Forced Continuity Programs – Are you losing clients because of yours?

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In choosing a title for this article, I was sorely tempted to name it "Knock it off already! We're people, not !@#$% revenue streams!"

You see, I've been set off once too often by business owners imposing "forced continuity" on unsuspecting clients.

While this may work for months 1 and even 2, the long-term damage such business owners are inflicting on their client relationships is incalculable.

First, let me explain just what "forced continuity" is — after all, we've all heard that "continuity" and "membership" is "where it's at".

Forced continuity is when you visit someone's website, sign up for something which is low cost (usually under $10) and they automatically enroll you in a program costing anywhere from $19.97 to $197/month (these are the figures I've seen).

Let's break that down. . .

You visit a site, see a CD or hardcopy special report you're interested in and they offer to ship it to you for $1.00, $3.95, $5.95, some low amount in order to cover their shipping expense. The thought is that the amount is so low that you don't even think twice about it.

Now, let me stop here to say that I'm NOT speaking about introductory "try before you buy" 1-2 month introductory pricing for a monthly program.

In those cases, you usually know what you're signing up for and can make an informed decision.

So you sign up, hand over your credit card (they must charge you SOMETHING in order to get your card number) and wait eagerly for your CD, white paper, etc. (and, if they're really good, they may have even given you the electronic download version and satisfied our human desire for instant gratification).

Flashforward 45-60 days.

You're reviewing credit card statements and see a charge for $47 (to pick a number) that you don't recognize — remember, they waited 30 days after charging you for the shipping so it's going to be a bit before you see the statement — you're busy so you put it on your "I'll get to it list".

Before you know it, another month has gone by and they've charged you another $47.

And another $47. . .

Until, after one too many months of feeling manipulated, you cancel and "leave the fold" grumbling and with a bad taste in your mouth.

That said, are all forced continuity programs bad?

Absolutely not (surprised you there, didn't I?)!

I support forced continuity programs as long as the following is in place:

  1. The client KNOWS that she'll be charged $X in 30 days — and I don't mean bury this information on page 2 of the "thank you" page. Put it on the sales page and restate it at the top of the shopping cart order page — be upfront about it!
  2. The receipt which goes out thanking the client for their purchase includes a reminder about the charge which will come in 30 days.
  3. A notice is included with whatever item was shipped to the client.
  4. A reminder goes out to the client at least 5 days before the charge hits to remind her and give her the opportunity to reply and cancel the recurring charge BEFORE it happens.

Now before I get battered from those who have forced continuity programs and view the above an inconvenience or added expense and that it's the clients' responsibility to fully read all pages, let me just say that:

  • Everything except #3 above is electronic (no cost) and automated (set it and forget it).
  • #3 (as well as numbers 2 and 4) can be used as an opportunity to educate the client on what she's getting as part of the $47 (in our example) program — after all, we want her to stick for more than a few months and the easiest way to do that is to ensure she receives value from the program.
  • By overdelivering and making the client aware of exactly what's going to happen when, you become a vendor she values and trusts. . .AND your revenues increase.

Make It Real: My Request to You

If you're currently running forced continuity programs, give them a good review — from your clients' perspective.

How would you feel if you were your own client? Make any tweaks necessary.

Regardless of whether you're running a forced continuity program or not, know that many other business owners are, and while some are extremely ethical and up front, other's aren't, so Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware!).

Be sure to read all the information provided before you sign up for something, particularly the very low cost items as there's often more there and you deserve to make the best decision about whether or not you want to purchase *the whole package*.

I’d love to hear what you think – please share your comments below. . .