BL&T No. 138: ChargeX 2023 Thoughts & Takeaways


This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"The customer-retention process is the proactive way that you take care of your customers after your product or service has been delivered and the way you retain customers so that they continue to come back."

From "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business" by Gino Wickman [Book]  

Learned & Thought

I was in Washington, DC this past week for ChargeX, an annual conference hosted by Recharge. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire on the drive, but luckily, I still made it in time to attend a welcome dinner at Joe's Seafood hosted by and Rebuy.

Big thank you to the mechanic at Tancredi's Auto Repair for his help and kindness. I was heading to Wawa, thinking I just needed air in my tires, and the shop happened to be next door. Without hesitation, the mechanic stopped what he was doing to find the leak in my tire and swap it out for the spare. All in a matter of minutes. I was in awe of how fast it went, but as I got back on the road, I imagined what it would be like to pull into the pit stop at the Monaco Grand Prix and be back in the race in under two seconds.

ChargeX was refreshing. After attending mega conferences like Shoptalk, where talks, events, and networking are happening everywhere (all at once), it was nice to be in a more intimate space and see the same folks more than once throughout the event. Outside the Recharge talks, the rest of the programming was divided into partner and merchant tracks, making it easy to know which to attend to get the most value. I enjoyed learning from the community on relevant topics while having space to chat with new and familiar faces.

Kevin, Director of Channel/Agency Partnerships at Recharge. Morning run with the Rebuy crew: Val (partner manager), Eric (VP of Partnerships), and James (Co-Founder). Peter and Adam from Blend Commerce. Jonathan Van Ness (more below).

I left ChargeX inspired and excited to invest in growing Barrel's customer retention services to further drive results for our clients. Sure, there's inherent bias at a conference hosted by a retention platform; however, it's clear to me that the topic is more important now than ever.

With rising competition across many categories, customer expectations are high. If their experience is unpleasant, there's another option around the corner and a social channel to share what's on their mind. But as easy as it is for customers to switch after a poor experience, acquiring customers is expensive, complex, and for some, daunting.

Having a robust and dynamic customer retention strategy means current customers have no reason to look around the corner. The brand goes out of its way to say thank you. If a customer is unhappy, the brand makes it right. They can even beat the customer to the punch. As a customer's loyalty grows, the brand acknowledges their dedication and makes them feel good. The more connected the customer feels, the longer they stick around and start bringing their friends and family along for the ride.

In today's newsletter, I'll explore ten takeaways on my mind heading out of ChargeX.

  1. Autoship. A few of the speakers talked about the psychology around subscriptions. There are plenty customers who see subscriptions like Hotel California — they can never leave. To get around this, brands can take the Chewy approach and change their Subscribe & Save button to Autoship, highlighting the convenience of a subscription vs. the commitment. I loved the simplicity of this tip.
  2. Recharge Flows. I was excited to get a few sneak peeks of the upcoming Recharge features ahead of ChargeX. I'm most excited about Flows, a tool to easily design custom workflows focused on increasing AOV and LTC. With more out-of-the-box features like dynamic bundles, membership programs, and rewards, Flows will be a powerful way to stitch these benefits together and build customer journeys catered to specific use cases or behavior. For instance, custom cancellation flows based on the value of customers or a flow sending a free gift one month before customers typically churn.
  3. Customer-obsessed. According to speaker Chris George, former CEO/Co-Founder of Gentleman's Box and founder of SubSummit, it's five times more expensive to acquire a customer than to retain them. Building a team around retention is as important as acquisition. As George puts it, someone at the brand needs to be obsessed with their customers. At Gentleman's Box, customers often reached out for styling advice, going as far as sending photos of outfits ahead of important events. On one occasion, George questioned the team about a funky floral tie they were adding to the box. His team insisted it was the right move. Sure enough, it went on to be a best seller.
  4. Competing for wallet space. Another take from Chris George was that brands are no longer competing with each other as much as they're competing for space in the customer's wallet. From that mindset, HelloFresh needs to prove its value to the customer enough that they choose to cancel YouTubeTV when they're looking to save money, not their meal kits. While of course brands are still competing, I like how this framing focuses on enriching the customer's life, not beating out competitors.
  5. Subscriptions >> Memberships. A recurring theme throughout the event was treating subscriptions more like memberships. While a pure membership model may make sense for certain businesses, other brands can layer on other benefits for product subscribers like access to events, member-only communities, or resources.
  6. Customer preferences = data! In his talk, Brandon Amoroso, Founder of Electriq Marketing, touched on how first-party data can create more curated customer experiences. While this wasn't anything new, I appreciated his thoughts about linking quiz data (via Octane AI) to create more robust customer profiles in Klaviyo. He cited a coffee brand that learns which customers drink their coffee black vs. with cream to send more targeted comms and make sure when customers look up reviews, they only see what's relevant to them.
  7. Learn from your customers. Building off the customer obsession notes above, capturing customer feedback and acting on it is essential for brands. This came up among speakers time and time again. Chris George shared how customer feedback led Gentleman's Box to change their subscription from monthly to quarterly, taking the business to profitability. Some use Fairing for post-purchase surveys, while others prioritize NPS. All that said, one of my favorite recommendations came from Adam Pearce, CEO of Blend Commerce: talk to your customers weekly and then call some now and again. While gathering ongoing feedback is critical, we're always impressed by how much we learn from jumping on a call with a client's customers.
  8. Don't forget the story. It was a lot of fun hearing Matthew Luhn share his story and insights from his career. Luhn was the youngest animator for The Simpsons at age 19 before getting called on by friends from an up-and-coming film studio to work on a project. That studio was Pixar; the film was Toy Story. Luhn went on to talk about the power of storytelling and how stories, not data, move people. Whether you're heading into a pitch, creating a campaign, or designing a product page, Luhn suggests starting with a simple question: What is the story? I used to train our designers on a similar concept years ago, but hearing Luhn speak got me thinking about how universal this question can be.
  9. Know yourself. We were lucky to have Johnathan Van Ness join us on Friday morning for a casual chat about their career and experience building JVN Hair. When an audience member asked Jonathan about staying authentic as a brand, they shared, “The most important relationship is the relationship you have with yourself.” While applicable to all of us as individuals, I like how this can apply to a brand. When a brand has a "good relationship" with itself, they know how to manage customer feedback and competition without losing focus trying to make everyone happy.
  10. Beyond 30 seconds. Jonathan also remarked on how brands are selling themselves short by acting like customers have no attention span while millions tune in for Game of Thrones. Instead, they suggested aiming for what would make the content most compelling vs. trying to hit a certain length. We've worked with several beauty brands looking for easier ways to share the efficacy and science behind their products. Jonathan's talk was a good reminder that aiming for brevity first may miss what makes a brand stand out.
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