The Basics of Subscriber Management

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This guide covers the basic system requirements for subscriber management within an agile, responsive relationship business management platform. While it starts with some obvious fundamentals, we get into a number of variables later in the guide. First let’s start with the primary components of a customer profile.

Your web storefront should allow a new customer to create an account and make an initial subscription purchase quickly and easily. Online forms are a huge pain point for today’s online consumer, and any improvement you can make in ease-of-use will pay dividends in your subscription base.

This is also an area where you should definitely consider A/B testing, which we’ll discuss in great detail later.

Basically your customer should be able to view the following information:

Account Profile: Typically a customer’s contact and billing information.

Payment Method: The payment method used for any recurring billing. For credit card details, only the last four digits and the expiration date should be displayed for security purposes.

Subscription Details: Information related to the products and services that a customer has purchased from you, along with their corresponding rate plans.

Invoices: A record of the invoices you’ve generated for that customer.

Payments and Adjustments: The history of payments that a customer has made and any billing adjustments you have made for the account.

Current Usage and Charges: A snapshot of the customer’s consumption of your services for the current billing period, as well as a calculation of how his upcoming bill current stands.

Your system should also allow customers to make changes to their accounts from your web self-service portal, thereby saving you from significant customer support costs.

Sleek, intuitive and Zappos-like self service functionality is now a given.

Common self-service updates that your system should support are:

  • Changing account user name and password.
  • Changing contact information for that account.
  • Updating the payment information for an account (e.g., adding a different credit card or changing a card’s expiration date).
  • Adding, removing, or updating products in a subscription.
  • Creating, suspending, or cancelling a subscription.

THE BASIC INTERNAL PROFILE

Your commerce system should be able to tell you a number of things about your customer after she engages in a subscription. Some key information that should be captured in a subscription includes:

Customer Name and ID: Identifying the customer who made the purchase.

 Initial Term: The duration for the subscription.

Start Date: The date that the subscription begins.

 Auto Renew: Whether the subscription should automatically renew at the end of the term.

 Renewal Term: the duration for a subscription renewal.

Products Purchased: the products that comprise the subscription.

Product Pricing: the amount to be charged for each product purchased, which can include one-time fees, recurring fees, and usage-based fees.

Billing Interval: the interval (e.g., monthly, quarterly, etc.) over which recurring charges are billed.

Ideally all of this information will later be provided to your customer in a clean, concise invoice!

Invoices are frequently overlooked points of contact. They should be transparent as possible, in order for your customer to identify appealing new upsell opportunities or weigh the cost of downsizing versus canceling altogether.

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GROWING YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Creating Multiple Subscriptions

As your business grows, you may want to offer an additional product line to your existing customers. It is important that your commerce system allows you to create multiple subscriptions for an account so you can, for example, allow your customers to try out the new offering without impacting their existing service. In most cases you want a single subscriber account but the flexibility to add an array of services and products to that account.

Adding Products to Subscriptions

In the hope that you up-sell more products or services to a customer later, your system should support the addition of those items to an existing customer subscription. This can apply to an array of services including additional retail products, storage capacity, usage rates, etc. Again, flexibility is key.

Removing Products

If a customer decides to downgrade from what she originally purchased (e.g., remove a promotional product after its “teaser rate” has expired), your system should support the removal of specific products from that customer’s subscription. It is much better to down-sell a customer than to lose them completely.

Updating Products

Your system should allow you to make changes to a product within a subscription if you wish to alter the price charged to the customer for that product. This is simply a matter of functionality, and a completely different issue from notifying your customer in a timely & informative way about those future price changes!

Changing Terms & Conditions

In some cases, your system may need to support the ability to change the terms and conditions outlined in a customer’s original contract. This is frequently optimal for both parties. For example, rather than issuing a refund to a customer, you may both agree to simply provide that customer with a credit extending the length of her contract by three months.

Suspending

Customers may want to suspend subscriptions to certain content or services when going on vacation or for other personal reasons. Newspapers deliveries are the most common example, but the concept is spreading to an array of services and products, including retail subscription boxes. Your commerce system should permit a customer to suspend his subscription to your service for a certain period of time.

Cancelling

 Your system must allow customers to simply and easily cancel subscriptions to services that are no longer needed. For example, a customer may cancel her trial subscription at the end of the free promotional period, without converting into a paying customer. And since a customer can have more than one subscription, your system must allow a customer to cancel one subscription while keeping others active.

 

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ADDITIONAL CUSTOMER ACCOUNT DETAILS

The golden rule of customer account management is that when creating a new customer account, your system should only collect information you absolutely need.

This pays dividends in a variety of ways: it keeps processes short, minimizes redundancy, and mitigates customer abandonment. Information typically required will be: name, password, key contact and billing information, and payment information. That’s it.

You probably don’t remember setting up your Amazon or Apple ID, but they don’t ask for anything more than that. Prompting people for needless information about their professions or job titles can really harm your onboarding numbers.

If you’re offering a free trial period, you’ll need to decide whether your system will collect credit card information prior to starting the free trial. Prior collection of credit card information will likely lower your free trial customer acquisition rate, but increase your conversion rate from free to paying customers downstream.

Another important rule of thumb – you can always A/B test. Testing both approaches is a good way to measure which approach works best for your business, and so your system should accommodate such experimentation.

In addition to the information entered during account creation, your system should also likely allow for the editing of the following customer account details:

Locale: Information about the customer’s time zone and date format preferences.

Currency: The currency that is used to charge the customer.

Tax Exemption: The customer’s tax exemption status (typically not editable directly by a customer).

Payment Terms: You may want flexibility to offer both net 15 or net 30 terms (typically not editable directly by a customer).

Payment Methods: Your system should ideally support entry of multiple payment methods, in addition to selection of one default payment method.

Additional Contacts: For example, you may want to store different “bill to” and “sold to” contacts for a particular customer.

CANCELLING ACCOUNTS

Finally, your system will need to support cancellation of customer accounts. As we’ve learned from the recent Comcast customer service call debacle, this should not be an onerous process.

Customers should be able to cancel accounts in a self-service manner, but it’s also important to keep in mind that your support representatives should also be able to cancel accounts either at a customer’s request or for other business reasons such as non-payment or fraudulent use.

Delving deeper, here are additional things your system must support during account cancellation, largely to minimize revenue risk. These issues may sound obvious, but they’re responsible for millions of dollars in leaked earnings every year:

  • Before canceling an account, your system should cancel all of the customer’s subscriptions and verify that all due invoices have been paid or adjusted.
  • The system should prohibit further subscriptions from being added to a canceled account.
  • The system must ensure that any remaining usage prior to account cancellation gets billed to the customer in the next billing cycle.
  • Optionally, you may consider having your system cancel all of a customer’s subscriptions but keep the customer account active, so the customer can reengage without friction at a later date, with her existing account information still intact. Having to re-enter information for a previously subscribed service is a less than optimal way to re-engage a customer! The Financial Times, for example, keeps all their current and former subscribers’ information in Salesforce.

 

 

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