Soften the Blow: Turn Subscription Cancellations Into UX Improvement Opportunities

By Thomas DiNatale
April 5, 2022

We’ve all experienced the frustration of wanting to cancel a subscription only to encounter hidden buttons, illegible text, or worse, a phone number you must call to cancel. It’s a negative experience that annoys your customers and has zero upside for the business.

Seriously, no matter what you do, subscription cancellations will happen. It’s how subscription products and services work. Instead of subjecting people to a convoluted cancellation process, why not try to reverse their exit — or at least give them an easy way out?

When customers are one foot out the door, giving them a friendly cancellation flow can give them pause — or at least leave them with a positive last impression.

Even so, cancellations aren’t without value. There is so much to learn about your product when customers decide to leave. You’re missing out on opportunities to improve your product’s user experience if you’re not consistently gathering cancellation feedback.

Give your customers a sweet kiss goodbye, and learn something constructive along the way. Here’s how.

Before They Cancel Their Subscription, Show Customers What They’ll Be Missing

A cancel button devoid of friendly messaging and honest attempts at retention is a dull and impersonal experience. What would compel anyone to want to stay after a ho-hum send-off like that?

You still have a chance to salvage your customer’s subscription before they hit the cancel button. Start by emphasizing the benefits and perks they’ll miss out on before if they cancel. These benefits can frame the cancel button or be part of a multi-step cancel flow experience. 

To remind customers what benefits they’d lose, try these different types of messages:

Highlight Subscriber Benefits & Remind Them Why They Joined

Show your customers the unique value their subscription provides. By clearly articulating the benefits and advantages of the membership, the business can remind the customer of the value they are receiving and its positive impact on their life. It’s why they joined in the first place and perhaps why they remained loyal. 

You can reinforce the value proposition through personalized communication highlighting the benefits or features most valuable to the customer. Grapevine, a digital platform focused on collective giving, shows ‘Your Donation Impact’ and a link to view the nonprofits your group has supported. Additionally, they reinforce that features associated with your community connections are only available to group members.

This image shows the UI for the first step in the Grapevine cancel flow. The show the member the impact their donations have had and reminds them that community connections and features are only available to members.

The first step in the Grapevine cancel flow shows the member the impact their donations have had and reminds them that community connections and features are only available to members.

Make it Personal & Emphasize the Value the Subscription Provides

Show the customer precisely what they’ve received since they began their subscription. Along with emphasizing your product’s value, giving them a glimpse into their ‘stats’ can be a real eye-opener. The meat subscription service ButcherBox highlights the subscription perks adjacent to the cancel subscription CTA. 

They remind customers of the FREE cuts received in each box, credits available for future purchases, and the number of member-only deals the member has purchased. Seeing personalized stats reinforces the value the member has received and what they will miss in the future as they consider canceling their subscription.

Screenshot of the box settings tab in the ButcherBox member experience. The subscription perks a customer receives are highlighted.

ButcherBox emphasizes subscription perks adjacent to the stop subscription CTA. This allows members to reflect on the value they’ve received before entering into the cancellation flow.

Offer Multiple Pathways to Self-service Subscription Problems

Sometimes, customers want to cancel because they don’t get your new feature or they aren’t able to self-service issues with the subscription. To clear up any confusion and save them from canceling, offer multiple pathways for the customer to change subscription settings. 

As product owners, we often make assumptions about customer knowledge regarding UX and UI. However, some customers are likely unaware of their options, such as pausing their subscription, delaying a bill date, or modifying the items they receive. Also, always offer an opportunity to chat with a customer experience representative to help resolve issues the customer can’t self-service.

Daily Harvest is an excellent example of a subscription service that offers multiple pathways to self-service subscription problems. On the first step, they prompt the customer to “Customize your schedule,” “Change your plan,” and “Get in touch.”

A screenshot of the Daily Harvest UI showing multiple options the subscriber can take to solve a problem with their subscription versus cancelling. The options are to edit contents of their box, change delivery frequency or contact CX.

Daily Harvest offers subscribers the ability to edit the contents of their box, change delivery frequency and the option to contact CX. This allows members to quickly self-service problems they may not have known were available and potentially prevent a cancellation.

Learn the Cause Behind the Cancellation With a Multi-Step Cancel Flow

Even with your friendly messaging, clearly articulated benefits and simple subscription management tools, cancellations will still happen. But that doesn’t mean you  can’t get something out of your subscribers or give them a chance to air their frustrations. Ideally, their feedback will yield insights that help you improve your product’s user experience.

So before you show subscribers the cancel button, take advantage of the opportunity to ask them a few questions about why they want to cancel. Again, a multi-step cancel flow will be your best bet to gain insight into what’s not working and where things went wrong.

When they hit the cancel button… 

  • Offer an alternative plan. Allow your subscribers to tell you why they’re leaving using structured inputs. Then, after they’ve answered a few questions, supply targeted alternatives based on their answers. For example, if you learn they enjoy the service but find it too expensive, offer lower-priced plans as an alternative. Doing this feels more personal and less overwhelming than offering every solution to stay if they’ve already felt compelled to hit ‘cancel.’  
Screenshots of the ButcherBox cancelation flow show how they narrow down why the subscriber wants to cancel and then offer them a product that fits their needs.

ButcherBox offers targeted subscription alternatives based on feedback from the customer. For example, a customer with a surplus of meat in their freezer is offered a smaller box at a lower price point.

When the targeted alternative tactic didn’t work… 

  •  Aggregate feedback to inform UX improvements. If the alternative suggestions didn’t work, give your out-the-door subscriber a few final questions to understand why. Ultimately, you want to learn about their experience and why they’ve decided to leave. Aggregating this data helps you understand the “why,” which informs what needs to be improved in the user experience. Store your data in a tracking tool and tag the alternatives people turn down and their cancelations reasons. Over time trends will emerge that could impact any aspect of the experience. From pricing strategies to simple messaging improvements across your product.

For example, you might learn subscribers want more flexibility with their delivery frequency and billing dates. If you know this, you can probe deeper with customer interviews or start designing new features that keep future customers from churning for the same reasons.

  • Create cohorts for re-engagement. With the information you get from your multi-step cancel flow, create cohorts you can target with specific re-engagement offers in the future. For example, you might learn people prefer to utilize the service during particular times of the year, like holidays or summertime. Or, maybe customers are tired of the same options and are looking for new product offerings. As the product line evolves, you can re-engage this group, informing them about your latest offerings.

Above All, Make Your Cancellation Experience Feel Like a Sweet Goodbye

The peak-end rule states that people will remember and judge an experience almost entirely on how they felt at a peak, the extreme positive or negative of an experience, and the last interaction


Diagram of the peak end rule. The y-axis represents customer satisfaction and the x-axis represents time. A users experience is plotted on the diagram and the highest peak and end are highlighted.

If we’re going by the peak-end rule, you’ve tried to give them multiple positive experiences to remember. So now is your final chance to leave them with a good impression. 

(Who knows? They could come back!)

So don’t make it difficult for your subscribers to cancel. To make it straightforward means making the cancel button easy to find within the customer’s account. Make the process simple, and give them a positive message to remember you while you’re at it. 

What you don’t want to do is make your cancellation flow so cumbersome and impersonal that it makes them feel happy that they left. 

So leave them with a kiss goodbye — give them an easy way out. You’ve done what you could. And with an empathetic cancellation flow, you’ll hold up a better overall impression of your brand. 

Don’t let cancellations get you down. Instead, view them as an opportunity to bring subscribers back from the brink — and learn how to give your existing and future customers a better experience while you’re at it.

Make Decisions Grounded in Customer Insights & Design Better Products

Everyday Industries is a UX strategy and digital product design firm with expertise in consumer and retail tech. Learn how our UX and digital product design services can help you design subscription experiences that drive business growth.