Simply operating a subscription service isn’t convenient enough anymore. Consumers not only expect their subscriptions to save them time, but also to require little upkeep on their part.
While struggling to fight back against more personable brands such as Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, Gillette is seeking every advantage. Perhaps that’s why the company recently introduced text ordering for its Gillette On Demand service, enabling members to text “BLADES” when they’re ready for a new shipment.
Unfortunately for Gillette, the service isn’t all it was cracked up to be. I tried it, and I still had to sign up with all my information, confirm a text message, approve future text messages and more. The experience was cumbersome and certainly didn’t feel worth it.
I understand that the company is trying a kind of hybrid subscription that allows "on-demand" ordering without regular planned shipments. While I applaud the company for trying something new — rebranding from "shave club" to "on-demand" along with a decent-sized media rollout — I don't think this hybrid model is much of an improvement.
Subscription service providers can steal customers from competitors by streamlining the ordering process, but to do so, they have to understand what subscribers truly want.
Subscribing to success
The subscription process is inherently easy. Sign up (often with a free or discounted trial offer), input some information and start receiving packages.
Most subscription services take pride in their ease of ordering. After initial setup, autopay and scheduled shipping keep the packages coming. The ones that do it the best, such as Stitch Fix, provide multiple options to consumers and make themselves accessible for questions.
Some companies don’t have it so easy, however. Recurring auto-shipment services require little interaction, but companies such as Gillette and Amazon Dash require more work. Gillette relies on the customer texting or going online to purchase if not enrolled in the subscription plan, and Dash requires a Prime subscription with physical buttons that customers must remember to press -- unless, of course, they use an Amazon Echo. Small tasks, true, but each extra step for consumers is a pain point companies should seek to remove.
In the future, subscription services could start making assumed deliveries, tracking subscriber habits and sending shipments when data suggests they need them. If done well, this capability would revolutionize ordering, but the power to predict long-term behavior patterns still has a ways to go.
How to make subscribing easier
Until Amazon and Google learn how to read our minds, we still have to set up our own orders. For subscription companies that need further guidance, these three strategies will help.
1. Streamline new sign-ups.
Starting the relationship with convenience is critical. Don’t provide too many options, and don’t make password requirements too difficult. The more steps you put between the customer and the final purchase, the fewer conversions you'll see.
Break up the introduction into smaller chunks, starting with collecting consumers' email addresses. Once you get those, you can at least market to the ones who fail to convert.
Ensure the first order is a speedy one by keeping preconfigured “hero boxes” ready to go. If you ship only once a month, by the time that date rolls around, new customers will have forgotten why they wanted to subscribe in the first place and cancel after the promotional period.
You don’t have to completely disregard customization to acquire subscribers. In fact, half the fun of signing up for Stitch Fix is filling out the lengthy questionnaire and creating a Stitch Fix Pinterest board. According to Julie Bornstein, the departing COO of Stitch Fix, the subscription service has "struck a chord with consumers because translating style inspiration is easier to do digitally, with the assistance of visuals, than it is in person with a stylist, through your own words."
Above all, just keep the focus on the customer while making the interaction fun and unobtrusive.
2. Facilitate repeat orders.
We don’t know yet whether text-order systems such as Gillette’s are the next step. Most products are more complex than razor blades, so a basic system won’t work for many industries.
No single solution fits all, but the best subscription services allow customers to customize their experiences. Winc, a wine subscription service previously known as Club W, succeeds by offering customers simple, changeable preferences on recurring shipments. Whether it's through account pages, on apps, through email or over the phone, people want the power to keep their subscriptions relevant to their evolving tastes.
Voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Home have already begun to make this process easier. As the technology becomes more common, more services will use these devices to place orders and change preferences.
The best way to ensure repeat orders is to automate renewals and follow an opt-out model. Keep the marketing flowing smoothly to remind customers of the value they’re getting, and roll out new preferences to keep them engaged with the brand and the service.
3. Be available outside your website.
People have questions, and the personal touch of a customer service rep can be the difference between a lifelong customer and a cancellation. Indeed, according to the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, nearly half of consumers said they've taken their business elsewhere after a bad customer service experience. Maintain phone and chat support to keep sales moving and to address questions and concerns quickly.
Customer service staffing costs can be prohibitive, so some companies turn to cheaper third-party and overseas solutions. Whatever route you choose, ensure the reps receive proper training on functionality and current promotions so they can provide actual value to customers. Otherwise, you’re just giving your customers someone to yell at before they cancel.
If you run a subscription business, don’t wait for competitors to persuade your customers to switch. Follow these strategies to eliminate unnecessary roadblocks and make your subscription invaluable.