Letter to Netflix

Conversation Snippet

I wrote an email to Netflix, which I was unable to send them the way I’d intended. They only offer customer support through online chat and telephone and refused to give me an email address, so I pasted it into the online chat customer service. Here’s what I sent them.

Hello, Netflix!

I’ve been using your service for a while, now. I’m quite the fan of what you guys do and how early you started doing it. However, there are some things you’ve done recently which were intended to make the service easier to use but which have made the service more annoying for me as a customer. I’m not talking about the decision to separate the DVD service from the streaming service; that’s a whole ‘nother tea kettle. I’ve been a streaming-only customer since well before you tried to enact that decision, and my comments will pertain to the streaming service.

My History with Netflix

Let me give you the general run of my history with Netflix. I started using your service when it was DVD only. I lived in Alaska and this was before a hub was installed in Anchorage. I ended up cancelling my subscription because the turnaround time on the DVDs was just too long to be worth the price. You introduced the streaming service right about the time I began to consider cancelling my subscription, which postponed my decision, but since the streaming library was small at the time and could only be used with Internet Explorer, it didn’t keep me on board.

Later, I got an email from Netflix offering me another two-week trial to see how the service had improved. I’m so glad I did, because the existence of the Anchorage hub and the vastly improved streaming service made Netflix well worth the cost. I started with a combo DVD-streaming plan, but I found that since the streaming library was so large and varied, I could always find something I wanted to watch and dropped the DVD service.

My Issues with the Service

Since I resubscribed to Netflix’s services, you’ve made a number of changes to the streaming service, continually developing it. There are three changes that have bothered me: the fact that streaming customers can no longer rate movies that are available only on DVD, the scrolling marquees on the front page, and now the continuous play “feature” on TV series. I’ll cover each of these separately.

I love Netflix’s ratings and suggestions system. I’ve learned to trust the suggested ratings for the most part, especially when a rating is based on three completely different movies/shows. But as time goes on and other companies try to cut into your market, some of the best movies I’ve seen recently are unavailable on streaming and therefore unavailable for me to rate. Since I can’t rate them, the system can’t take those ratings into account to keep improving my suggestions. That’s just a shame. Netflix, for me, is more than just a video delivery machine; it’s also how I discover new material.

The changes to how the front page works weren’t really that big. You basically just made it so that instead of clicking an arrow to scrolls sideways, you hover over an arrow. I assume the change was made in an attempt to create a smoother user experience somehow, but for me it just made the front page a drag to use. I read quickly, I have good pattern recognition skills, and I don’t need to sit there and consider covers I’ve seen a dozen times and read the descriptions for twice. I can decide quickly if I am interested in that particular movie or show and move on. Or rather, I could quickly move on when all I had to do was click an arrow to get more movies. Now I have to wait for this slow-as-snails marquee to scroll. This is frustrating all the time, but even more frustrating when the “Top 10 for Lena” includes 6 things I’ve seen before and I want to watch something I haven’t seen. If I want to watch something I’ve seen before, I’ll use the search box — or I can go down to the “Watch it Again” section and browse there. The slow-scrolling marquee has made it so that I don’t even want to look at the front page, which used to be how I decided what to watch if I was in a browsing mood.

Now we have the recently-implemented continuous play on TV series. When I first saw that, I was excited. Often, I watch a TV show while doing something else — if I were cooking or doing dishes, I wouldn’t have to stop to wash and dry my hands just so I could hit play. If I were playing a game, I wouldn’t have to break the action to move to the next episode. However, now I have to deal with the show pausing in the middle of the episode so Netflix can ascertain that I’m still watching. Stopping now and again because you have bandwidth costs to consider is completely reasonable, but doing so in the middle of an episode? Come on. I know enough about programming to know that it’s easier to code for stopping exactly X amount of time after the last user input than it is to stop at the first good stopping point after a set period of time, but if the point of the continuous play feature is to improve the user experience, then that is a huge step backwards.

Customer Service and Design

For the first of these three things, I just accepted it. It was unfortunate, but not a big deal. When you changed the front page, I contacted customer service and was told they were trying it and would take user input into account in deciding whether or not to keep it. It didn’t change, and as I mentioned above, I no longer want to use the front page. I contacted customer service again for the continuous play issue, hoping there was an option to turn it off that I’d missed. I did this a few days ago. A snapshot of the conversation transcript I was sent is attached to this email and also accessible via the link below [replaced, here, by just inserting the image]:

Netflix Transcript

There are two things I’d like to bring up here. The first is that the way the customer service rep asked for my name mislead me to think there was a way to turn continuous play off. I don’t blame her for this; United States customer service puts a focus on coming across as friendly, and the first name basis things is part of how you keep that fiction going. She was just doing her job in asking my name, and while I feel like that whole process is necessary, I understand it. However, having her tell me as part of asking for my name that she can help me with an issue that there is no solving is a poor customer service policy to have in place.

More importantly, I’d like to talk about how this fits into Netflix’s general design and implementation practices. One of the things I admire about your service is the focus on the end user’s experience. One way Netflix achieves its goals of providing a good user experience is through simplicity. The DVD envelopes are a marvelous example (and are also brilliant; I sincerely hope the person or persons behind its design have been well-rewarded for it). Opening and removing the top flap is all it takes to prepare the DVD for return, and reinserting the DVD so that the bar code is visible through the slot on the back speeds up the process of getting a new DVD back. A lot of work had to go into designing that envelope, but in the end you have an easy-to-use product which serves the needs of both the business and the customer amazingly well. In a nutshell, I think it best to compare Netflix to Apple; you aim to provide a simple product which is limited in scope but easy to use and very good at what it does do.

One consequence of this is a lack of options for the web site. Until the change in the front page scrolling and now the continuous play on TV series, I never felt that was a lack. Now, however, I would really like to be able to speed up the marquee scrolling and turn off the continuous play. Both this time and last time (front page scrolling) I contacted your customer service and asked about turning a new feature off, I was told that there isn’t one and that I’d have to hope you decide to change it. I know better than to assume that programming such options is a simple affair; I have no clue what kind of nightmares it might create on the backend, and keeping the service stable is important.

However, we have arrived at a point where my dissatisfaction with the interface is causing me to consider discontinuing my Netflix subscription again. I don’t want to do that, but if using the service is too frustrating then I just won’t use it. I know you can’t satisfy everyone, and I may well be in the minority. But if it won’t cause too much trouble on the backend, why not have a couple of options?

Personally, I can continue to deal with the marquees on the front page if I can stop the continuous play — or at least have the “Are you still there?” dialogue pop up at the end of an episode instead of in the middle.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

P.S — I truly adore the DVD envelopes. They’re among the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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