The art of winning back lost members

You’ve accepted that churn is an inevitable part of running a membership site, but what should you be doing to win back lost members – and how?

Convincing lost or lapsed members to come back isn’t only about persuasion; it’s about value, strategy, and emotional connection. It’s also about your willingness to learn, improve, and acknowledge member concerns – recognizing your members for who they are: people.

It’s important to remember that members have lives of their own, and may cancel their memberships for a variety of reasons. Your job is to find out why they cancelled, what you can do about it, and to offer them a solution.

In this post, we talk about win-back campaigns and how to inspire your lost members to return!

Don’t burn bridges

It’s true: cancelled memberships hurt! It can feel like a huge letdown after doing all of the work to get your members on board – not to mention the efforts that go into creating content, providing support, and promoting member retention. Of course you’re invested in the outcome!

But, it’s vital that you don’t allow the frustration of this kind of loss to overshadow the member experience. In other words, don’t make it painful for members to cancel. Why is this so important?

Well, believe it or not, it’s possible that lost members will return in the future. All hope is not lost! While it can be tempting to make cancelling your membership overly difficult in an effort to dissuade members from following through, this only creates negative associations with your site – something that can do more harm than good.

Remember: if you want to give yourself the best shot at getting members to return to your site, don’t burn bridges. Remind members on the way out that you have a positive experience to offer them, should they decide to come back someday.

Find out why they left

Regardless of how many members you’ve lost, if you want to win them back, you need to be informed about the motivations behind their decisions. After all, understanding why members leave gives you the opportunity to address the issue.

For example, if members are telling you that your membership didn’t provide the solutions to their problems (or satisfy some other need), you may simply be marketing to the wrong people. Or, if lost members indicate that your membership is too costly for them, you might consider offering a more affordable membership tier with limited features – or adjust your pricing to accommodate them in some way (that is, if a significant amount of lost members are reporting the same thing).

But, if you don’t fully understand why your members are leaving, you won’t have useful information to work with, rendering your win-back campaigns less effective. Ultimately, it’s much easier to appeal to lost members if you know why they left.

Try implementing a member exit survey during the cancellation process in order to collect this vital information. It can be something as simple as one question: What made you cancel your membership? Or, you could go for something friendlier, like What can we do better? Let us know! You can use plugins and services like Gravity Forms or Survey Monkey to get an exit survey up and running right away.

In order to constantly improve your product and create the best user experience possible, you need to know where you are falling short. And exit surveys are the best place to start gathering this data.

Kristen DeCosta (Churnbuster)

Here are some drop-down options you might include:

  • Financial reasons
  • I no longer need my membership
  • I’m not happy with my membership / I didn’t get enough value out of my membership
  • I found a better solution for my needs
  • I plan to come back later
  • Other / something else (describe below)

A simple exit survey can be illuminating, however, some sites may get better results with open-ended questions. For example, Groove founder Alex Turnbull reported a 785% increase in exit survey completion from asking open-ended questions instead of requiring customers to choose from pre-filled answers. He also stressed the importance of using language that doesn’t put customers on the defense; consider asking, “what made you cancel?” instead of “why did you cancel?”

It’s not just doing a survey that’s important; you need to optimize your question(s) to ensure that you’re asking them the right way. A simple wording change can make a big impact on responses.

Alex Turnbull (Groovehq.com)

Wait at least a few months

Before you get back in touch with your lost members, it’s wise to give them some time. For one thing, you want them to notice that they are indeed missing out; additionally, it gives you time to address the issues that caused them to leave in the first place.

Giving your lost members some space shows them that you respect their decision to leave, even if you want to win them back. Then, once you’ve added new features and content, made some notable changes, or just allowed them to have the chance to miss you, you have a bit more leverage when it comes to getting them to return.

What’s a good number? 2-3 months is a general rule-of-thumb – or however long makes sense with any changes that are happening to your site or content.

Don’t go overboard

When it’s time to get back in touch with your lost members, be careful not to go overboard. Not only are constant emails excessive and annoying to members (especially when they deliberately canceled their memberships); they’re simply unnecessary.

You don’t need to panic! If you play your cards right, you could very well see results without bombarding people with marketing messages. When approaching your former members, think about how you’d like to be treated. Do you enjoy getting spammed? I didn’t think so!

Plan your win-back campaign

Now, it’s time to make your plan. As with most aspects of running a membership site, having a plan in place helps you keep things running smoothly – and gives you a structure you can rely on.

Your member win-back campaign should be a standard sequence of events that you set up on a specific timeline; ideally, you’d automate the process based on member cancellation date.

Design a winning email sequence

When it comes to resuming contact with your members, it’s important to remember that the sequence of events matters. Since you haven’t been in contact with them for a few months, it’s good to get reacquainted in a friendly, respectful, and low-pressure way.

When designing your email sequence, keep in mind that you could decide to send anywhere from one to five emails without getting into spam territory – it just depends on your usual marketing style and what your members typically respond well to. We think that anywhere between 2-4 emails is a good place to start.

Check out this example of a 4-email sequence:

Email 1

Let your lost members know that they are, in fact, missed! Remember: this is your first attempt to open a dialogue with them again, so you want your communication to be simple and cordial. However, you do want to make an effort to actually connect with them.

Let your lost members know they are missed, valued, and wanted back. This makes more of an emotional connection than just showering them with promotions from the start.

Some popular subject lines include:

  • We miss you
  • It’s been a while…
  • We’ve missed you, [Customer Name]!
  • Did you forget about us?

Informing lost members about what’s been going on since they’ve been away is also effective; maybe you’ve fixed previous issues, added new features, experienced significant growth, or made other developments. This can pique their interest – and in some cases, make a big difference when it comes to deciding whether to reinstate their membership or not.

You might include a line like, “here’s what you’ve missed since you’ve been away,” or “check out what we’ve been up to over the past few months,” letting lost members know that you’re committed to improving your product and taking member feedback seriously.

Consider mentioning things like:

  • Website improvements
  • New content, products, and features
  • Community growth
  • Recent testimonials, case studies, or member stories
  • Other significant changes or fixed issues

Email 2

This is the time to give lost members an exclusive discount, or some kind of special limited-time offer that they can’t refuse. This strategy isn’t just effective for win-back campaigns; it also helps re-engage dormant members, inspire time-sensitive sales, etc.

Subject line ideas:

  • Here’s an exclusive offer just for you!
  • Come back and save 30%
  • Come back this week and get $20 off
  • You’ve got one free month waiting for you

If you prefer, you could combine Email 1 and Email 2 into a single email, letting former members know they’re missed and offering them a time-sensitive special offer at the same time – in some cases, this can be enough, especially if you value the less-is-more philosophy. Although it’s not a membership site, Beatport illustrates this method:

Time-sensitive special offer example (Beatport)
Time-sensitive special offer example (Beatport)

Email 3

If you want to understand what members value most in a membership, be sure to check out our post on benefits vs. features! One of the main points we discuss is the emotional connection that you can create by marketing the benefits of your membership, as opposed to just listing features.

Focusing on the real-world results that come from being a member on your site allows lost members to imagine how your membership will actually affect their own lives. For example, saving time and achieving skill levels are benefits (real-world results), while numbers of products and types of content are features.

Another distinguishing element of memberships is their ongoing nature, which is something that members lose when they cancel. If you want to tap into the “fear of missing out” (or FOMO), be sure to let them know what they are currently missing, and what they will miss in the future.

Some examples of subject lines are:

  • Rejoin today and get access to all of your favorite eBooks
  • Don’t miss out on 6 months of unlimited downloads, plus our brand new collection
  • You won’t want to miss this!
  • Get all of your favorite stuff, plus these upcoming goodies

Email 4

Now that you’ve communicated that you miss your lost members, that they have exclusive offers available to them, that you’ve fixed any issues, grown your site, added new content and features, and that there are real-world benefits to re-joining and continuing to be a member in the future, it’s time to wrap things up.

Let your members know that they are welcome to come back anytime, should they wish to do so in the future. You want to leave them an open door, so that they feel that it’s easy and convenient to return. This way, you can feel good that you’ve done everything you can, and that the ball is in their court.

You might say something like:

  • You’re welcome back anytime
  • Our door is always open
  • We hope to see you again in the future
  • If you ever decide to come back, we’ll give you 20% off

Consider a limited-time win-back promotion

In addition to your win-back email sequence, you might decide to give former members a limited-time opportunity to rejoin at a deeply discounted price, or with other special bonuses that are only available for a specific window of time, such as one day, a weekend, or one week. Think of this strategy as a one-off event (as opposed to being based on an individual member’s cancellation date), where you email all of your former members at the same time, inviting all of them (regardless of when they cancelled) to take advantage of the promotion.

You might even create real-time campaigns that are personalized to different member segments (such as beginners and pros), or based on things like purchase history, user behavior, and demographics. For example, you could use a subject line like, “This weekend only: Rejoin and get a free Platinum upgrade,” or “Come back this week and get an all-access pass for half price.”

A few final tips

Give your members options

There may be members who decide to cancel because they simply don’t want everything included in your membership – and they could potentially be won back if they knew there was an option that better suited their needs. Perhaps a more minimal membership option would entice them?

Payment options are also something to consider. Think about offering different payment plans, options for downgrading to a less expensive tier, and/or an option where members can pause their membership. This allows more flexibility for people who might otherwise cancel due to life circumstances, budget concerns, etc.

Keep a list of your lost members

It’s useful to keep a running list of members who cancel, not only for the purpose of contacting them again down the line; but also because you can use this list for re-marketing on platforms like Facebook. This allows you to create ads with a personalized message and exclusive offer that is specifically targeted at members you want to win back!

Make that change

If you’ve been meaning to do a site upgrade, or make changes to your site or content, now’s the time. When attempting to win back lost members, having something fresh and new to show them certainly helps; as long as the changes you want to make are doable within your budget, time, and resource constraints, completing them sooner than later gives you more leverage!

Winning back lost members isn’t necessarily as hard as it sounds, but it does take a concerted effort. Don’t be afraid to vary your approach, but remember to listen for important insights that help you improve your site, keep the experience positive, use welcoming language, offer exclusive deals, give people options, and try not to overload their inboxes!

Do your best, and hopefully your lost members will recognize the value they’ve been missing.

What have you found most effective with your own win-back campaigns? We want to hear your insights on winning back lost members and the strategies that have worked for you! Comment below to join the conversation.

Mandy Jones

About the author: Mandy is a content writer at Sandhills Development, singer/songwriter/musician, and founder of Looplicious. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she's a frequent traveler and animal lover with a passion for creativity and maker culture.

One comment

  1. This is a great article. It would be helpful if you could provide a guide on how we could incorporate these recommendations for folks using RCP.

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