Let Sherlock Holmes dive into your subscription business. He will likely come up with some surprises

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By Morten Suhr Hansen

Running a successful subscription business revolves around creating happy and engaged subscribers. Subscribers who willingly recommend your subscription to others and continue their subscription month after month. In more business-oriented terms, running a successful subscription business means reducing churn and increasing the lifetime and lifetime value (CLV) of your subscribers.

Do you agree? If not, then you probably don’t work with subscriptions in your daily life. Because naturally, this is precisely what makes a successful business. All subscription professionals agree on this. But how well is your subscription business equipped to create engagement and long-lasting subscriptions?

’Mystery Shopping’ can provide valuable insights

It can often be difficult to answer how it feels to be a subscriber in your own business. And it’s also not always easy to extract that knowledge from your subscribers. So how do you actually get the right insights to both evaluate and further develop the user experience among your subscribers?

One answer could be ‘mystery shopping’. A structured process where external subscription experts go through the entire subscriber journey from A-Z and compare it with either your direct competitors or the best in the subscription genre. In other words, let ‘Sherlock Holmes’ explore your business and come back with insights and suggestions on how to create an even more engaging and retaining subscriber journey.

When we at Subscrybe take on this role and embark on a ‘mystery shopping’ mission, it is important for us to test all parts of the subscriber journey to form a complete picture of the improvement potential.

Therefore, we evaluate the entire subscriber journey through different stages: Signup – onboarding – adoption – retention – expansion – save – win-back. Each of the seven stages is evaluated on six different parameters to ensure we cover all aspects.

Does that sound complicated? It actually is, but there is a a logic behind it! Let me elaborate.

The Athletic succeeds in creating habits through a well-composed subscriber journey

The first step in the process, signup, naturally involves securing the highest possible uptake. This step is common to all types of businesses.

But from there, it’s about building engagement and loyalty to ensure that subscribers are happy with their subscription product and stay as long as possible. Not because we want to bind them, but because we succeed in creating genuine loyalty. This is where a subscription business is different from other businesses. The real efforts begin after the first sale is made.

So, when we evaluate the subscriber journey, it is with a specific focus on how the business manages to engage the subscriber and increase usage. Perhaps even create habits, so that the subscriber experiences increasing value from the subscription over time.

What could be an example of this? We often talk about Spotify as the gold standard for a subscription business’s ability to create engagement and habits. But perhaps that’s a bit too well-known of an example. Instead, I encourage you to try subscribing to The Athletic. Especially if you are interested in sports, but otherwise if you want to experience an example of a very well-composed subscriber journey with a particular focus on onboarding and adoption, and with personalization that really drives engagement and habits.

It would take too long to go into many details, but at The Athletic, the entire subscriber journey starts with you defining your own sports interests: Which sports, which leagues, and which clubs you are particularly interested in following? From there, you are continuously provided with relevant content across text and audio. The experience is that The Athletic gets to know you better day by day. Yes, I’m a fan! But do try it for yourself and then think about how it can inspire your own subscription business.

Your customers’ expectations are growing

As mentioned, we spend a lot of time conducting ‘mystery shopping’ across many different subscription businesses. What picture does that paint? It probably paints a picture that most subscription businesses still have a long way to go. That many miss out on obvious opportunities or have become blind to where the market and customers have moved. Often, businesses compare themselves with others in their own industry. But customers don’t do that. They increasingly compare across their subscriptions. Their expectations are growing thanks to companies like Spotify and The Athletic. The question is, is your subscription business growing with them?