January 3rd, 2012 — Customer service, Marketing
2011 was a year I’m happy to be done with. So, I expect, are Netflix, Bank of America and Verizon, who saw their ill-advised attempts to insert a direct tap into their customers’ wallets flame out in 2 months, 5 weeks and 2 days respectively.
Doesn’t anybody do customer research any more? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to find out how your customers are going to react before you implement a toxic new policy? B of A and Verizon wanted to charge customers for using a debit card and paying a bill online; since those policies subsequently were reversed they’re fiscally in the same place as before but with bad press and a lot of pissed-off customers. Netflix soldiered on with its plan to separate its DVD delivery and streaming content, but paid a terrible price in subscribers and market value. How is any of this a benefit to the shareholders?
I guess it’s good news that the cycle of mea culpa is getting shorter, as noted above. But meanwhile I’ve noticed a couple of new assaults on my wallet from smaller companies and wonder if it’s part of a larger trend to put short term revenues ahead of longer term customer loyalty and common sense.
I previously wrote about Boingo and their “good news” that I could now download an updated version of their wireless roaming app that allowed me to use just two devices in my account rather than have unlimited access. I cancelled, but then I recently found myself in the BWI airport needing wireless access and was tempted by an offer to get a $25 American Express gift card after 2 months of service. So I re-upped, after discovering out something interesting: of the three different devices I was carrying, each received a different offer when I went to boingo.com. My laptop (where I’d received the email) told me I could join for $9.95 a month and made no mention of the gift card. My tablet offered the gift card and $9.95 a month. My Android had the gift card for the rate of $7.95 a month so that’s how I joined. But I don’t need a wireless service on my cell phone since it has an unlimited data plan so I went through the process of registering my laptop and tablet and was told oops, I’ve reached my 2 device limit.
Turns out the very act of signing up had registered the cell as one of my two devices and now my only option is to cancel it, effective at the end of the billing period one month hence. So I’m down to one device during this period and then can register my second device. Just way too much clunkiness for customer satisfaction and what makes it all more irritating is that Boingo has this breezy website where a message “oops… something has gone wrong” that pops up way too often and only serves to increase my irritation with that man behind the curtain.
A more disturbing revenue tactic was applied by Bill Me Later after I tried to take advantage of an offer for $15 off when I paid for an eBay transaction through their service. I was told online that, for unspecified reasons, they were unable to process my payment so fine, I paid through Paypal. I then started to get daily voicemails from somebody who left a message saying “This is the fraud department at ramamafoqw calling about a recent transaction…” They didn’t exactly say ramamafoqw but they did mumble the company name. After several calls I realized they were saying “Bill Me Later.” I called the number and got a message “we’re sorry, no one is available.” Finally their representative reached me live and it turned out the purpose of this “fraud alert” was to set up an account, but not offer me the $15 credit since that one had expired.
So that’s downright deceptive… using the fraud alert concept, which has struck terror into the heart of every consumer at one time or another, to make the customer pay attention so you can sell them a service. (And how did they get my number? Well, turns out Bill Me Later is owned by Paypal…) What this has in common with Boingo, and also the three giant companies mentioned above, is that nobody applied the sniff test. As in, “this will hopefully make us some money but is it going to make our customers more loyal and satisfied, or less?” If that question is no longer relevant, then it’s going to be a long year.
P.S. Reading over this post, my experiences do sound a bit down in the weeds and yes I do have better things to do than chasing after $25 gift cards. But these are the hooks marketers use to get customers and prospects involved, and if they don’t provide a satisfactory customer experience or are perceived as deceptive then sales will suffer and more than likely we in the marketing department will get the blame.
September 19th, 2011 — Customer service, Marketing, Words and writing
Since I’m still a Netflix customer (at least until 9/24 when the new pricing kicks in per my billing date) I was a recipient of the soon-to-become-infamous email from Reed Hastings in my in-box this morning, which opens “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.”
I would have liked “apology” which would indicate a price rollback but “explanation” carries no such connotation and indeed regarding the pricing, Hastings informs us “we’re done with that!” The explanation is of the rationale behind splitting the streaming and DVD-delivery services; the mess-up was in not explaining it properly to consumers, which he now does in the email and more extensively in his own blog.
The streaming video service is now Netflix and the DVDs are about to become “Quikster”, a new orphan brand, suggesting that the “familiar red envelope” is about to become the equivalent of “AOL dial-up”, an analogy Hastings uses in his message though not exactly in that way.
I am fascinated by this turn of events. It’s like that story of the backpacker who cuts off his own arm to escape and save his life. It’s like watching Wil. E. Coyote standing his ground as the roadrunner approaches at full speed. And I am especially fascinated by evidence the decision was not made with full benefit of research and reflection by one of the world’s most recognizable brands. Do a web search for “quickster” and “quikster” (results will be roughly the same) and right now the top two hits are for an Amway-related scandal involving a like-sounding product, and a rather risqué definition on urbandictionary.com. Look up quikster.com on the internet registries and you’ll find the registration changed just a couple of weeks ago and as of this morning quikster.net and quikster.org were still available for purchase, suggesting haste and confusion in the name-changing.
I plan to stay tuned…. Though perhaps not as a Quikster customer.
UPDATE: just a few hours later, those web search results have changed quite a bit… I hope you will take my word as to what they looked like about 7 am Eastern this morning. Also with more reflection, I want to point out a huge failing of Quikster as a brand identity: it does nothing to say what this product or service actually does, other than the fact that it’s fast. I’m guessing that QuickFlix and QuikFlix were taken?
August 5th, 2011 — Marketing, Tech
I don’t have a lot of love for Netflix these days. But at least they are upfront about wanting to put their hand in my pocket. A much more insidious example of corporate greed showed up in my email this week with the subject line: Exciting Account Info, Boingo in the Sky, and a Celebration in Your Honor.
I signed up for Boingo wireless a couple of years ago when you had to pay through the nose for airport wireless access. I noticed that Boingo was often one of the carriers. I signed up for a month on a free trial, then when I tried to cancel at the end of the month they quickly lowered the $29.95 monthly fee to $9.95. I’ve been a subscriber ever since, though I’ve been wondering why since more and more airports offer free wireless now and, when they don’t, the Boingo network less frequently shows up as an option.
So, okay, I could use some exciting account news, and here’s what it is: Boingo wants me to download a new version of their app and, as soon as they do, my account will be tied to a specific wireless device. You get two devices so my laptop and Droid are ok, but if I want to add a tablet or occasionally connect on another computer, that’s another $5 a month per device.
That’s not exciting news, that’s a price increase, and I’ve hopefully avoided it for now by not downloading this Trojan horse of a new app (“It only takes a minute!”) However, Boingo promises “lots of surprises between now and the end of the year” and I would not be surprised if one of those is the disabling of the current software.
July 18th, 2011 — Customer service, Marketing
Like many Netflix subscribers, I had a notice of a 60% subscription price increase slipped under my door last week in the form of an impersonal email that states the bare facts with zero attempt to placate me or to win me over if I am considering canceling after the increase. (The email concludes with “We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.” Hardly the best choice for a closing or conversion message.)
This increase is not for traditional Netflix subscribers who get a disk in the mail; it’s for the potentially far greater universe of prospects who came in via streaming. I signed up for streaming Netflix after my family got a Roku last holiday season. We quickly discovered that the “20,000 streaming movies” was actually not that big a number when looking for a specific title so we added the option of getting a disk when we can’t get instant satisfaction for $2 more a month. Nothing about our behavior, therefore, suggests we will be good candidates for conversion to a standard $7.99 a month disk in the mail plan (that’s the basis of the cost increase) and we are indeed cancelling our non-streaming subscription.
But meanwhile, Netflix is paring its streaming offerings presumably so it can get more disk orders. I know this because my teenager wanted to watch Zombieland for the umpteenth time last night and it’s gone! Not fair, Netflix! This is the company that always contacts me to ask about the video quality of the streaming show I watched or the delivery date of my DVD and a back door change in our agreement definitely doesn’t cut it. It feels like Netflix has made a corporate decision to move away from streaming and toward DVD delivery when everything we read about broadband consumption patterns should point them in the opposite direction.
Maybe, with negotiations going on behind the scenes with entertainment content providers, the streaming model isn’t making sense financially with unlimited viewings for one price. I would be willing to pay a small upcharge (NOT the full cost of renting a single DVD in the mall) for streaming access to new releases. I would also consider a “premium” level (let’s say $12.99 a month which is $5 more than the current streaming plan) for unlimited access for many more titles. But please, Netflix, don’t ask me to change my viewing habits to accommodate your new business model… even if it’s the old business model for many of your customers. I don’t think I’m alone in this. When I want to see it, I want it now… waiting for a disk in the mail seems forever.
January 5th, 2011 — Marketing, Tech
Tomorrow I head west for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The word is that LAS is packed, hard to get a taxi or a hotel room just like in the glory days. I’ll be attending press events on Thursday and Friday night, visiting a couple of clients, and trolling the floor for new and noteworthy things to write about.
In last year’s preview post (inexplicably titled “On my way to CES 2009″) I talked a little about my philosophy of working this show. I also predicted that 3D TV would be a non-starter… you read it here, and many other places, first. This year is supposedly “the year of the tablet” which also happened in 2003; I am more interested in things you can do with the tablet, such as iGrill, the world’s first bluetooth cooking thermometer you can monitor from your iPad.
My task on the plane is to scan some 300 press release emails and see if there is anything promising enough to follow up. Tip to flacks: like most people who will be writing about the show, I’ve been filtering my CES emails into a special folder. So if you don’t say “CES” in the subject line, you’re not visible to us.
Wearing my consumer hat, I am going to find what the ^% is happening with the content side of streaming video. Was excited to get an HD Roku for Christmas. Not so excited to discover that Netflix has just 20,000 streaming titles available, NOT including anything by the Coens, or Dumb and Dumber, or the Southland series from TNT. I’ve read that the studios seriously underestimated the appeal of streaming and delivered their content to Netflix at a bargain price, but if they’re going to just pull it back then we don’t have a seamless entertainment experience, do we?
December 7th, 2008 — Marketing
Meme marketing with netflix
My wife’s always been in charge of our Netflix queue, but I recently got my own account. This gave me the opportunity to discover something most folks are very familiar with—what it feels like to peel back that red sheet as the first step toward a positive experience.
Opening the Netflix envelope is a meme—a cultural experience that can be readily understood and transferred from one individual to another. And it can be useful to marketers because when you understand a meme, you can piggyback on it to present your own message in a way that echoes that meme.
I paid close attention to how you deal with that end seal and the slight confusion (for that first-timer) of opening the flap in a way that would not destroy the postage paid envelope used to send the DVD back. I lingered on the tear-off sheet I was discarding, wanting to make sure I did not throw away something that might be either an order confirmation or a savings coupon.
So here’s an idea. What would happen if you sent out a direct mailing in a similar format to the Netflix envelope, maybe selling a magazine subscription? You wouldn’t want to fake the look of the Netflix… you’d get sued, plus recipients would be angry at the bait and switch. Rather, you’d echo key components of the experience—like the feeling of peeling back the flap.
You might get a positive subliminal reaction… the reader sniffing something good in the offering… that would translate to a better opening rate for your mailing and a more careful reading. If you did it right, people wouldn’t notice at all you were emulating Netflix. That’s good meme marketing.