Netflix Tries To Revive Customer Service - InformationWeek

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Commentary
8/20/2007
10:08 AM
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Netflix Tries To Revive Customer Service

My mother likes to chat with customer service reps over the phone -- that is, when she can actually work her way past the menus to a sentient human being. I'm now thinking of giving her a Netflix subscription for her next birthday -- because Netflix has apparently decided that offering real customer service is a viable business option.

My mother likes to chat with customer service reps over the phone -- that is, when she can actually work her way past the menus to a sentient human being. I'm now thinking of giving her a Netflix subscription for her next birthday -- because Netflix has apparently decided that offering real customer service is a viable business option.According to a recent article in the New York Times (subscription needed), Netflix is trying to add to its strength against competitors such as Blockbuster by offering its subscribers something that you may have thought was extinct: Personal customer service by staffers who understand the nuances of U.S. culture.

Netflix hasn't only located its customer service center in Oregon (apparently because Oregonians are friendlier than, say, Los Angelenos), but doesn't even offer e-mail customer service. I'm actually of two minds about that. On the one hand, I have to admit that quickly sending off an e-mail with a question takes a lot less time and thought than picking up the phone, especially when you're dealing with an issue that isn't time-sensitive. On the other hand, when I'm dealing with a service such as Netflix, more times than not, I want my question -- about a missing DVD, a problem with my billing, or a technical glitch -- answered now.

In that case, it's rather nice (a) getting a person immediately on the phone, rather than spending 10 minutes first making my way past the usual "Press 1 if you're a customer, press 2 if you're a vendor, press 3 if you're simply bored..." and (b) getting a person who is not only polite (and many of the offshore service staff can be quite nice), but immediately understands my cultural references.

(Case in point: Just this morning, I got a phone call at my home office from an obviously off-shore sales person touting a trade journal subscription. "Are you aware," I asked, "that's it's 8:30 a.m. here?" Meaning, of course, that business hours had not begun. "Yes," replied the caller, obviously stymied.)

Perhaps it's simply that I'm old-fashioned, but I've always thought that good customer service was vital in choosing a vendor for any product, especially for a tech device. Ten years ago, when I worked for a publication that regularly reviewed desktop systems, we included the days and hours that live technical help was available, and often tried out the number to make sure the staff knew what they were doing. These days, when customer service is one of the last items on many vendors' To Do lists, it's really good to hear that at least one company is paying attention.

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