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:
- Ultrasimplicity: stripping away features to better meet the needs of customers.
- Online infusion: integrating online features into core offerings.
- Service infusion: integrating service features into core offerings.
- Service amplification: investing in distinctly high levels of service.
- 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!