Bad Subscriber Experience

A SaaS company must grow and in order to grow it must retain subscribers, so what causes subscribers to leave? One of the top causes for customer churn is product failure breaking the relationship a subscriber has with your business. The subscription model is predicated upon a fair exchange of value for money for a period of time. If you fail to deliver the expected value you break the trust of this subscriber relationship and it will lead to churn.

Unfortunately today consumers love outrage, which fuels social media and bad press. Just check your Facebook or Twitter feed – I bet you can’t go a single swipe before you read someone ranting about some bad experience.

With technology being such a large part of personal and working lives these frustrations are very often referencing outages, down-ages, bugs, crashes and problems. The sum of these issues creates your company’s reputation, which is critical in today’s market, but an even more immediate problem is they are a top cause for churn because they fail to meet the expectation of the customer.

Expectation – Reality = Disappointment. This simple math I have always subscribed to (pun intended) and should be the structure behind how you manage your subscriber relationships. If your system goes down, had a bug is dealing with an issue don’t wait for the backlash and let consumers leave – tell your subscribers what happened, what you are going to do about and make it right. The longer you wait the worse the outcome and the lower the probability you can win people back. I think none of the biggest problems in the subscription market is people (you know, real human beings) are treated like numbers. If you were in the subscribers shoes what would you want? How would you like to be communicated to? What would make it right in your minds?

In fairness to companies, the bar is higher than ever before so expectations are very difficult to meet but that is no excuse for not trying.


Here are 2 Failures and 1 Win that have just happened this quarter to illustrate

Comcast Fail – clearly these guys have many issues as they are arguable the worst subscriber experience on the planet. If you have ever had the displeasure of communicating with customer service you know what I mean. Here is a simple example – we lost our connection so I called customer service3 to find out what was wrong after running through the standard checks. Instead of putting a message up for inbound callers about an outage or sending a text notification or email regarding an outage you wait on hold for 10 minutes after entering all your account details to then have to regurgitate them all over again to have the representative tell you service will be down for 3-4 hours due to repairs. Why are you making we call in to tell me that? I pay for the service and expect it to be up – if that is not going to be the case tell me? If your customer service reps can see there is a repair why can’t you push that to the affected subscribers and avoid the calls?

Go To Meeting Fail – if you use Go to Meeting and a Mac you already know where I am going. My service has been down for 3 days so far this week… I can’t use the tool that I use daily to drive revenue because some bug in their most recent of 15 updates is broken and just crashes on every launch. Have I received an email about the issues – no! Have they posted any communication about when it will be fixed – no! Poor form – stay tuned for a stream of plugin changes and updates that will be half-baked and poorly QA’d soon.

Synthesis Win – recently the WordPress hosting platform has a security issue that required them to take some host servers down to remedy. They immediately sent an email explaining the situation, outline the issue, the plan and the impact it may have on subscribers. They apologized for the inconvenience while also explaining the importance of solving the issue and the reason for their immediate action and short notice.

The Point is to Keep Subscriber Trust not to be Perfect

Let’s be clear, every SaaS/Cloud/Hosting solution will have issues at one time or another. Every service will fail at one point or another. The key is not to try to be perfect which impossible, but it is about being transparent, professional and even thought there is an issue maintain that relationship and trust with your subscribers.

I have had the opportunity to work for some of the best SaaS companies on the planet and every single one has had some level of major issue/outage/downage at one time or another, but at every single company I saw the best practice of how to handle this executed which is what separates leaders from the pack.

I witnessed first hand the team at Zuora work 24 hours a day for almost 3 days solving an issue with the product, communicated with our clients in hourly updates – just incredible display. I worked at Responsys when our system had a downage during the black Friday-cyber Monday weekend which is a critical weekend for retailers. The leadership team across the board was reaching out to clients, they were passing updates on the issues constantly and the engineering team work tirelessly and swiftly to resolve the issue and allow customer to be able to continue executive campaigns. There is also another great story from a vendor I use Squarespace where due to flooding from Hurricane Sandy they had a bucket brigade bringing diesel fuel up 17 floors to a rooftop generator to keep their system up. They did this for 54 hours and the site never went down! Read the incredible story here.

The 3 tips to improve Subscriber Experience

  • QA – QA –QA – make sure the product works as described and you are fulfilling the service as described
  • Be Proactive – if anything goes wrong and it will – communicate early and often to keep subscribers informed
  • Be Transparent & Real – the worst thing you can do is break subscriber’s trust. If there really is an issue own up to it and do the right thing. Treat subscribers like the people they are – you will be surprised how loyal and forgiving someone can be if they are treated with respect and given the opportunity to interact.