A Guy Walks into a Fast-Food Joint…
Sometime in the early 1990’s I walked into a fast-food restaurant (Taco Bell) to see an ordering kiosk. This is long before we saw these kinds of touchscreens in fast-food chains (Taco Bell, McDonalds, etc.) in the last five years. It was a test back then. But it was all wrong.
When you walked in, you saw the big screen and you could pick what you wanted to eat. But then, after making your order, you had to still go to the cashier station and review the entire order. Only then could you pay – again with the cashier standing there.
What was the point of these kiosks if they didn’t really make things easier or faster?
The World Has Changed in 30 Years
The other day I walked into one of the 6,500+ Taco Bell restaurants that have these kiosks in place and it’s no surprise that they’ve solved all their previous issues. The world today is different than it was 30 years ago, and Taco Bell and McDonalds know it.
They have created solutions that let me spend time looking at menu items, including being recommended new products, without forcing me to make a quick decision. But my son, who loves Taco Bell, needs no time and he loves how fast he can place his order.
“By extending our digital capabilities in our restaurants, customers are able to take time to explore the menu and customize their meals, while team members are able to focus on making craveable food, providing great customer service, and keeping our restaurants in tip-top shape.”
Rafik Hanna, Senior Director, Taco Bell
The Name of the Game is Self-Service
Think about how you order a taxi, buy airline tickets, or even check into a hotel today. There’s one dynamic that permeates these experiences. It’s self-service. And it’s the name of the game.
Of course, all of this was accelerated in the global pandemic. Self-service became mission-critical so that we could limit interaction with each other. But this is a dynamic that’s been changing over the last decade.
There was a point, not that long ago, where I needed to talk to a person on the phone to buy hosting services for a website. There was a point, not that long ago, where I needed to talk to a person to create a merchant account to collect online payments. There was a point, not that long ago, where I needed to talk to a person to buy media placement for ad campaigns.
Today I can buy a domain, hosting, spin up an eCommerce site with WooCommerce, create a Stripe account, and set up a Facebook ad campaign – all at 2 am in the morning without talking to a single individual.
As companies embrace self-service, they give their customers the ability to move faster than ever before, work in more places than ever before, and work at any time of the day.
What’s Really Changed Over the Years
Rafik Hanna is senior director of Taco Bell's digital initiatives called All Access. His goal has been simple, as he coordinates all the different partnerships and efforts to embrace technology. His goal is the same as every merchant out there – to remove all friction for customers.
In order to do that, he’s had to help the entire company shift their thinking. It’s the same shift we all need to make. “Yesterday the restaurant was the center of the universe. Today the consumer is at the center.”
The same is true for online merchants and everyone offering online subscriptions. Our online stores, our products, and our subscriptions aren’t at the center of the universe any longer. Instead, the customer is at the center.
That’s why self-service is so critical. Because if we don’t put the customer at the center, they’ll simply leave and go somewhere where they’re treated right.
In ProfitWell’s 2020 article on the subscription economy, discussing the Zuora Subscription Economy Index, they visualize this dynamic more clearly than anyone else.
The Subscription Economy’s Weakest Link
The biggest problem with the subscription economy has always been the same – churn. Churn is the attrition rate when customers stop doing business with you. The upside of recurring revenue is that today’s new customer revenue stacks on top of last month’s new customer revenue. If you do it right, every month starts out better than the previous month. But churn is what makes things more complicated.
You can’t simply get excited about the new money walking in the front door. You also must pay attention to how much money is walking out the back door.
Zuora is the technology industry leader in subscriptions. They’re the folks who publish the Subscription Economy Index, mentioned above. They also power the subscriptions of companies you know: Zoom, Surf Air, GoPro, DocuSign, StackPath, MindBody, and SendGrid.
As they’ve tracked churn, we’ve seen some recent positive shifts. In 2019 they reported subscription churn at 6.5%. In 2020, they saw it come down to 6.3% and in 2021 it was down to 5.4%.
What’s the reason for this lowering of churn? In their words (from the 2022 Subscription Economy Index), “While many factors are likely driving the lower churn rate, greater emphasis on improving customer journeys and service levels often contributes to retention improvements” (emphasis my own).
The most critical part of improving a customer journey / experience? Self Service.
Three Ways an Investment in Self-Service Can Pay Off
If you’re running a subscription business and you haven’t focused on self-service, you’re likely missing out on the upsides of investing in it immediately.
Reduce staff costs and streamline operations
When you look at what your team is doing, and where they spend their time, you’ll likely discover that a lot of time is spent servicing and supporting subscription dynamics. Every time a customer wants to change a card, a billing address, pause or turn a subscription back on – every one of those interactions takes up the time of your staff.
As you grow, you’ll find that you’re either investing in self-service or you’re hiring more support staff. One of those investments is a one-time investment. The other is recurring. The math is clear – self-service pays off quickly.
Additionally, and we never like to talk about this, an investment in self-service also has a nice ancillary benefit of reducing the error rate. We don’t like to admit it but sometimes our own team can be the biggest source of our own issues. Mistakes happen. But when those mistakes impact customers and their billing, things can escalate quickly. Giving the power and the utility to customers to manage their own billing can dramatically streamline your processes and lower your error rate.
Increase profits while improving the customer experience
One of the most interesting dynamics seen across subscription services is the way customers purchase add-ons while managing their subscriptions. It’s not a normal “checkout.”
Instead, while customers are managing their account, they can be presented with optional services that can be added to their subscriptions. A simple button click adds it without a cart / checkout experience. This one-touch offerings often drive up to 20-30% additional revenue.
Best of all, since there’s no cost of sale, these are some of the most profitable purchases a customer makes.
Regularly delight your customers
Tara Lajumoke is the Managing Director of FT Strategies. She knows the value of experimentation and the correlation of those experiments with ways to delight customers.
“Building a successful subscription model and excellent digital product takes time, and there is no silver bullet. That’s why it is vitally important to build a culture of continual optimization through the design and execution of experiments.
One digital travel platform, an independently awarded leader in experimentation, runs more than 1,000 rigorous tests simultaneously and more than 25,000 per year. By leading with experimentation, the platform can make dozens of iterative improvements without much risk or overhead.”
Companies that not only focus on the customer experience, and every touchpoint in the delivery of their services, but consistently evaluate the data from new experiments will quickly find what does and doesn’t work.
Customer delight comes with an element of surprise. Today it’s not hard to be delighted by the simplest of customer self-service options because so many laggards have yet to make it easy for people to take care of themselves.
Bringing Self-Service to WooCommerce Subscriptions
Today, the most used eCommerce platform (by builtwith) is WooCommerce. And the most well-known WooCommerce extension, and most popular for recurring payments, is WooCommerce Subscriptions.
Both the platform and the extension offer an incredible value to merchants who are looking for subscription options for their customers. But neither has been focused on customer self-service. They’ve focused on features and options and a ton of great options for merchants.
Merchants who want to delight their customers will need to embrace six core features.
The Six Core Features of Subscription Self-Service
If the future will be focused on a customer-centric self-service, then these six core features will be table stakes across all subscription-oriented websites.
Change Product Variations
We belong to multiple subscription services for wine. But that doesn’t mean that we only want one kind of wine every month. The ability to change from one kind to another is critical to keep us coming back. Merchants who offer multiple product variations will want customers who weren’t happy with one variant to try another before quitting. This ability gives merchants the best chance of a long lifetime with each customer.
Change Product Quantities
Two of the most popular subscriptions are for toilet paper and pet food. The crazy thing about each of those subscriptions is that after a few months, customers often discover that they’re not consuming as much as they thought they would need (for either toilet paper or dog food). What do they want and need? An ability to change the quantity in their subscription. Additionally, forcing a customer to have to talk to support to make that kind of change is frustrating, which is why it’s a critical part of customer self-service.
A regular challenge when it comes to some subscriptions is the situation where a customer goes on vacation or is away for several weeks and doesn’t want or need the subscription to be active. Whether it’s grocery deliveries or massage services, every customer wants the ability to pause a subscription without hassle. Nevertheless, merchants will want the regularity of recurring revenue, and therefore will need to put some guardrails on the pause feature (it can only be paused for xx days, etc.). All of this will be key to subscription self-service.
Buy Once or Subscribe
We’ve all likely experienced the feature on Amazon where we’re given the opportunity to either make a single or a repeat purchase. This is often called “buy once or subscribe” and will be critical to delighting customers.
Customers who know they’ll need a “refill” appreciate the discount afforded to them as they make a longer-term commitment to their purchase. To do it right, merchants will want to offer immediate discounts as well as a regular discount on repeat purchase (as seen above).
Adjust Subscription Frequency
Much like the ability to change product quantities or pause a subscription, merchants will want to offer customers the ability to adjust the subscription frequency. Instead of every four weeks, a simple solution might be to offer a customer a delivery every 6 weeks. The ability to manage it directly for customers is perfect when they realize their consumption isn’t perfectly aligned with delivery schedules. Merchants like Butcher Box will appreciate that their customers don’t shrink their recurring order, but rather simply change the subscription frequency.
Mix & Match Subscription Boxes
The final feature of customer-centric subscription self-service is the ability to mix and match items in their subscriptions. Whether it’s a soap subscription, a sock subscription, or a meat subscription, customers who appreciate variety will embrace and be delighted by the ability to mix and match what goes into their regular subscription. In the case of some merchants, it will be mission critical as customers don’t want or need the same recurring delivery. Consider Scentbird – with more than 600 perfumes – who knows customers will not only appreciate a subscription service but want to try a variety of their scents.
WPRiders is Leading the Way
Long known as a leader in the WordPress space as an agency who builds both plugins and complete solutions (applications), WPRiders has spent the last few years working with merchants focused on leveraging subscriptions.
This has resulted in the creation of a new product, Subscription Force – the leading customer-centric self-service solution for WooCommerce Subscriptions.
Today it delivers on five of the six core features merchants will need as they embrace subscription self-service. The last one (mix and match) will be released shortly.
Once a merchant has WooCommerce and the WooCommerce Subscriptions extension installed, they simply need a copy of Subscription Force installed and activated and customers will benefit immediately.
This is a feature-rich solution that requires almost no configuration and no coding for merchants. It simply pushes these options to customers so they can help themselves:
- Add new products to an existing subscription
- Pause subscriptions until a specific date
- Switch product variations
- Subscribe and save
- Buy once or subscribe
- Change product quantities
- Change subscription frequency
- Delay next shipping (coming soon)
- Request a subscription cancellation reason (coming soon)
Merchants can, for less than $21/month ($249/year), make all of these features available to customers themselves – without requiring any phone calls, emails, or support tickets.
The subscription economy is the future. And customer-centric self-service is not only more profitable but it will be the key to the subscription economy’s success.
Given that, there’s no question that Subscription Force will lead the way in delivering those features for merchants using WooCommerce.