February 20, 2019 Lisa Aspeling

Dear John… A Break Up Letter to Digital Product Vendors

What do you do when you’ve been forced into a long-term relationship with a company you discover you want to break things off with a month after ‘getting together’?

There’s a trend among digital product vendors, apps and software developers to lock their customers into an automatic, annual-“subscription”-renewal billing system. That’s right, more often than not, the customer cannot opt for a manual subscription renewal when purchasing a product. They usually can’t even dictate how long they want to use the service / app / software for. Yikes!

Recently reading Carmen Murray’s poignant article on how brands need to become obsessed with what customers want was the antidote I needed to break free from a toxic, nay, abusive, digital relationship I was locked into for a year. (What else do you call a connection that remorselessly serves the needs of only one party?).

I recently battled with an American company that automatically renewed my “subscription” to their branding suite service – which I stopped using 11 months ago. A surprise notification of nearly R2,000 ($140) deducted from my credit card was the tip-off. Murray’s serendipitous article supplied the Dutch courage. Zero evidence of a subscription reminder in my inbox was my napalm.

After a cut-to-the-chase email to their customer services team, I was informed by “Daniel” that a refund for the automatic subscription was against company policy: “Do note that we advertise the nature of our subscription plans all across our website”. No matter. I was ready for a fight. After I put up some resistance, Daniel wrote back that the Head of Finance had offered me – a special case – a 50% refund, as apology for any confusion. I was incensed. I didn’t care. Their policies meant zip to me.

Fresh rage at Daniel’s condescension empowered me to fight their legalese with a powerful dose of common sense:

Hi Daniel,

As a marketer myself I’m amazed that you choose not to remind customers about pending renewals. Surely you have more faith in your product than to “tie your hands” and unhappy customers to your brand with a really customer-unfriendly policy?

If you consider your customers’ perspective, how on earth do you expect us to remember the unsubscribe deadlines on all the apps and software subscriptions we have?!

I appreciate the 50% refund offer, but please understand that I almost never returned to your site after generating a logo. I think I downloaded my logo options, the business card and tried, in vain, to find brand-appropriate social media posts. Other than that I found ****** *****’s offerings unsuitable to my needs.

I ask that you talk to your marketing manager and refund me the full amount, releasing me from an association with your company, whose services I won’t be using going forward.

Thank you for your understanding,


If only Daniel was the first recipient of one of my “Dear John” letters. After being accosted more than once by this backward, customer-hating policy, all I’m left wondering is, which short-sighted amoeba infected these companies and told them to sell their products to people this way?

They really shouldn’t call it a subscription if they’re forcing customers into a my-way-or-the-highway contract that doesn’t serve their customers’ needs. Wake up, businesses! Wake up, brands!

“We need to be obsessed with our customers, take interest and express empathy towards their wants, their needs, their frictions, and solve the problems that keep them up at night. Customers are the beating heart of our businesses” – Carmen Murray

Ms Murray reminds us that the reality is the customer is in the driving seat. Businesses should be constantly developing their products and services in response to customer needs and wants.

If you want to gain traction and inject some longevity into your business, take Murray’s advice – follow the trend of the twenty-first century and put your customers first. Find out how they want to buy from you. Ask them what they like about your business and what they’re hating! They will tell you. Most of all, don’t lock your precious customers into a toxic, long-term relationship, or you’ll be going through a lot more messy, permanent break-ups.


A NEW article from our founder, Lisa Aspeling, recently published on LinkedIn.


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