CX

How marketers can increase subscriber retention in 8 steps

This article has been published in Advertising Week 360.

Why focus on subscriber retention?

Subscriptions have surged in popularity during the COVID crisis, with two in five people in the UK signing up to new subscriptions since it began and at least 57% having one, up 10% on last year. This increase in subscriptions has been experienced across all sectors from food (such as meal kits) to entertainment and news.

Those forward-thinking brands and marketers with a subscription model recognise that just 5% – 30% of revenue comes at the initial acquisition phase. A massive 70% – 95% of revenue is derived from subscriber renewals and upsell. Importantly, research by Harvard Business School reveals that by increasing customer retention by five per cent it’s possible to grow profits by 25% – 95%.

Role of DxO in driving retention

At the core of any retention, along with acquisition activity, must be digital experience optimisation (DxO). It’s the systematic process of unifying and optimising the digital experience across the entire digital customer journey – acquisition, onboarding, engagement, cancellation and win back. DxO is vital for all marketers serious about increasing acquisition conversion rate, retention and brand loyalty to maximise customer lifetime value (CLTV).

How to increase subscriber retention in eight steps
1. Understand your customers

To effectively understand your customers you need to go beyond analytics. You need to use a combination of research methodologies to truly comprehend their behaviours and attitudes. It’s not just who your customers are from a demographic point of view, but also what needs and goals do your customers have, why did they subscribe, what do they like and don’t like about the subscription, for example.

It’s only once you understand your customers that you can eradicate organisational assumptions, create actionable customer insights to generate consistency across communications and drive relevancy at every touchpoint.

2. Identify drivers for retention and churn

Undertake acquisition cohort analysis, which means group customers based on when they subscribed to your product or service. This enables you to identify key points of churn on the customer journey and any key churn differences, for example between a sale and non-sale period.

Deliver a behavioural cohort analysis to identify which product and subscription features have the biggest impact on retention. For instance, for a client, we discovered that after 360 days those who signed up to a newsletter were 34% more likely to remain a customer than those who didn’t. You also need to analyse how likely it is that a customer will form a habit around the different features. Bringing this together, you need to prioritise those features.

3. Drive early-stage engagement

To drive early-stage engagement you need to develop an onboarding strategy. Onboarding is the first experience a customer has with your brand and just like all first impressions it has to be a good one if you want to create a lasting customer relationship. To achieve this, you need to develop an onboarding strategy which is:

  • User-centric
  • Value-based
  • Seamless
  • Multi-channel
  • Holistic
  • Continuously evolving
4. Drive middle stage engagement

Furthermore, it’s important to have a customer hub that subscribers can easily access whenever they want, so they can clearly understand the features and benefits of their subscription.

Use external triggers on an ongoing basis to encourage customers to reengage with your product and brand. It could be via a newsletter, social media, or printed communications. These will help to create habits with your product.

5. Collect customer feedback

Ongoing feedback from customers, using surveys such as customer satisfaction and NPS, is vital to predicting churn and risk. To this end, look to group users into three categories based on their satisfaction with their subscription experience. These are:

  • Detractors: Those who are not satisfied and are at high risk of leaving. They need targeted communications to encourage them to remain customers.
  • Passives: Who are at medium risk of cancelling their subscriptions.
  • Promoters: Who are very happy with the relationship and could be upsold to and generate referrals.

You should also use any insight from contact centre engagement when undertaking this analysis.

6. Triggered engagement strategy

Use the insight from the customer feedback activity which has identified churn risk customers and target them with a triggered engagement strategy, such as an email campaign. There are many approaches you can use here, including highlighting the value of their subscription, through applying principles of persuasion.

It’s important to take a ‘decision tree’ approach. If you run an email campaign but the customer didn’t open the email change the copy in the subject box to see if that encourages them to open it. If they did open the email but didn’t click through, then use a different approach in the email.

7. The cancellation journey

It’s critical to have a good understanding of why subscribers are cancelling so you can proactively prevent it as early as possible. To start with asking what are their motivations for leaving? The takeaways then need to be used to inform your engagement and cancellation strategy both on and offline.

Value statements play a vital role in saving customers. They need to align with the reasons for the cancellation. For example, if a key cancellation reason is lack of time to get the most out of the subscription, emphasise the benefits they can receive from the subscription so that they’re more motivated to make time to enjoy their subscription.

If possible, you should also look to offer customers the option to switch to a different subscription which might be a better fit for their needs. Additionally, you can offer a discounted rate as a final save tactic.

8. Build a win-back plan

Always reengage with those who have cancelled to attempt to win them back. This is important because the odds of making a sale to a recently lapsed customer is 60% higher than selling to a cold prospect.

An exclusive special offer must form the basis of the communication and it’s important that you engage with them as a previous customer, not as a cold prospect.

We have found a win-back programme of four emails works best:

  • The first email should be a reminder of the brand and value of the subscription.
  • Then pitch an exclusive incentive to encourage them to come back on board.
  • Last chance email, offer ends soon – to create urgency.
  • Final goodbye email. If no response ties up the relationship for now.

Those brands that follow these eight steps to increase subscriber retention will benefit from low subscriber churn while maximising recurring revenue and CLTV.

Katie Bloor

Head of Optimisation, Daydot