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.