How to ruin a customer relationship with a great product

Building a good subscription service is hard, you need a good product to start with, good marketing and good logistics — not an easy mix to perfect. When a business does get it right, it makes me really sad to then see them ruin the customer relationship, virtually ensuring that you won’t ever come back, if you stop your subscription…

I’m a big craft beer fan. I like to try lots of new and different beers, particularly IPAs. When I saw Beer52's craft beer discovery club last year, I was all over it and signed up straight away: 8 new, different beers each month delivered to my door. Perfect. I don’t drink a lot at home, so 8 beers a month is just right. The delivery didn’t need me to be at home, another tick. The biggest tick of all — getting good quality beers that I’ve never heard of to try out. I really enjoyed the service (and the beer) for many months.

In September/October last year, I spent a lot of time travelling and with that came lots of eating out and drinking, so when I got back I decided to stop drinking for a while. Of course, not being at home also meant that I’d built up a stockpile of beers, so I decided to stop my subscription to Beer52.

This was where the trouble began.

After I procrastinated and another box of beer arrived, I logged on to the site and hunted around for the account settings so I could stop the subscription. The FAQs weren’t much help:

There was an option to “take a holiday” from the service, which was probably an appropriate thing to do, but I had decided to stop it totally, I could always start my subscription again. Why wouldn’t I?! It’s a great service that I really enjoyed.

Looking at the account settings, I couldn’t find an option to stop my subscription; only the holiday option. There was a not-very-obvious “read more” (or something similar) link next to the “take a holiday” dropdown, so I clicked that and got a popup box with some words from the founder telling me why he created beers52 and why he loves craft beer so much. At the bottom of the window, a nice big button “Keep my subscription” and some not-very-obvious link text saying “read more” or “more information”, I forget the exact words.

I clicked.

Another pop up box appeared with something else, clearly designed as a barrier to unsubscribing. Another “Keep my subscription” button and more less-obvious link text.

I clicked.

Another pop up, and so it went on, for 6 or 7 popups...

Finally, as if the process hadn’t disappointed me enough already, the final box was a simple “If you still want to stop your subscription, please call this number” CALL A NUMBER? WHAT? There is no logical reason that I need to call a number and speak to a person other than to face another barrier and suffer more attempts at keeping me as a customer.

I called and asked (calmly) to stop my subscription, I was told that I was going to be put through to another person to ask me a few questions. I quickly interrupted with “There’s no need to do that, the reason that I want stop the subscription is that I have stopped drinking”. No way out for them there, that’s all the information they need and any further questions could have led to an awkward conversation.

Subscription ended.

I was annoyed at this point, but having achieved what I wanted, I carried on with my life. I very rarely spend time bitching about things on twitter or anywhere else. I much prefer to use my time being positive and constructive.

I then received an email confirming the subscription cancellation:

It saddens me to see a good service ruined by an overzealous cancellation process, so as requested I decided to send some feedback:

It turns out they ask for feedback on an outbound-only mailbox! I got a permanent failed delivery notification as my reply. Nice work beer52.

Now, after taking the time to be constructive and polite, I was pretty pissed off. So I tweeted them:

(Notice how I had to ask them for an email address that would work)

I re-sent the email and you might not be surprised to know that this was the response I got:

Nothing. Nada. Not a thing.

Do you know what the funny thing is? The reason that I’ve written this post a while after this took place is that I’ve decided to start drinking again in February and that took my thoughts to Beer52. If it hadn’t been for this terrible experience, I would have signed up again.

This seems to be the case for others too:

In stark contrast to Beer52, Pact coffee email you before each shipment with enough time to order a different coffee, postpone the delivery or cancel your subscription entirely. I’m also a customer of Pact and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

The moral of the story is pretty clear, but just in case you missed it:

Treat all of your customers responsibly, even the outgoing ones.

Had I been able to leave beer52 easily, I probably would have come back and what’s more, I would have recommended the service to others. I also wouldn’t have written this post.

Follow up to the post (30th April 2015)

James from Beer52 emailed me (after they called to see if I wanted to resume my subscription!). It seems that they were previously investigating why they had so much churn and what might be causing it, (trying different way to help), some of which they quickly found out didn’t work. That’s pretty much textbook startup behaviour, so you can’t blame them for that really. Thankfully, their cancellation process is now fully online and takes a minute or so and they’ve improved their FAQs too. The full response is below:

Follow up (19th February 2018):

It seems that the above change to the process hasn’t stuck and beer52 have unlearned the above lesson and reverted to a call based cancellation process :(

Founder of @touchpaperorg, COO @thebotplatform, Co-founder of @3_beards, @Unicornhuntio, Member @RaspberryPi, former oil co CFO

Founder of @touchpaperorg, COO @thebotplatform, Co-founder of @3_beards, @Unicornhuntio, Member @RaspberryPi, former oil co CFO