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Is Netflix Still A Customer-Service Business?

I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since they went by the name Netflix.com and were boasting 7,000 titles in stock. They now claim to have over 100,000. That was many moons ago. But I haven’t necessarily been a Netflix loyalist. Over the years I’ve tried other online movie rental services only to keep finding my way back to Netflix.

But over the years Netflix has begun cutting out key customer features. They say it’s to improve their system, customer service and the traditional yada, yada, but I’m not so sure. But with each feature they eliminate, instead of differentiating themselves from the competition, they are systematically eliminating the benefits of being a Netflix customer.

I had two brief runs at Blockbuster, once when they first introduced their online DVD rental program, and then again when they started allowing you to swap movies in store. The first time I left was because the site was poorly maintained and new releases were not kept up to date. The second was because they raised their prices to the point that there was no longer an advantage to returning movies to the store and swapping. I could get the same number of movies each week from Netflix for $10 less.

No matter what, it seems that Netflix beat the others in the customer service game.

Cutting out customer abuse

I’ve seen Netflix make many changes over the years, often times eliminating features I loved. Anybody remember the “check in” function? That’s when you could tell Netflix that you put one of your movies in the mail to be returned. When you checked it in they sent you your next movie so they’d pass each other in the mail.

I’ll admit, I was one who abused that system. As soon as possible I checked my movies in. At first you could do it right away, and get that next movie shipped before you’ve even had a chance to watch the one you’ve got. But I was always quick about watching them anyway so at best I checked one in a day before I sent it back.

But then they changed is so you couldn’t check them in until five days after the movie shipped to you, or something like that. Then they eliminated that all together. I get that. People game the system and the only way to keep prices low is to prevent people from doing that.

Cutting out customer satisfaction

Then Netflix began throttling the accounts of active users. If you watched and returned too many movies within a certain time period, Netflix would slow down your movie shipments. There was a lawsuit over this, which led to a settlement.

I’m sure I’m skipping over quite a bit of Netflix history here, but I want to get to my point. Yesterday Netflix announced that they were eliminating the profiles option. With a wife and five kids, all of which watch movies much less frequently than me, I was, what would seem to be, one of the few profile users. Netflix says they canceled profiles to better server the community as a whole.

Netflix Cancels Profiles

See, I get that too. I understand that sometimes certain features have to be sacrificed. Maintenance can be costly and if you feel you have a feature that is soaking up money but not really benefiting the community then you have to make cuts. But I think this leads to a much bigger issue in that Netflix is sacrificing customer service for the sake of profits. I’m all about profits, but I’m even more all about customer service.

Is it still about the customer?

During one of my brief stints at Blockbuster, Netflix eliminated a page that allowed members to see what was releasing on DVD each week. This was another barely used page, according to them, but I find that very difficult to believe. Nor do I believe for a second that this page was eating up much in the way of resources. Once you’ve got it, the maintenance of the page is minimal as everything else is handled by the database. All that is needed is to enter a release date for movies, something Netflix already has in their system.

In my opinion, Netflix is trying to reduce the number of people competing for new releases. The fewer subscribers know which movies are coming out each week, the less competition there is for those movies. This allows Netflix to purchase fewer copies of these new releases. It’s a numbers game.

Netflix did this once before, back in the early days. They had a page that let you see which movies were being released over the next several months. Netflix cut that out so I got in the habit of searching for my movies as soon as they hit the theater. Netflix has always been good about getting them in the system early. So every Friday, one of my rituals is to check new movie releases on Fandango and then search for those movies on Netflix and add them to my queue.

The drawback of this is system is that you miss anything that doesn’t get theatrical release. This was one of the appeals of Blockbuster. I could return movies and scan the shelves for any of those interesting titles that slipped my attention. I miss that. And now that Netflix has eliminated the Releasing This Week page, I’m sure many others miss that too.

How Netflix can keep profile customers happy

So with the elimination of Profiles, Netflix takes another step away from customer service. But I have a suggestion for them that will not only benefit those who are upset with the loss of what I would consider a key feature, but also the rest of their subscribers as well. Simply let users create multiple accounts at a discounted rate.

Wasn’t that really the draw of profiles? Before profiles my wife and I had a separate account. She often holds on to movies for weeks at a time where I watch and return rather quickly. Profiles allowed us to use the same account, but have separate movie queues and movie distribution. Currently, we pay $23.99 per month to have four movies at a time. She gets two, which she shares with the kids, and I get two. I typically watch two movies a week. She typically watches four a month and the kids might watch a couple.

But without profiles we’ll have to go back to having two separate accounts. A two-at-a-time plan costs $13.99. That means we’ll be paying $4 more per month to get the same number of movies. If we don’t get two separate accounts, then my movie watching will be throttled by her holding up movies. I’d have to watch my queue carefully to make sure she doesn’t get more than two movies at a time, otherwise it could be weeks before I get my next movie!

So offering multiple accounts on the same credit card at a discounted rate would make sense. I would happily pay full price for two movies at a time if I could set up a second account for my wife at a discounted rate of, oh, let’s say $9.99, $4 dollars less.

If the profiles option was a burden on the Netflix system (it did have its problems) and, as they claim, was confusing to their visitors (not very likely, except having to keep logging in), this would be the perfect solution. And if they don’t want to do that to benefit ALL their users, then just offer this to those of us who are using multiple profiles.

Come on, Netflix. Prove to us you’re still a customer service company.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

7 Responses to Is Netflix Still A Customer-Service Business?

  1. You may already know this but you can still get the new releases in a RSS feed, which I find much more useful anyway. Every Sunday evening, there are 100+ new releases that show up in my RSS reader. They also occasionally appear throughout the week but the bulk I discover on Monday mornings.

    The address of the feed: http://dvd.netflix.com/NewReleasesRSS

  2. membership site script says:

    i totally agree with you that netflix have changed over the years.though, i did not abuse the system.

  3. Craig Maedgen says:

    I agree that profits are great but companies should not sacrifice customer service and features for profits. At least in my eyes. I tried netflix but then realized I could not afford it. i usually get my movies from redbox whenever I want to watch a movie. And then have my roomie download anything else I want to watch. Good post, I say send it to netflix I am sure some customer service rep will contact you to make sure you stay with them. Let them know how you feel and it might just work.

  4. Stoney G deGeyter
    Stoney deGeyter says:

    As I do not work for Netflix I can’t help you there. Do you have movies in your queue that are available now? if they are marked for “long wait” then there is a chance they simply are not available yet.