NetFlix Ends Email Support; Tries Another Disruptive Strategy

NetFlix decided to stop its email customer service and, instead, beef-up its phone support. According to an article in the New York Times:

Netflix took an unusual step for a Web-based company: it eliminated e-mail-based customer service inquiries. Now all questions, complaints and suggestions go to the Hillsboro call center, which is open 24 hours a day.  

My take: Wow! Gutsy move. Okay, now for a more analytical discussion…

NetFlix probably recognizes the realities of handling customer service emails — it’s incredibly difficult to do right. Here are some datapoints to think about:

  • Most emails deliver a poor customer experience. In a recent Forrester research report called Best And Worst Of Email Interaction Design, 2007, we evaluated the email service experience delivered by 16 large firms. None of the 16 firms passed our reviews — although Circuit City came closest. The biggest problem: Emails lacked essential content.  
  • Consumers aren’t thrilled with email. We asked about 5,000 consumers how satisfied they were in handling customer service through different channels. Here are the satisfaction numbers for different channels: in-person (44%), phone (29%), Web (15%), and email (13%). (Forrester Research clients can read: Match Channel Capabilities To Customer Goals).

So NetFlix is just focusing on an area that it can deliver better experiences. And the firm isn’t outsourcing its call center overseas to save money, it’s investing in its Hillsboro, Oregon facility. NetFlix thinks that it can staff that location with empathetic phone reps.

In a previous post, I defined Five Disruptive Customer Experience Strategies:

  1. Ultrasimplicity: stripping away features to better meet the needs of customers.
  2. Online infusion: integrating online features into core offerings.
  3. Service infusion: integrating service features into core offerings.
  4. Service amplification: investing in distinctly high levels of service.
  5. Value repositioning: offering a radically different value proposition.

NetFlix has been one of the examples that I use to explain online infusion — it integrates a robust set of online features to deliver value well beyond just DVDs by mail (for another great example of this strategy, check out WebKinz). With this move to enhance its phone support, the company is adopting another one of the disruptive strategies: service amplification. While most companies are looking at phone service as a cost center, NetFlix is investing in it as an experience differentiator.

My advice to NetFlix: Augment this strategy with a strong online chat capability. That will provide a solid option for customers that really want to complete the interaction online.

The bottom line: If customer service drives a key portion of NetFlix customers’ overall experience, then this disruptive strategy could be a great move. If it’s not, then they’re likely to move the call center offshore within 24 months. In any case, there are three disruptive strategies left for them to try!

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

29 Responses to NetFlix Ends Email Support; Tries Another Disruptive Strategy

  1. Chloe says:

    This is NUTS. I understand them providing phone customer service, but I do NOT understand them BARRING any e-mail customer service. Especially in a web based company!! We should have that option!!! I don’t have the time to screw around on the phone with Netflix over something minor. Maybe that’s what they’re hoping – that most of us will just not report errors on the web site and stuff like that. The whole site will go to pot in short order. I already see so many mistakes in the descriptions. For example, in one description it refers to the author of the novel as a character in the movie!!! Another has 1987 on a tv series from 2005 & 2006! I’m betting 50 people would’ve reported those errors in short order if there was a web way to do it. But we’re not going to waste our cell phone minutes or our business hours or free time to sit on the phone with freakin’ Netflix Customer Service.

  2. Bruce Temkin says:

    Chloe: I think that there are other people like you who still want to have service handled via email. In the ideal case, NetFlix would be able to do handle email efficiently and effectively. But, alas, they probably haven;t figured out how to do that. As for the other items you mention about the content on the site — that’s an entirely different thread of discussion for a different time.

    Interestingly, Walmart.com just removed it’s 800 number. Another move that cuts into customer choice — and will likely get many people upset.

  3. Samson John says:

    Great Piece of Informaton.

    Thanks
    Samson John

    http://www.xanga.com/emailsupport

  4. Lee says:

    I just cancelled my account because I spent 5 minutes on hold then the customer service person kept talking in circles and did not help me.

    So I will go to the library a block away and rent for free and can get up to 5 at a time unlike Netflix where with the four day turnaround you might get 6 a month if you mail them back the day after you receive them.

    So long Netflix and with Redbox you can rent them for a dollar a night and get several at one time. So let see I can use Redbox and rent about nine movies a month for what Netflix charges verus maybe six with Netflix and Redbox is right down the street.

    Bye Bye Netflix

  5. Emily says:

    I agree with Chloe. I was shocked to find they didn’t accept email. I have one quick question and I also hate to use the phone. For goodness sakes they stream over the internet, but they can’t handle email?

  6. Eric says:

    Seeing companies struggle with the right mix of service delivery is fascinating. I’m really curious if it’s generational preferences or just individual ones. Personally, I deeply resent having to call customer service. This is because I expect to be able to fix my problem through webforms and barring that I prefer email or chat, which let me shoot off a question on my own time
    .
    I love your chat solution – I think more companies should offer chat.

  7. Alexis says:

    So I decided to call with my issue even though I didn’t think it merited a call but had e-mail been available I would have e-mailed… and that lady was super nice! I called in an annoyed mood and yet after the call I feel fine, even though there was nothing she could really say other than “that sometimes happens, they were shipped at the same time.”

    So yeah, I also asked if “chat help” was coming and she said that definitely was a possibility in the future and the idea has been proposed and discussed. Also, they thought they’d get more complaints about no e-mail service than they did, and they think it’s been working out for them.

    And I also asked about instant viewing for Macs and she said that should be rolling out by the end of the year! No month or date… but it’s coming soon!

  8. Tori says:

    I really hate the no email, webform or chat option. It is an internet company and should offer an internet option for communication.

    However, for one of Chloe’s complaints they still do offer a page for reporting errors in descriptions

    http://www.netflix.com/Suggest?type=0&lnkctr=cu_tr

    They are very clear that the will not handle customer service through it, unfortunately.

  9. Leon says:

    I called the 800 number only too end up talking with a smart a** customer support rep. With netflix advertisement everywhere they don’t bother to let potential customers know “OBTW we don’t offer email support so that tells you what we think of you. BUT, you can call our 800 number and talk to someone who hates there job”.

  10. Gary Martel says:

    The lack of email service is a good example of Netflix shooting themselves in the foot. I live overseas (U.S. military) and cancelled because it took too long to get videos delivered. I have a solution for the problem but can’t be bothered to call them from here and wait on hold just to tell them what they should have already figured out for themselves.

  11. Josh says:

    Oh, I found contact for public relations and I am just hitting the return and backspace button sending them dozens of emails per minute till they respond to my question, and I have told my credit card to invistagte as a fradulent transaction. I don’t feel the need to waste prepaid cell phone minutes and to try and find a payphone to call netflix. I have better things to do. I am in front of a computer in a place where there are no phones, but if I could speak wisper quiet through a web phone site, it might be ok, but since I would have to go off property to use a payphone or outside to use prepaid cell phone, whats the point

  12. chuck says:

    I think netflix is ok…I live out in the country and netflix instant streaming to my tv is outstanding..I just wish they had a webpage to select other movies/shows to instant stream ..

  13. Michael says:

    After finally locating an actual live person to contact I sent the following to Netflix. I will not recomend them nor will I consider investing in a business with such poor business practices. Please cancel subscription immediately as I am leaving the area and no
    longer wish to subscribe. I currently reside at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx In speaking with Customer service I was also
    somewhat disturbed to find that although I had never ordered and never
    received any movies, actually I wasn’t even aware I was subscribed,
    but the Company refuses to refund the rental fee’s for something I
    never received. I will consider notifying the State Attorney General’s
    office as well as the BBB regarding such practices, I am disabled and
    on a fixed income and will not be subjected to these strong arm
    techniques and business practices. – Michael Budnicki

  14. lilleth says:

    A lot of technology related businesses seem to be cancelling their email and chat support. When AT&T took over Bellsouth, they cancelled email support. They supposedly have chat support, but never once have I been able to connect with their chat. And when I call, I inevitably get a customer service rep whose first language is clearly no English and whose accent is pretty much indecipherable to me. I hate nothing worse than being limited to phone support.

  15. debbie says:

    how do you cancel a free trial via your account on netflix. I went in the frequently asked question and found this question but the cancel tab is not located in my account tab. what do i do in order to cancel the trial before i get billed.

  16. Ian says:

    I live in th UK and have had a number of unauthorised payments taken from my UK based bank account by Netflix in the past 2 months (despite the fact they do not operate in the UK..). I have been advised to contact Netflix however the customer support number does not work from the UK, and there are no email addresses for support, Also I cannot create a netflix account to access the member services as I am not a resident of the US – surely there is something wrong with this set up?

  17. Bonnie says:

    We live in Germany with the military and use an American address. Netflix has determined via my internet connection that I’m outside of the USA and will not let me sign up….not only that but the link that says I have a valid US address takes me back to the page that says that Netflix isn’t available in my country. We have no way of calling them other than a 2 EURO a minute cell phone call, I don’t think so what a terrible customer service system!

  18. marcuskohl says:

    I don’t understand the no email thing…There simply should be a way to email them . it is short sighted ,stupid and rather beyond going back in time. Why would a company, based in the web not offer a way to email for customer comments,service or suggestions.
    Limiting any form of communication says the company is unfriendly.
    Is that the message Netflix wants to send out?
    Personally I do not like talking to people or being on the phone.
    And to give suggestions over the phone, doesn’t really give the customer credit and doesn’t help the company improve anything.

  19. Lulu says:

    What about the deaf and hard-of-hearing? I cannot find any way to communicate with this company without calling a telephone number, which I obviously cannot do. Ironically, I need to ask them a question about a problem with their captions for the hearing impaired.

    Netflix does not seem to have considerations for the hearing disabled.

    • Deb says:

      Taking away email violates Ada laws as people who are deaf or have other medical reasons like poor memory can not use the phone. I am ready to file a class action lawsuit So let me know if you would like to be included.

  20. william says:

    Netflix has starded selling subscriptions in Colombia south america where I live. With an american 800 number. This could cost me 30 to.40 dollars. Since skype doesn’t permit the calling of some 800 numbers and why I don’t know. I have no support. For many questions email works jusr fine.

    • Pat Bassler says:

      William, i’m surprised you can even get to the NETFLIX site. For almost the entire month of December the site has been unavailable but their “engineers are working hard to get it up and running as soon as possible”. An entire month and they still don’t have it fixed? I’m getting my DVDs but i’m unable to add to my queue or remove any that i’ve see on TV while waiting. Here it is Dec. 31 and it’s still down. Ridiculous. I think they are purposely trying to drive customers away.

  21. Deb says:

    Taking away email violates Ada laws as people who are deaf or have other medical reasons like poor memory can not use the phone.

  22. DaveO says:

    1. Taking away email does not affect people with impairments provided that there are other support channels beyond just the phone, e.g. online chat and/or a support portal where requests can be logged/tracked.

    2. Although eliminating email feels like it is ‘anti customer service’ there are quite a few reasons why a support team can in fact provide better service via a portal than via email. E.g.
    - The customer can be prompted for relevant information so the support team have everything they need to help you;
    - The request can be sent straight to the right people rather than going through multiple teams;
    - The customer can be directed to self-help so they can fix their own problem without having to wait for someone to get back to them.

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