improve Customer Subscriptions By Learning From Amazon’s Alleged Mistakes
Be transparent with your customers. Fostering customer loyalty comes through being honest about the terms and conditions of a subscription plan.
Let them cancel. Although it’s difficult to part with customers, giving them the freedom to get out of a subscription leads to better CX.
Learn from Amazon’s alleged mistakes. Customer outrage can help you learn what to avoid when it comes to subscription plans.
As of June 21, Amazon came under fire from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for nonconsensually enrolling customers into its Prime program and making the cancellation process for this unwanted service challenging.
“These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike,” FTC Chair Lina M. Khan said in a statement. “The FTC will continue to vigorously protect Americans from ‘dark patterns’ and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.”
Amazon is challenging the FTC claims.
This news is likely shocking to many, especially considering Amazon’s reputation as a stellar customer service provider; the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) ranked Amazon No. 2 overall when it comes to online retail customer satisfaction. If such a highly-praised company can dupe millions of consumers, CX leaders may need to start paying more attention to subscription plans and how they handle signing on customers and letting them exit.
So, how can companies better and more legitimately enroll customers into subscriptions, and how can they make the cancellation process easier? As much as we don’t want to see our customers go, it’s better to let them leave of their own volition instead of tricking them into keeping a subscription. Underhanded tactics may soil brand reputation and lead to poor reviews.
Be Open and Honest With Customers
Michael Podolsky, CEO of PissedConsumer, believes the first step in creating a successful subscription enrollment process is through transparency and clear communication. Customers should have a clear understanding of all benefits, fees and any sneaky terms in the fine print before subscribing to a service.
“Offering a trial period is important as it can help your customers understand if the service or product meets their expectations.” Podolsky said. “Some businesses use the opt-out model when a consumer is enrolled by default. While this is an actionable approach for a business to grow its customer base and profit, it’s not always fair to customers, and it can also reduce loyalty and lead to numerous complaints addressed to your customer service. A company should take steps to ensure that every subscriber knows how to cancel their subscription.”
As an example, Podolsky recommends sending customers notifications and confirmation emails when they sign up for a subscription plan. Your customer service team should also monitor and store customer feedback concerning subscription issues. By keeping track of this data, you can fix communication gaps by relaying these issues with management and responding to customers with a solution in a timely manner.
Related article: FTC Dings Amazon For Poor Customer Experience
If You Love Your Customers, Let Them Go
In addition to a transparent subscription plan, it’s equally important to make canceling just as easy as enrolling. Camouflaging the cancel option or making it difficult to navigate may push customers further away.
Micah Solomon, CX consultant, speaker and CMSWire and Forbes contributor and author of “Ignore Your Customers and They’ll Go Away” recommends making canceling easy while also asking customers if there’s anything that can sway them into sticking around.
“Pro-customer design should — and by regulation now, must — allow for a straightforward cancellation process,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that customers should be able to cancel your service with a single click on a late-night impulse, but it does mean that if they want to consider canceling, it’s clear where to click even if, upon that click, you gently ask them if there’s anything you can do for them to keep the relationship alive before saying goodbye.”
Amazon, on the other hand, failed to use the “checking in with a potential canceler” approach, according to material from PissedConsumer. As a result, customers became jaded and angry with the company, likely because they felt like they were being used or taken advantage of.
One customer wrote: “Trying to get an Amazon membership taken off of my account I did not ask for. I dont do anything on Amazon. I was on the phone for two hours talking to several different people […]. Very dissatisfied.”
Another said: “…I never signed up for prime membership. I don’t know why you all keep telling me that I am a prime member.”
Adding to this point, Podolsky warns against imposing penalties for canceling. Doing so makes the customer feel as though they’ve done something wrong, even though in most circumstances, they’re canceling out of their best interest.
“It won’t make a significant impact on profit, but you risk losing customer trust forever,” he added. “In fact, providing a refund in case they opt out in the middle of a period could help earn your customer’s appreciation and respect. Not every customer is canceling because they don’t like the service or product. There might be other circumstances.”
Related Article: 3 Customer Experience Lessons Brands Can Learn From Amazon
Conclusion: Customer Experience Isn’t About Blockers
In the FTC’s eyes, Amazon has made clear customer experience mistakes. But that doesn’t mean people will boycott the site forever, nor will it mean their Prime feature will go kaput. Angry customers will fizzle out, and hopefully, the company will improve its subscription process in the future thanks to a potential wake-up call by the FTC.
That being said, your CX team can still learn from these reported mistakes by the FTC. Making subscription terms clear and opening accessible communication channels for inquisitive or confused customers is imperative. If something is unclear in regards to what your company offers, consumers who sign up for a subscription may take issue with additional fees or features they thought were included in the plan, but weren’t. This type of miscommunication will likely damage your brand’s reputation and force prompt customers to leave. Having a maze-like cancelation process will only exacerbate their frustrations.
And who knows? If a customer experiences an easy, seamless separation process, they’ll remember it. In time, they might even come back.