Learning to Listen

” Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” | Bill Gates

Before I begin this post, let me state one thing for the record: I love Netflix. I love Netflix to the point I no longer see a need for cable. I have watched just about every documentary in their stash. I love that Netflix knows my viewing habits, likes and dislikes. I love that Netflix knows to gently steer me toward my (apparent) interest in independent romantic comedies with a strong female lead. I love Netflix.

Having said that…we’re all going to learn something today, courtesy of Netflix.

A few days ago I settled in for an evening movie, and loaded Netflix to discover a new interface. It was a bit clunky. It scrolled funny. To be frank, it wasn’t great…or good, even. At first I blamed my computer. But after a few minutes of tinkering, I begin to realize…ick. This change was intentional.

Out of sheer curiosity, I headed to the interwebs to see what the masses had to say about this abrupt change to an otherwise much-loved service. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to step into the middle a firestorm – and what I expect will either become a shining example of hearing (and adapting) to input and feedback from  a loyal and loving customer fanbase or a case study that will go down in the hall of fame as a benchmark in customer disservice.

A few comments pulled from the Netflix blog:

“I would have commented on the Netflix blog, but the comment limit appears to have been reached (at 5,000).. I guess I am not the only one having issues. I read a few pages of the comments. The only one that wasn’t wholly negative about the change said that they “will eventually get used to it” – not exactly a glowing endorsement.”

“Netflix, you have so many great ideas, and your old interface was amazing. This new layout makes me feel like I am shopping at a discount Netflix superstore.”

“I for one never asked for any update. This is just like another website where you push consumers the direction you want them to go. If Netflix likes the new design and blatantly ignores its customers than I’m going back to cable.”

“Don’t you ever consult your users before you do these things? All that coding effort completely wasted. Your inability to think through the impact of design changes and talk to your early adopters before implementing them is stunningly amazing.”

For the purpose of this post, the design of the interface is really of no consequence. Love it. Hate it. Turn up your nose at it. What intrigues me about this situation is the fact that a very vocal group of users have risen up to voice their opinion – and Netflix seems to have no interest in hearing – or talking – to them.

Netflix VP of Corporate Communications, Steve Swasey did, however, have this to say in an interview: “We’ve tested this extensively, we know the vast, vast majority of people like this. It’s new, it’s easier, it’s cleaner.” He also went on to state that they were “absolutely” keeping the new interface. “We made it and tested it and researched it and tried it out and everywhere we tried it, it had a better reception. Otherwise we wouldn’t have made the change.”

“Change can be unsettling for some, but not the vast majority,” Swasey said.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the interwebs (the Netflix Official Blog) 5000+ vocal fans and users beg to differ.

The Learning Opportunity

Three things we can learn from Netflix…

1. Your customers and your fans are your brand’s greatest asset. Talk to them. They have opinions. They have thoughts. They have things to say and input to share. And it doesn’t always take a fancy study or focus group to tap into their minds, needs, wants and thoughts. Most of the time all you have to do is ask. THEN LISTEN.

The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.
 | John Russell

2. If you ask them, they will tell you. Don’t assume you know what they want. Don’t tell them what they want. Ask them what you can do for them…then do it.

Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer! | Gene Buckley, President Sikorsky Aircraft

3. The ostrich approach may work well for birds, but not so much for brands. It’s okay to make mistakes. Nobody expects you to be perfect. But they do expect you to be responsive, communicative and fix things when they go wrong.

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.
They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. | Donald Porter, VP British Airways

  • http://www.carlabobka.com Carla Bobka

    Listening is THE most important thing you can do when a customer is upset. It is more important than action. I’m a client relationship manager, and any time a client is terse or mad the very next best action is to listen. Do it in person whenever possible. Put on your kevlar jacket and go with your lips buttoned. Your customer needs validation before they need a solution. Skip that at your peril.

    Your point on assuming you know what your customer wants (or thinks) is spot on. What you know about your customer is based on past information. What they think at this moment is based on new information. And you don’t have that info until you listen to understand what has changed in their world.

  • http://www.brainsonfire.com/blog amy

    Carla,

    Thanks for the smart comment. Your words about the kevlar jacket made me laugh out loud. :)

    Listening to what your customers have to say shouldn’t be a chore – it should be something exciting. It boggles my mind to think there are brands who don’t regularly reach out to their fans in order to practice active listening. And even moreso when they’re upset.

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