Sean Donahue

Make Your Subscription Cancellation Policy Transparent

Some of the most interesting moments during any MarketingSherpa Summit come when audience members begin debating an issue among themselves or with a speaker. This year’s Selling Online Subscriptions Summit was no different. Debate flared early on the first day over the best way to handle subscription cancellations.

John Boris, VP Marketing, Zagat.com, revealed during a panel discussion that his company had adopted the controversial technique of requiring subscribers to call a phone representative to cancel their account. Reaction from the audience was uniformly negative, with at least one audience member saying he thought only AOL still forced people to call to cancel.

Actually, the practice isn’t as uncommon as that attendee believes. Last year, we conducted a study in which we registered for 50 free trials offered by a range of B-to-B or consumer subscription sites. When it came time to cancel, 17% of those sites required a phone call.

But the audience’s disapproval of the tactic is understandable — making your subscribers pick up the phone to cancel their account is an extra step in a process that, ideally, would take place entirely online. More important than the method of cancellation, though, is how clearly you communicate to subscribers what they need to do if they want out.

Boris noted that Zagat.com has prominently placed the cancellation policy and 800 number on the site so, at least, subscribers know what they need to do. That’s smart. Whatever channel you’re using, be as transparent as possible about your cancellation procedures — because if you think making a phone call is annoying, just think how annoyed your subscribers get when they search and search and search but still can’t figure out how to cancel their account.

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