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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

A MasterClass in Retention

Last year I signed up for a MasterClass subscription.

I loved the idea of learning from the world's greatest experts on a variety of subjects. Leadership lessons from Disney's Bob Iger! Entrepreneurship from Spanx-creator (and subsequent billionaire) Sara Blakely! Chess from Grandmaster (and six-time world champion) Garry Kasparov! The list of celebrity teachers and lessons to be learned was truly impressive.

But in the past year, I found I didn't use the online learning platform as much as I thought I would; I simply didn't have any time during the workday and found that in the evenings (before bed) it was better for me to watch content that was less mentally stimulating.

A MasterClass subscription costs $20 USD per month (upfront, as a single $240 USD annual payment), and that's far beyond my "throwaway price": it's a spend I couldn't justify without knowing I'd use the service far more than I had over the past year.

So I decided not to renew my subscription when it was scheduled to end in early April...

... and received one last MasterClass lesson on "retaining users".

Here's what happened, and what marketers can learn from the process.

1. I visited my account page and searched for the "cancel" button.

It might be fairly visible in the photo below, but it was not easy to find.

Perhaps making it more difficult to cancel a subscription isn't the most customer-friendly way to go about things, but it's a good way to maintain inertia for someone undecided about the value of their subscription.

2. I clicked the cancel button and this page appeared...

Wait... WAS I sure I wanted to cancel? Talk about making me second-guess my decision: I thought a cancellation was definitely what I wanted, but this screen was really effective in making me stop and think about it again.

Two subtle, clever tricks are being used on this screen.

First, note the wording used after the "Are you Sure?" question in big, bold text. It says, "You still have 32 days left on your Annual Membership. We can remind you 30 days before your subscription renews." Why include this line, and offer? To intentionally make me believe that if I cancelled my subscription at that point, I'd lose the 32 days of access I had remaining in my existing subscription... and why would I want that? It's another smart way to have a subscriber second-guess -- or at least delay -- their decision to cancel. Did I proceed with the cancellation? I did, mostly because I realized a) I was actually within the 30-day window and feared I wouldn't get the reminder email, and b) I was cancelling because I didn't get enough use out of the service... so not cancelling in case I found time for a sudden sprint of massive online learning was unlikely. But still, I hovered over the "Continue to Cancel" button for longer than I care to admit.

And second, North Americans read from left to right and from top to bottom. Note that the "natural" button to choose in this visual flow is the "Remind Me Later" button immediately below the paragraph, NOT the "Continue to Cancel" button found at the top-right of the page. To the credit of MasterClass, they did put the cancel button in a prominent red... the more devious thing to have done would have been to put the reminder button in the highly-visible red and use a black/grey colour scheme for the "Continue to Cancel".

3. I clicked "Continue to Cancel", and this page appeared...

Arghhh! One of the courses I had been most excited about taking when I signed up for MasterClass was Chris Voss' "Negotiation" class, but I didn't end up watching any of it.

This page not only invited me to watch (or rewatch) some lessons.... it also served to remind me of all the great classes available to me should I change my mind and decide to renew my subscription.

No! I... must... be... strong... and... cancel...

4. I clicked "Continue to Cancel", and this page appeared...

I did actually know that every class included a workbook... I just hadn't actually downloaded any over the past year. Now I'm certainly not suggesting that this page prompted me to go and spend 49 minutes downloading all of the PDF Workbooks available on the MasterClass website, but... okay, that's exactly what happened.

This screen was an additional reminder as to the benefits of having a MasterClass subscription and managed to delay my cancellation for a while longer.

But as soon as I finished with my downloading...

5. I clicked "Continue to Cancel", and this page appeared...


This was one, final, fear-based appeal to my brain: are you SURE you want to LOSE ALL this?

The text below the "Are you sure" warning on this screen is much more clear about what was going to happen if I proceeded with my cancellation than it was in Step 2, though: I wouldn't immediately lose access to everything, and had until my subscription actually expired on April 3rd to use the service.

But note that the "Confirm Cancel" was no longer in a bright red... the button I need to click to cancel my renewal is now black and white, just like the "Keep Subscription" button. And remember, in North America, we read from left to right... and you can be absolutely certain the order of those two decision-buttons isn't a coincidence.

6. I clicked "Confirm Cancel", and this page appeared...

MasterClass had finally accepted my resolve to not renew my subscription...

... but they weren't done with me yet.

Clearly, MasterClass understands that any time you can ask your soon-to-be-former customers why they've chosen to leave you, you should absolutely do it.

They presented me with a simple radio-button survey with (presumably) the most common reasons that people choose not to unsubscribe.

I answered honestly...

7. I clicked "Too expensive for how much I use it", and the screen changed...

As soon as I clicked the radio-button, a text-input box appeared; MasterClass wanted to know what they could change for me to reconsider my cancellation.

Hmmm... perhaps they hadn't accepted my resolved after all!

Again, I answered honestly...

8. I entered my response in the textbox...

In case you can't see the image above clearly, here's what I wrote:

"I actually LOVE the idea of MasterClass, but for me to justify keeping this service, I would need a significantly lower monthly cost more in-line (sic) with my Netflix or Disney+ subscriptions (which my family and I use a lot more). Also, you charge in USD, and I'm Canadian... making your service that much more expensive due to FX. :( "

I'm a marketer, and I thought I knew what I was going to see next: an incentive offer to renew my subscription, especially since I had specifically (and intentionally) noted that I liked the service but thought it was too expensive.


9. I clicked the "Send Feedback" button...

... and my cancellation odyssey was finally complete.

I had successfully cancelled my auto-renewal, although it involved nine steps and MasterClass tried to change my mind at almost every point in the process.

They were almost successful in doing so.

And should they send me a "We miss you" or a Let's get back to learning" email in the next few weeks with an offer to resubscribe at a discounted rate, they might still be.


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