How do you persuade indecisive customers to sign up to your service?

Kirstin White | Mon Aug 10 2020 | Industry insights

Here, we are going to look more in-depth about purchase behaviour among subscription video customers and the psychology behind it.

Indecision in customer decision processes

The customer decision process is one of the most studied phenomena in all of consumer psychology. And with good reason. The reality is that subtle shifts in messaging or emphasis do really impact on customers’ purchasing behavior.

The hard part is that universal laws are hard to come by. Many of the tips and tricks you find are based largely on experiences with specific types of product or customer demographics. For example, the design of a t-shirt product page might not have much relevance for how you present your annual subscription offer.

Understanding customer indecision

In this page we are going to steer clear of ‘tips & tricks’ and go beneath the surface layer to look at a more concrete phenomenon - customer indecision. Recently published findings on indecisive customer behavior in the Journal of Consumer Research uncovered some fascinating dynamics at work.

Indecisive customers have long been primarily understood as an especially price sensitive group. Recent research suggests otherwise. Financial reasons may be a barrier for some customers. For others, it’s a matter of self-image.

Knowing how to relieve these image-centred worries can dramatically change the rate at which these customers decide to sign up to new services.

Self-Image and Purchase Decisions

Purchase decisions ceased to be purely functional affairs a very long time ago. ‘I need a hole so I will buy a shovel’ might have been all you needed to understand in 1920, but today our knowledge of this process is a bit more advanced.

purchase decisions

Consumption decisions go much deeper than basic functional requirements. Customers buy things within an ongoing process of image building and image maintenance. For example:

  • Purchasing a luxury handbag = I appreciate fine goods and fashion
  • Purchasing a weight rack = I value regular exercise and fitness
  • Purchasing a smoothie blender = I live a busy life and enjoy a balanced diet

Each of these choices are made with care. Before purchasing a weight rack one must ask, am I this kind of person? Do I see myself using this regularly? Does this fit me? The same questions must be asked for any other purchase.

The combination of all these decisions and outcomes shape your identity. Thus, with each purchase, a consumer makes a choice about their identity, and moulds their self-image.

This process is just as central to digital product purchases, like signing up to a new subscription. Put simply, starting a subscription commits you to a new part of your identity.

Why Indecisive Customers are Important

Indecisive customers are people who struggle with these decisions more than most.

At the base level, these customers feel less certain about what they want and who they are. This can mean that their self-image is a little more uncertain than is the case with the average customer.

Where these customers will really feel a pang of anxiety is when they have to make decisions that have some implications for their identity. As they are indecisive, they will find themselves in such situations more often.

buyer indecision

So for physical products, this is like that time you asked yourself if you would feel stupid wearing that hat you are considering buying. Digital products fortunately do not have this public dimension. However, the questions you ask yourself when buying a subscription can produce just as much anxiety.

It might be tempting to ignore these customers and leave them to their private deliberations. The thing is, though these customers may be harder to recruit, they are also highly desirable.

Why? Well it’s actually quite simple. As well as avoiding commitments to new subscriptions, they also avoid cancelling them! Think about your reluctance to throw out that old outfit you haven’t worn for 6 years. You might wear it again someday, right?

This ‘cancellation anxiety’ goes hand-in-hand with purchase indecision. Those customers who find it harder to sign up to your service find it just as difficult to make the decision to leave.

Put simply, you will keep these customers for more billing cycles, and they will have a higher lifetime value than customers for whom the signup decision was easy. This makes them a key group to win over. So now we are going to talk about how you do this.

The Power of the Free Trial

The most useful tool for helping indecisive customers overcome their hesitation is a free trial. Free trials allow customers to test out your product. This allows them to experience its benefits without having to make any hard, longer term commitment. While this is commonly used for attracting curious customers, it is especially effective for persuading indecisive customers.

Customers with an uncertain self-image will avoid starting subscriptions by their nature. However, if they can start it temporarily for free, it is less of a commitment. It’s more like an experiment.


Free trial decision

Trying the product for a brief period will also make it easier to transition to a longer commitment. Once the free trial ends, the customer will be both less hesitant to start paying for the subscription, and also less comfortable with unsubscribing.

How Personalisation Helps the Process

Once the free trial has begun, the customer must connect with the product as much as possible. Feeling a personal connection with a product strengthens its place in your self-image. This is one of the reasons indecisive customers will tend to ask for multiple small changes before they commit to buying something.

These small changes deepen the customer’s attachment to the product, and they also make it more difficult for them to let go of it later. Of course, you might not be able to tailor your content library for each individual subscriber. Luckily there are easier ways to do this.

Two simple approaches are:

  • Displaying the customer’s name in the context of your brand imagery or in your application - Seeing your name when using a service makes it feel like your own
  • Personalised avatars - A personal avatar, real or not, builds attachment to a service and creates a stronger sense of ownership and control.
Empathizing with Indecisive Customers

Growing your empathy for indecisive customers can only help your business. And the more novel or niche your service is, the more likely it is that your potential customers are experiencing this purchase anxiety.

Either way, these customers are a valuable group. Once committed to your product, they will not let it go easily. They will stay longer, contribute more revenue, and provide a stable subscriber base for you to build on.

However, they are a challenging group to sign up, and understanding and targeting these customers properly is essential. Sign up hesitation can be tackled with free trial. And personalising your messaging or displaying the customer’s name using your brand imagery both help to deepen that sense of connection to the product.

Easing that indecision might take a little more effort, but the return is much greater. Show an indecisive customer a little empathy, and you may end up with a customer for life.

Interested in learning more about Subscriber Retention strategies? Find more in our eBook. 

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