Netflix Proves Companies Can Be Human

By | March 29, 2016

I believe in holding companies accountable when they do something wrong. Like when Republic Airlines caused me to be injured on one of their flights. But I also believe in acknowledging the all too infrequent “good citizenship” of a corporation, especially a media company, that has done something incorrectly and then has the honesty, and dare I say class, to step up, own their error, and work to make it right. Netflix is one of those very rare companies.

You may have seen the story last week. In a nutshell, Netflix admitted that they had been “throttling”, or restricting the Netflix Logoamount of data they sent to AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless customers for the last five years.  The company presents a conceivably valid argument for doing this-by reducing the amount of data they stream to your mobile device, there’s less of a chance that you’ll eat up your monthly data allowance by binge watching “House Of Cards” using your cellular data. 55% of all mobile data usage in 2015 was streaming video, and if you’re not watching your data usage, it is possible to go over your limit and get hit with pretty steep overage charges.

The problem I have with this situation is that Netflix never told its customers about the practice and, in my opinion, led customers to believe that the streaming quality settings set on their website applied to every form of streaming, not just on the web. Or at least they never said those settings didn’t apply to streaming with cellular data. There immediately was noise about this revelation everywhere, from wireless companies, tech media, consumer rights groups, and others who used the story to advance various agendas.

A day after the story broke, I called Netflix Customer Service to find out what the company was question marksgoing to do to make this situation right for its customers. I’ve been a Netflix customer since 2012 and am also an AT&T subscriber, so I was affected by this policy. The rep I got had NO idea what I was talking about. None. He hadn’t heard about the brouhaha from the media, his friends, and most importantly his own company.

Remember, this was the day AFTER Netflix let the cat out of the bag and the front line rep knew nothing. I asked to speak to his supervisor, who was very nice but also hadn’t heard about all of this, so I read her the blog post her company put out as well as a couple of choice passages from news coverage of this situation. She was fantastic in the way she dealt with me. She admitted that she had no idea what was going on but made a promise to get some details and call me back to discuss the matter.

I did indeed get a call back and the person I spoke with was very open and honest about the situation, and quite apologetic about the fact that the Customer Service group had not been briefed. I was convinced that at least Netflix was going to clue their employees in to the fact they might be getting calls about the throttling and give them some talking points to work from.

The only unfortunate thing about that conversation is that, while Netflix announced that they’d be rolling out an update to their mobile apps in May so users can choose their video quality, the company didn’t seem to have a plan to deal with customers like me who weren’t happy about the situation. I didn’t want to shake them down, I didn’t want Netflix for life, but I felt like something from the company was called for. I went to workFCC logo looking for possible solutions. I called a contact at the Federal Communications Commission to see if that agency had any mechanism to deal with the problem. My contact told me that they probably didn’t, even under Net Neutrality rules, and that was confirmed by an FCC Commissioner Tuesday.

FTC LogoNext stop, the Federal Trade Commission. Did Netflix violate any rules by not informing users that they were slowing down mobile video? Well, maybe, but I’d have to file a formal complaint and then it would be considered but there are no guarantees and the process takes “a while”. I really didn’t want to get tangled up in Washington red tape, so I’ll let someone else deal with the FTC.

One last place to try to get some satisfaction. Take Netflix to court. Maybe a class-action lawsuit would get some satisfaction for all the customers wronged by this policy. Nope, not gonna happen. Turns out the Netflix Terms Of Use includes an arbitration clause, which means customers can’t sue Netflix in case of a dispute, it has to be settled by an arbitration process, which can take a long time and may work more to the company’s advantage than the consumer’s. I had reached the end of the road, and pretty much had to accept that whatever app update Netflix would send in May would be all the company was going to do. And at least they were nice about the problem, something that doesn’t happen with many large companies. So my only real recourse was to cancel my subscription.

Monday morning, I got a phone call from a high level LAWYER at Netflix. A very senior person, a “heavy breather” as it were. I had mentioned the FCC, FTC, and court when talking to the Customer Service Rep days earlier and this attorney wanted to make sure I had gotten a full explanation from the company and wanted see if I had any other questions. It was NOT a “don’t sue us” call, they were genuinely concerned that I was satisfied and understood why Netflix did what they did. Again, they apologized for their front line people not knowing about the situation when I called Friday, assured me that those people had been fully briefed on the situation, and the conversation was frank, sincere, and constructive.

When I got off the phone, I couldn’t believe how well Netflix had handled this whole matter.

Most companies would have at best ignored me and my concerns and basically told me to drop dead. But hyh-book (1)Netflix took the time to have people at different levels in their organization make sure I understood their actions, even if I didn’t completely agree with them. They treated me like a person, not a monthly credit card payment. They did the kind of customer service Jay Baer talks about in his book “Hug Your Haters“. The concept of Customer Service has radically changed in the always online, I can whine about someone who’s done me wrong all over the Interwebz, it’s been 5 minutes, why haven’t you answered my complaint on Facebook world. A bad experience can go viral in minutes, and so can a good one. The key is to give your customers good experiences every time they interact with your brand. The book is fairly new, I don’t know if anyone at Netflix has read it, but the way they handled my complaint was exactly the way the book, which is backed by a research study, would suggest they handle it. If you run any kind of business, from a global media company to a neighborhood pizza parlor, you can learn what Customer Service in 2016 should be, how to rethink the way you deal with your customers, and grow your brand with this book. And I didn’t get anything for mentioning this book, I bought my copy with my own money, I just believe deeply in the value of a good customer experience. They don’t happen nearly as often as they should.

Netflix did something that, as a customer, originally made me angry. I complained and figured I had done all I can do and the big bad corporation would ignore me. But the company went way out of their way to make sure I was satisfied, and they kept me as a customer. More importantly, they proved that if a company wants to provide tremendous customer service, they can choose to do so.

What choice will you make about YOUR company’s customer service?