McClatchy’s 3-pronged subscriber retention strategy lessons cancellations

By Phil Schroder

McClatchy

Sacramento, California, USA

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One of the biggest challenges for publishers is dealing with the subscriber who wants to cancel their subscription.

There can be many reasons why this happens. Perhaps price is an issue, they aren’t happy with the content, or they are having delivery or technical issues. In fact, a recent survey by the Nieman Lab found the top reasons for subscription cancelations were money, ideology or politics, and content.

Some of these things can be fixed while others are really just a part of what we do as media companies. It can be tough — and, quite frankly, nearly impossible — to please every single reader, so we have to do our best to write for the majority of them.

The Olympian, a McClatchy's newspaper in Washington state, has real-time data on active subscribers.
The Olympian, a McClatchy's newspaper in Washington state, has real-time data on active subscribers.

All that being said, at the end of the day, we still don’t want to lose these subscribers. So, what are our options?

At McClatchy, we employ a three-pronged approach to cancellation intervention and are even looking at more ideas now.

1. Capture the save at the time of the cancellation

Most of our cancellations still come in by phone calls to our call centre. We have worked diligently with our customer service teams and the representatives at our call centres to have the right resources when a subscriber calls in to cancel. When a subscriber asks to cancel, our representative first probes to see what is causing the subscriber to want to cancel. Many times, the reason is very specific. However, other times there can be multiple reasons for the cancellation. Then our representatives employ a variety of tactics based on the specific stop reason.

For instance, if the cancellation is based on price, they will offer a lower price based on what a customer may have been paying prior to an increase or based on a set of rate parameters that we have given them. Our goal is to keep the customer while also balancing revenue goals, so this can be a tricky process. We monitor rate changes with help from our business intelligence team and coach representatives as needed when they deviate too far off the goal.

If the cancellation reason is for content, the representatives remind the subscriber of the importance of local news and also focus on the extra content we offer each day in our electronic edition. For delivery service issues, we offer the subscriber a complimentary credit for a few weeks up to a month to give our operations team time to fix the delivery service.

Our programme has been fairly successful at our call centres. Over the past four years, we have moved from saving 30% to 35% of our subscribers to 65% to 70% when they call in to cancel.

2. Realise all subscribers do not call us to cancel

In fact, due to some of the newer credit card regulations and laws in certain states, we offer an online intervention module. This kind of module could become even more critical as more states and even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) move in favour of consumer protection, making it easier to cancel subscriptions.

With this list, The Olympian hits many of reasons subscribers may want to change their subscription status.
With this list, The Olympian hits many of reasons subscribers may want to change their subscription status.

We developed this module in partnership with a third-party software vendor, which also helps us with one-touch landing pages for retention, among other things. A customer can get here two ways:

  • They arrive here through a form on our Web sites when they indicate they want to cancel.
  • Customer service will give them a link if they e-mail to cancel.

When the subscriber reaches the module, they are offered a variety of choices as to why they want to cancel such as: can’t afford, no time to read, delivery service, and content. When they click on one of these choices, they are offered an option that corresponds specifically to that choice.

Subscribers get this page if they indicate money is the reason they want to end their subscription.
Subscribers get this page if they indicate money is the reason they want to end their subscription.

Subscribers identifying time as an issue are taken to this page.
Subscribers identifying time as an issue are taken to this page.

For can’t afford, the subscriber will see a discount on the current price that they are paying. For no time to read, we may offer to downgrade their frequency of home delivery or switch them to digital only.

Our results from this module have been mixed and vary week to week, but we have seen an average of 15% to 20% of subscribers take action not to cancel their subscription. We continue to iterate and test new offerings in the module as well to improve that KPI.

3. Keep working after the customer requests a stop through our call centre or the intervention module

We work with one of our retention tele-marketing teams to call these subscribers to convince them to stay with us as well.

Subscribers are able to cancel via this page.
Subscribers are able to cancel via this page.

The team calls any subscriber with a pending start date within the next two weeks. This ensures we are capturing that subscriber as close to the cancel date as possible as some subscribers will call well ahead of time to put a cancellation date in. The team works in a similar way to the call centre as far as tactics and scripts.

The key question we always try to end the call with is this: What can I do to keep you as a subscriber?

This programme also yields good results. We contact about 50% of the customers on our cancellation list at any given time and are able to get 20% to 25% of those subscribers to renew their subscriptions and not cancel.

So, what is next?

We are working now to employ more e-mail and SMS after the cancellation and sending these subscribers to our online module. We are also modifying the module to remove the cancellation from our CMS after it is successful in keeping the subscriber.

We are also looking at how we can leverage more engagement tactics to subscribers in the time from when they request the cancellation to when it actually takes place. The goal is that subscribers will remember why they subscribed in the first place and decide to continue their subscription.

About Phil Schroder

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