How Nordic giant Schibsted ‘saves’ unsubscribers

Churn is a reality of all subscription businesses, as is the “saves” team charged with dissuading those with an intent to unsubscribe from doing so. For the last few months, Nordic media giant Schibsted has developed new tools and user journeys to prevent people from unsubscribing across its multiple newspaper titles in Norway. The tools make it easier for people to stop their subscriptions and highlight the different offers it has to try and reduce churn. So far the efforts are paying off.

When customers access the new “My subscription” page, which the publisher developed to give readers more information about their subscription, they are given the choice to “change subscription.” Here they can manage their subscription online by stopping, pausing or changing it to a different product. According to the publisher, the share of customers who don’t churn after they enter this change subscription flow has increased from 35% to 45%. Schibsted was unable to share specific numbers before publishing time. It previously told Digiday that it has a monthly churn rate in digital of 9%.

“The main objective is to keep customers from churning in a customer-friendly manner,” wrote Siri Holstad Johannessen, head of sales and marketing, Schibsted, in a co-authored piece with two other colleagues. “That is a tricky balance as customer satisfaction and business profitability don’t necessarily correlate.”

Some publishers go to extremes in their saves effort. Perhaps the most user-unfriendly tactic is requiring subscribers call in order to cancel, which then allows one-on-one wrangling.

Cxense, which develops paywall technology for publishers, said that churn rates between 20% and 30% are more common among publishers. Despite using industry averages to benchmark, churn can vary wildly depending on the sector, time scale and whether campaigns have been offered.

Once customers get to the unsubscribe stage, Schibsted doesn’t give them up easily.

First, those who click on “stop subscribe” are shown a message based on the publisher’s customer relationship management data telling them why they specifically should not churn. Readers are asked for feedback on why they chose to leave, and that data is passed on to customer service reps for future reference and training. Based on the reasons for leaving, readers are shown relevant offers to tempt them to stay. Those who do churn are contacted shortly afterward with a receipt from the editor-in-chief, complete with a “regret” button that will resume their subscription should they change their mind. The share of customers who do not end their subscriptions after entering the stop process has increased from 20% to 30%, according to the publisher.

“The fact that Schibsted is doing this tells us a lot about them,” said Thomas Baekdal, a Denmark-based media analyst. “They very clearly illustrate that they care about and respect their readers. This cultural element is so important for a publisher to have because it reflects on everything else, like poor user products and clickbait headlines.”

Offering more choices when unsubscribing is just one area the publisher has worked on recently. As a part of the project, it developed the “My subscription” page to showcase its different products and encourage people to stay. The page features information about the product, operational features like family sharing — those who share logins are less likely to churn — and where readers can stop, pause, and change the subscription. The page also shows 20 of the most relevant articles and the current most popular discounts for Schibsted events and products, all perks exclusive to subscribers.

According to the publisher, 27% of subscribers take an action other than changing their subscription at the new “My subscription” page.

“That is a huge number, but I am a bit skeptical,” said Baekdal. “There can be a lot of reasons why people go to that page.” For instance, he said, people could be using the page to check their subscription information — not actually planning to churn.

On the other hand, Norway is a media landscape with its own quirks and a higher-than-average propensity to pay for online news. Reuters Digital News Report found that around 35% of people in Norway made some form of payment to news in the last year, the highest of any market, contrasting the 18% of people in the U.S. that made some form of payment to news.

In general, the culture around newspapers in Norway is more positive than in other countries, leading Baekdal to caution that other markets would struggle to exactly replicate the same results.

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