What Keeps Me Up at Night: A (somewhat embarrassing) Experiment in Customer Service and Idea Sharing

Most of us probably have moments, or seemingly eternal stretches of time, where work and the related anxieties prevent a proper sleep cycle. Recently, my new job is not anxiety-ridden at all, largely due to a fantastic team (including one partner who was brilliantly on-point on CNBC yesterday). I’ve also been blanketed by a very pleasant realization that I love what I do — namely, living and breathing “digital” media and helping companies accelerate growth by integrating content, strategy and execution into a network of customer experiences. (A big task, I realize). An unfortunate by-product of my impassioned work, however, is the habit of not being able to look at a website, mobile app or any digital interface without thinking about how to improve the usability, customer experience and overall business model.

So here comes the confession(s): I am recently “unplugged” from cable and am testing out how how much / what type of content (free and paid) I can get online to satisfy my viewing consumption needs. A first disappointment was that I cannot sign up for HBO online streaming without a cable subscription. Likely the by-product of some outdated contract, all I can say is that I hope HBO can loosen the reigns and asap, for its own sake. A second (and less unnerving) disappointment came when I signed up for Netflix a few days ago and saw that there were essentially no embedded sharing or commenting features, unless you choose to sign into Facebook Connect. Recommendations are based on an algorithm after I take a long survey on my interests — but didn’t we learn somewhere in stat that self-reported interests are skewed? Also, the system is quite closed to information from the outside world, which is a shame given how much well-spoken chatter there is online from movie buffs across the globe.

So I wrote them a letter, had to file it under “Business Development,” and am curious to see how they respond. In the same vein as my post on free ideas for the news industry, here are some for Netflix:

A snapshot of my algorithm-based recommendations based on a half-complete survey I took. Not too bad, although Let the Right One In also kept me up at night. Layred in with recommendations from friends I trust, this would be a whole lot smarter.

Hi there,

I noticed you had no room on your site for general customer feedback, but I have some ideas to improve Netflix that I’d like to share. As context, I work at a digital media consultancy that focuses on improving the customer experience throughout the lifecycle, and I have been spending the majority of my time recently helping e-commerce sites relaunch with optimized usability, features and marketing.

As a new user, I was surprised to notice that the social features are quite limited. For example, when searching for new movies to watch, which will likely occur 70% of the time I go onto your site, I am not able to look at my friends’ queues, ratings or recommendations. There is a host of data validating that most users trust the opinions of friends and bloggers over expert opinion. Particularly when it comes to films when my tastes will likely align with those of my network, it’s really unfortunate that I would have to send them an email to get a recommendation.  Goodreads.com has some functionality you might want to evaluate (recommended lists, interest groups, profiles, etc.). I realize you have Facebook Connect, but its demoted to the bottom right navigation and most users still don’t understand the line privacy lines around the API.

Another idea, and less of a surprise that it’s not on your site, is to position Netflix as the premiere video community online, a hub of sorts that both pulls and shares user feedback, but links out to information on the web. That could include IMDB or Rotten Tomato rankings, tv listings and other robust sources that can provide a user with the information they need to make a decision. Right now Netflix is somewhat of a “walled garden” with little pulls from a rich web of information.

One final thought — I recently read a BusinessWeek article that heralded Netflix (namely your online streaming) as the death star for cable and HBO. While I have no qualms with putting pressure on cable’s monopolistic business model, you might consider alternative ways to “fight” the battle for content and viewers. Some of the leading brands enable their customers, and particularly their “superusers” or devote fans, to be a part of everything from product development to viral marketing. And most of the time, the fans do the work for free. An idea would be to have users vote on movies or tv shows they would like to have within the Netflix system which are not currently available, and use that data and powerful voice, to approach your foes with some mutually beneficial ammo, namely guaranteed viewership using a successful Threadless.com model. I just ask that you please don’t kill HBO, which is the last bastion of quality programming around.

I realize this is probably an unusual letter to receive, but I hope the comments are somewhat helpful! I am happy to chat further if it’s of use.

Best of luck,

If you are feeling inspired, post some comments with ideas of your own and I’ll pass them on if I get a response.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Latest Obsession: Listgeeks « Muddled Fairytales: Ruminations on Time, Space and the Digital Underbelly

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