Want better customer service? Join the (membership) club


Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta Platforms Inc. began testing a paid membership program in February with benefits like direct access to account managers, a feature many companies have long offered for free as a day-to-day part of their operations.

Meta, which has previously been criticized for not giving its billions of users adequate access to company representatives, is among a growing number of companies across all sectors that are turning efficient customer service from a basic service into an asset while pursuing more consistent cash flow subscriptions or memberships.

In addition to Meta, companies ranging from youth banking app Greenlight to restaurant chain PF Chang’s also offer paying members expanded or expedited access to customer support. Others like online travel agency and Sony Group corps
PlayStation offers priority customer service to high-level members of its loyalty programs.

However, effective support has been seen as a consumer right for years, and some customer experience leaders say tiering risks eroding the trust of those who can’t or won’t pay.

Some consumer rights experts have questioned the ethics of even benefiting from customer service.

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“If you cannot serve responsibly [your] Consumer, and you’re in a position where you have to say, let’s bill people for this. I think that’s really unfair,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, an association of non-profit consumer organizations.

Meta does not encourage users to purchase the verified product just for the account support feature, a company spokeswoman said, noting that the subscription was designed as a bundle of features aimed at helping developers increase their presence in the company’s apps increase.

Other companies that offer premium customer support also say the benefit is often a small part of more comprehensive packages, and its introduction doesn’t mean their standard customer service is lacking.

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“We’ve always provided fantastic customer service, but what we added was another level above that,” said Genaro Perez, senior vice president of marketing at PF Chang’s.

The company last September introduced a “VIP Concierge” service by phone and email for members of its Platinum Rewards membership for $6.99 per month, which also includes unlimited free delivery and priority status for reservations and waitlists. Members get access to a dedicated phone line manned by a member of the company’s customer service team from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays – five hours longer than the regular customer line – and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends when the regular customer service number is not manned.

Platinum Rewards members call with a variety of questions about their memberships, bookings and local restaurants, as well as general customer service questions, Mr. Perez said.

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The premium service strategy has its roots in the airline and credit card industries, which have long provided dedicated phone lines and agents to serve their highest-volume customers. Now it extends across sectors.

“Plus” members of UK-based stock trading app Freetrade Ltd. Pay the equivalent of $12 a month to get extras, including a dedicated customer support team that promises faster response times and longer support times than Basic and Basic members. Standard plans.

Food and nutrition tracking app MyFitnessPal also offers priority customer support as part of its perks package to users who pay $79.99 per year for its premium version.

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Other companies offer priority customer service to customers who have advanced to the upper tiers of loyalty programs that do not incur any additional cost to participate.

Those who book enough hotel stays to unlock Level 3 of’s Genius program, part of Booking Holdings Inc., Priority support is offered on all reservations, along with a 10% to 20% discount and complimentary breakfast on select stays, for example.

And the site for PlayStation Stars, the loyalty program launched by gaming brand Sony last year, promises priority routing in web chats to members who reach their highest level through a combination of purchases and gameplay. PlayStation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The trend is for more businesses to turn to membership and subscription models to secure recurring revenue, said Abby Godee, chief experience officer at digital consulting firm Publicis Sapient. Salad chains, airlines, tech companies, and even Taco Bell have rolled out programs over the past few years that offer perks like discounts, early access to new items, and the ability to upgrade for a periodic fee.

Adding faster customer service to these programs increases their “stickiness,” a term marketers use to describe customer loyalty, as consumers often find it difficult to downgrade once they’ve tasted the bounty, Ms. said godee

“People like to feel special,” said Renée Richardson Gosline, senior lecturer in management science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “As soon as you label something a VIP, even if it’s not very different, it creates this psychological sense of reward.”

The promise of advancing customer care is particularly compelling at a time when reaching out to a company feels strained at best, said Dr. Gosline. But there are tradeoffs, she added.

“By definition, that creates a hierarchy within the customer base,” said Dr. Gosline. The strategy can benefit profits but create the impression that “free” customer service is of low quality and increase inequality by making lower-income customers less of a priority, she said.

Greenlight, a banking app for kids and teens, launched its updated $9.98-per-month Max plan in January 2021 and began offering its most comprehensive $14.98-per-month plan, Infinity, last October. The upgraded memberships offer more features than the $4.99 per month core version, including an investment product and priority customer support.

“I remember we were talking about this because I was like, ‘I don’t want this to be like this, if you don’t have the Max plan or the Infinity plan, your customer service is terrible,'” the company said Managing Director, Tim Sheehan. Greenlight is happy to offer queue skips to these premium customers because call wait times for its core members average less than 45 seconds, he said.

“I felt like if [higher tier customers are] Spend 10 or 15 dollars, Letting her at the top seemed like a reasonable compromise,” said Mr. Sheehan.

Write to Katie Deighton at

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