The issue over the last day or so regarding patreon looking into anniversary billing made a number of issues stand out to me. To start, I’m not against anniversary billing itself as a concept, and I think exploring different possibilities is a good thing (their implementation of course is a different story entirely).
The bigger problem that has been revealed here (at least based on my understanding) is that patreon appears to receive a lot of complaints about double-charges that creators are entirely unaware of. As a result, Patreon is doing their best and the right thing in exploring solutions to this problem, but creators are conversely not aware of the fact that this is a problem to begin with. And so, the suggestion of change is one that causes many of us to kind of freak out. After all, changes have been dropped on us in the past that ended up having to be back pedaled, and so we are understandably sensitive to any such changes - or even whispers of them.
I believe that any situation where a patron has an issue where patreon’s own system has worked as intended should be handled by the creator first and foremost.
Let’s say a patron realizes that they’ve been charged on the 1st, only days after their initial charge, and are afraid that they’re being scammed in some way. They jump straight to the patreon support form, fill it out, and choose not to DM the creator themselves. Based on some “which of your current pledges is this issue about” dropdown menu, the support ticket should be opened with the creator themselves. If they don’t deal with it or address it in a satisfactory manner or in a set timeframe (3 days perhaps), or if it ends up being about something they themselves cannot address themselves, it can be escalated to Patreon support, either by the creator or automatically.
Over the last six or so years, I’ve dealt with thousands of patrons, and I have never had an interaction where I was not able to leave the customer feeling satisfied - either by offering a refund where it was necessary, or explaining things that were not understood. These are my customers, not Patreon’s, and therefore I am the one who is best equipped to handle the issues they may have with my campaign, and when things relate instead to issues like declined charges, I’ll be able to start them off on the best possible foot before having them contact their banks, or escalate their ticket up to Patreon’s own support.
Why is this relevant to the issues over the last few days?
Well, Patreon’s staff and the creators should not be on opposite sides of this argument, and the way things are structured currently is what creates this dysfunctional environment. Creators haven’t experienced the volume of complaints that Patreon support apparently has, and so many of us feel that the rug’s being pulled out under our feet, that a new change is being pushed without our understanding of its necessity.
Sure, I’ve been concerned about the double-charging, and I even delayed my use of up-front payment until I could implement my own system to soften its flaws. But I’ve gotten only a handful of complaints, and at least amongst those who are vocal, it appears to be the same.
Instead, those complaints should have been sent to us, so we would have a fuller understanding (without having to trust that we were being spoon-fed accurate information after the fact) of the gravity of this issue. Providing us with churn data would certainly be useful on one end, but complaints are the real problem. It is our job to do what we can to retain our patrons, and if the system itself is actively inhibiting our ability to do that and some feature needs to be implemented or changed, we should be the ones coming to you to ask for it. We should not be told that this is what we need, after the fact.
I really cannot stress this enough - my patrons are my customers. I am patreon’s customer. Interaction between my customers and Patreon has its place, but it should be limited only to the areas where it is unavoidable.
Won’t this put more work on the creator’s plate?
It certainly will, and as with all suggestions I don’t imagine this is beneficial to everyone. Some people are more than happy to take a hands-off approach, and to be fed the changes they’re told they need. But Patreon is an environment where hobbyists have learned to be business people, where they’ve been able to incubate their ideas and gradually reach out to develop the skills they need to become self-sufficient.
Customer service is an unavoidable part of this, and we still all have to deal with those who opt to DM us instead of using Patreon’s support options. Customer service is a skill we all need to develop in order for this experiment-called-Patreon to work at its best.
And of course, the less effort Patreon needs to put into fielding thousands of support tickets that could handled more comfortably and successfully by creators, the more resources they will have to continue providing the creators - their customers - with what they need.