Listen to the audio version of this post here.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a Customer Experience expert.
I am a customer. Having an experience. And I’m not happy about it. Maybe you can relate?
My professional association informs me it’s time to renew my membership. I’m ready to re-up, even though they are increasing dues after a year that’s been devastating for people in our industry. Seems insensitive, but I’m sure they need the money.
Tell you the truth, I’m not sure the national association provides much benefit. I have to be a member though, to be part of the local chapter—and that is important to me.
So, here I am on their website ready to say “yes” for one more year. And I can’t. They’ve sneakily pre-checked the box for auto-renewal so it cannot be un-checked.
You know how auto-renewal works.
It’s famously used by sleazy political campaigns to suck people into bigger contributions than they intended to make. Especially older people who aren’t too savvy about the way things work online.
Not to mention questionable companies that advertise on Facebook. You see the comments from people who unwittingly find themselves in a permanent relationship with some seller of tchotchkes, miracle make-up, or (at last!) a cure for this or that.
I don’t trust it, I don’t like it, and I don’t want to plunk down my money in perpetuity.
So, I wrote to “Member Services,” asking for a way to renew my membership for one year. So far, I’ve received no service.
This is how so many organizations operate.
Try getting support from “Customer Support” at your cable company, online retailer, or insurance firm. Doesn’t it seem as if they go out of their way to put hurdles in your way? At best, they’re non-responsive.
This reply to my request for a one-year renewal is classic.
“Good day and I hope you’re doing well. All of our membership plans and subscriptions are set to automatically renew however we do send an email renewal notification 30 days prior to your renewal date so that you can let us know if you wanna make some changes to your account. Thank you and have a great day!”
Um, that did not make my day great.
And there’s been more correspondence since then.
Me, asking again for a way to renew without a permanent commitment.
Them: “All of our membership plans and subscriptions are set to automatically renew.”
Me, asking to connect with someone who can help me.
Them: “All of our membership plans and subscriptions are set to automatically renew.”
Me … well, you get the gist. I’m not even sure an actual human being is typing these responses. I may be going back and forth with a bot.
I am sure I’m frustrated, irritated, and ready to find another organization to join.
There’s a simple solution here.
Why not just give members the option to renew automatically or not?
I’m sure some people prefer the convenience of entering their credit card info once and knowing they don’t have to think about it again. It’ll all be taken care of next time around—no muss, no fuss. They’d check that auto-renew box in a heartbeat.
Others feel as I do: Reluctant to make a life-time commitment to a professional association. And we may be more reluctant than ever after the past year and a half. The pandemic upended our businesses, drove some people out of speaking altogether, and left most of us feeling our way forward.
If there were ever a time to allow for some flexibility, this is it!
I’m trying to look at things from their point of view.
And I do see some big advantages (for them) in the way they do business.
It’s easier to budget if they can predict revenue well ahead of time—automatic renewals help them do that.
Organizations often lose members when they raise fees. People are less likely to quit when they’ve committed in advance to renewing. They don’t stop to think about the value they’re getting in return, or whether the increased investment is worth it.
Some members will set-it-and-forget-it. They’ll drift away from the organization, or maybe they’ll retire, and they won’t take their wallet with them. It’s good for the group if the money keeps coming.
The downside is that this stuff makes members mad!
Yes, I could let go of this, pay the money, and enroll forever. I admit, I laughed at myself when I heard myself saying, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
When I used to hear that that from a talk-show caller, it was a cue they were going to launch a rant about some petty issue not worth the energy they were spending on it. You might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.
I’m curious about your experience as a customer, member, or user. Are you happy to go ahead and sign up for whatever now, and know you won’t have to deal with it again? Or do you resist those enrollment handcuffs?
And what about business owners? Do you prefer to lock people in to renewing your agreements with them? And do you run into pushback like “Member Services” is getting from me?
You can join me in the discussion with a comment here.
Is this a hill you want to climb? Always one of my first self-questions. Second, is list my order of contact, on paper. Customer service by phone, email, online chat, association manager, chair. Then follow the list. Improvise the contacts as you are provided new info. (Appears your association could use a bit of leadership adjustment.)
It does feel like climbing a hill, Bob. It seems so counterproductive for organizations to irritate their members/customers/users, and yet they do it on a regular basis.
I agree with you 1000%!
Wow, that’s a LOT of agreement, Kelly!
I agree. I never auto-renew. I’ll decide when the time comes. The same with magazine or other subscriptions. Two months after I renew they send a notice to renew again for the next year and save. Maybe I won’t be interested in that subject next year. And why should they use my money when I could use my money?
Oh, that early renewal thing is annoying too, Cindy. You’re right, a lot of organizations do that. They really want to keep us locked in! Like you, I want some flexibility.
I do use the auto-renewal for I-Pass and the city’s parking app. It’s way more convenient and the dollar amount is low. If I died tomorrow and the state or the city kept 30 of my dollars, no big deal. Annual membership in a professional association is a little different.
Hi Catherine, I can completely feel your frustration. I wonder if you have the option to cancel your membership after you renew? My usual way around this is to call a month after renewing and cancel the membership at the end of the current term. This is what I do with Sirius etc and I have never paid that “increased rate”. Alternatively, maybe you can cancel when you get the notification of renewal. Sometimes, just cancelling for a month, will get a significantly better price.
As an aside, Customer Service is a dying art. I will bend over backwards to make clients happy because they should feel good about how they chose to spend their money. I am always cognizant of the fact that they chose to use our services and can just as easily choose to leave us. I will continue to work every day to ensure that does not happen. I can only hope it rubs off on some of these businesses that do not live by that mantra.
You must make your clients very happy, Donna. You’re right about service being a dying art — people have come to expect terrible service and they’re delighted when it’s better than they anticipated.
Yes, I can always cancel my membership later. It just irks me to have to jump through extra hoops for their convenience.
I’ll give them this, though. At least they’re not addressing me as “Valued Member.” It always cracks me up when companies use that kind of language even as they make it clear they don’t value us at all!
Thanks for this post, Catherine. Wow, customer experience (CX). Your ears must be burning. In the last couple of weeks I have had conversations about CX and why aren’t we talking about it more? How many of us are at wits end because we can’t get a support person on the phone? Use chat. Leave us an email. Or we go to YouTube to find a real person’s video about how to fix a problem. Here’s what I’m finding talking to business leaders recently about CX. Bring it back to the forefront. Start planning for CX again. Customer retention, and the CX strategies you have (or don’t have) to drive a rock-solid retention rate is critical for success.
I believe what can drive success is a CX strategy that integrates the tech and the human component. Know when tech is appropriate, and when it’s not. To me, and to those I’ve talked with recently, it feels that the human component of CX has been lost. I’m in the tech world, but I can tell you it can’t always be ‘only tech’. Sometimes we want to talk to a person. Why are we making it so hard to do that to get service? We need to do the math to determine if the cost of the human component offsets the cost of losing a customer. Glad to see the topic re-emerging!
Your perspective is so valuable, Deb. I always assume we can’t talk to a person because the company doesn’t want to pay a person to have those conversations with us. Easier–and much cheaper–to make us enter something in an online form and wait for an AI reply. (I’ve been down this road dealing with internet outages so many times I’ve lost count. And it’s infuriating.)
I’m glad to see you’re talking to leaders about the costs of losing customers. They seem to rely on churn — some customers drop off and they pick up new ones. Seems like it would be much better for their bottom line if they could keep existing customers and attract new ones at the same time.
This is an excellent discussion. Recently, I couldn’t get any customer service from a particular company for two weeks. I finally resorted to publicly humiliating them by posting my complaint on their Facebook page, and they took care of everything within an hour.
My sister did customer service for a good company for several years and got another CS job when when she moved to a different city. She was frustrated daily because her new employer wouldn’t let her actually serve customers. Rather than listen to her, they moved her to a different department.
You’re not alone in turning to social media in an effort to get the actual service from Customer Service, Diane. Seems like when we become a big enough pain in the neck, we can get some satisfaction.
Your sister’s experience sums up why I work to remember that my grievance is with a company and not with the individual at the other end of the phone or an email. I know people in Customer Support or Member Experience or whatever are bound by their own rules. They didn’t wake up today wondering how to make my life miserable. And I try not to make theirs miserable either.
If an entity requires auto-renewal payment, then I drop them. No ands, ifs or buts about it. There is no organization that I am associated with that I can’t live without, and I’m willing to be inconvenienced rather than held hostage. Such thinking by their marketing/subscriber services department ahead of their customer base, a clear sign that they have lost their focus on what is truly critical for their long-term success.
Good for you, for taking a stand, John.
I finally did go ahead and renew my membership, despite feeling aggrieved. This episode has definitely changed the way I feel about the National Speakers Association.
As more & more companies go all automatic, all online, auto-renewal, & less service, with no options, I am less & less likely to use them. But I find that most people seem to have a “There isn’t another option, so I’ll just allow it” attirude. & I find that abhorrent. It’s a slippery slope. That allowing by so many forces the rest of us to choose no services, or to eat it too.
There are too many people willing to forfeit their own moral code for convenience.
Well, I’m not sure I’d call auto-renewal resistance a “moral code,” Aum. I can agree though that the more people accept mistreatment, the less incentive organizations have to improve their customer service. One challenge for us is the seeming universality of indifference to customers. You hear about people quitting Comcast, for instance, fed up with service outages. Then finding that satellite service isn’t much of an improvement.