Across the Board

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Subscription Cancellation

The title sends shivers down your spine, doesn’t it?

If you are an internet merchant, that is.

Or if you are a client that had to go through a very nasty unsubscribing process, the one with perpetual phone calls, forms to fill out, iris scans and DNA samples involved… These kinds of things.

Brace yourselves, today we’ll see to the matter of resigning from subscriptions, the least desirable of all clients’ actions a SaaS business owner (or any entrepreneur really) can possibly imagine.

If You Are an Unsubscribing Client

Unsubscribing means, in short, that you inform the seller that you resign from using their product and they should cancel your membership or service.

Every seller has to provide you with an option to cancel.

Depending on the service you are subscribed to, the operation may proceed fast, or require some additional actions. And so, the cancellation of service may be instant (one click on the cancel option and you are free to go – the effect is immediate) or more complicated (you have to contact the merchant and request the cancellation.)

In cases where the unsubscribing works instantly, you sometimes get a prompt to leave a feedback by filling out a short survey. (Questions circulate around two main topics: why you are leaving and whether you would still use the service if some improvement were made.)

If you stumbled upon a service that requires another way of resigning from the subscription, they probably want you to call them, fill out a longer form, send them an email etc. The procedure is usually detailed in the Terms of Service section of the service’s page.

If You Are a Merchant

Now let’s take a sneak peek on what’s hidden underneath the process a customer has to go through.

On the merchant’s side – managing resignations depends on the implemented type of subscription service.

If the subscription model is based on subscription plans, you’ll need to inform the external tool you use (Chargify, Recurly etc.) about the change. Most often it’s just a matter of clicking a button in the interface of the aforementioned tool.

If the whole subscription flow depends on direct integration with your payment service provider (PSP), then all you’ll have to do will be to stop sending further requests to collect money. When you stop sending the PSP charge requests – everything’s taken care of. There’s nothing more that needs to be done.

Time to wave goodbye to the client.

The situation brings out some questions. Should a merchant care? How much should they care? Should they try to stop the customer by all means available to them, or just, you know, deal with it and move on?


Love Your Clients? Set Them Free!

Do you want to be treasured by your past, current and future subscribers? Do not make it hard to resign from your service. If you ask for feedback, do it in a non-intrusive way.

Respect your customers’ time.

Easy as that.

They say a requirement of a cancellation by phone is a good way to prevent some resignations, because people don’t like to call and admit to another person that they are resigning from something.

They say a lot of stuff on the Internet.

Some psychological tricks work, some tend to backfire. There are lots of them flying around and they often contradict each other. Some say: make it harder to resign; some say: make it as easy as possible. When you allow cancellation from within the app, people feel in control. It’s great! You can be sure of success if you do it!

There is no general solution that’ll always work. Only one thing is certain here.

Customers leave when they don’t achieve their desired outcome through tools you offer them and through interacting with your company. If you meet your customers’ expectations, they do not churn.

If you have a plan that will meet your clients’ expectations once more – set it in motion! Remember to make it easy for the client to un-cancel and re-engage, e.g. offer them the possibility to store their data for some time, or even to hibernate their account for a few months for free.

You can try to win them back.

Be Careful with the Gifts You Offer

You can be sure that if it’s only a plain discount you are offering, the cancelling subscriber will be gone again as soon as the time for the special offer ends.

Rather than giving a discount that’ll change nothing in their overall situation, maybe offer them additional educational resources or free, enhanced support, a change to plan with other set of options etc.?

Help them get back on their track with your service.

Though an unsubscribing customer is usually equaled by marketers with a churning one, there are ways to engage with them again. You have to act fast, preferably during time that’s left from the moment they cancel to the moment their subscription ends.

You also should know precisely what you are doing and why.

The client that cancels becomes a “former customer” and needs to make another buying decision to come back to you.

Remember not to take things too far and respect your client’s trust and time. If your subscription cancellation model becomes manipulative, people will get really angry.

Probably they’ll vent their frustration online.

“Unsubscribed” Doesn’t Have to Mean “Churned”

Some time ago it became visible that clients unsubscribing from various SaaS services cannot be treated as lost cases, piled along with churned former subscribers.

There’s always a window of opportunity: the remaining time of the subscription, after the cancellation takes place.

Customers using annual plans usually cancel a few weeks before the end of subscription and keep the access to the panel for the time that’s left. Many marketers started to use this crucial time for special offers, downgrades, presenting different sets of functions, enhanced support etc.

It’s easier to get through to a person that is still logging into your service than to one that has no longer access to the panel, and therefore needs to be acquired once more.

Merchants are aware of the fact and often have strategy in place even for a case where the existing subscriber suddenly downloads all their data, turns off the auto-renew subscription option, displays information about cancelling or even hovers too long over the button “unsubscribe” in the SaaS system. In short: when they show a cancel intent by performing activities flagged as typical for pre-cancelling process for a particular SaaS product.

In some ways acquiring the same person twice is very hard, because you need to convince them that staying will help them achieve their goals, but in some ways you have a big advantage over the competition – the client knows your interface, knows how the system works.

It’s good to build on that head start.

If you have your own thoughts on the matter, or this article rings a bell and reminds you of your own experience with cancelling a service, tell us your story in the comments!


Experienced executive, people-oriented leader, doer, entrepreneur. CEO at PayLane. Business educator on Also on Twitter.

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