Boosting Your Membership Retention: The Value of Returning Members

SIBP-3When you have a membership or subscription-based business, one of the most valuable sources for information you will ever have are those people who tried your service, but didn’t renew. There was a failure of alignment between what they needed or were looking for, and what your business provided. It’s not always possible to connect with those folks, but there is a subgroup within those canceled memberships that can provide an even better level of insight: Returning subscribers.

Those are people who were once members, later dropped their membership, and then ultimately returned. Not only can they shed light on what’s not working with your product or service, but they can give you great feedback about how to retain more of your subscribers in the first place.

If my company was faced with a higher-than average drop off of subscribers, one of the first things I would do is get on the phone to talk to members who left and came back. I would pump them for information, asking them to share their customer experiences, and getting as much detail as I could about both why they left and why they came back.

Not only does this feedback give great insight into what motivates a specific customer to subscribe, but it also provides much-needed clues about how to bring those lapsed subscribers back. Their individual decisions to leave may have had nothing to do with your product — it could be that something entirely personal or financial took priority, and they just didn’t have the time or money to keep up their membership — but their reasons for returning are always about the value your product or service brings to their life.

It’s also possible to get great feedback from members who left and didn’t renew, although these folks can be a little trickier to get in touch with. Subscribers who lapse and return are also easy to identify, making them that much easier to reach out to. You have a built-in reason to talk to them.

One of the most valuable things you can learn is when your subscribers need that little extra bit of support to maintain their membership. If a member left during a time in your yearly cycle when many customers tend to drop their subscriptions, for instance, they can give you great feedback about the kinds of incentives that would have encouraged them to stay.

When you do connect with a returning subscriber, it’s important to ask very specific questions. Some good examples are:

  • Why did you leave?
  • Were you getting the level of value you expected from us?
  • Did you think our subscription was priced fairly?
  • Did we deliver the level of service we promised?
  • Was there anything we could have done to keep you subscribed?
  • Why did you decide to come back?
  • What can we do to make sure you stick around?

Just like other elements of your marketing and customer communications, it’s worth coming up with a few different variations on each of these questions. This simple version of A/B testing can help you really hone in on the questions that give you the most useful responses. At the same time, you can also try a few approaches to asking for feedback, from online surveys and email questionnaires to one-on-one phone conversations.

The end result will be a much better understanding of what works, and what doesn’t, in your business’s membership model. One excellent way to take advantage of this information is to create member personas and avatars, which I’ll cover in depth in a future post.