Netflix will not be eliminating its “profiles” service after all, an email in my inbox just informed me. In the process, it just saved thousands of DVD-watching marriages nationwide.
For those who aren’t users of the popular DVD-by-mail service, the profiles feature lets Netflix watchers make separate “queues,” or movie lists, on one account. As a result, chick-flick romances and action-cult horror movies arrive in equal quantities to one DVD-viewing household. One movie is sent from one list, a second movie is sent from the other, and only when each film is returned will another be sent from the corresponding list. In households with particularly divergent movie tastes, the feature kept either DVD fan from front-loading the top of the movie queue with futuristic apocalyptic movies you couldn’t care less about. (Ahem.)
Then on June 18, a terse email arrived to its members: “We wanted to let you know we will be eliminating Profiles, the feature that allowed you to set up separate DVD Queues under one account, effective September 1, 2008,” the email said. The only explanation: “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers.”
Tensions rose in living rooms across the country. And the blogosphere erupted: “I currently have out Trial at Nuremberg, while at the same time my girlfriend has out Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease,” wrote one blogger. “See Netflix, this is WIN WIN!” On Netflix’s corporate blog, more than 1200 comments were posted, many voicing their dismay and intentions to leave the service.
Then comes today’s email: “You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.”
While you have to give them credit for responding, one has to wonder how the decision was made in the first place. Did the profiles feature cost Netflix anything? Did people who didn’t use it suffer because others did? Product manager Todd says on the Netflix blog that the feature was used by the “passionate few” and seems to have “distracted” the company from its “mission of presenting to all our members the easiest way to find the best titles for them.”
But that rationale doesn’t make much sense to me. Seems like their mission, especially at a time when iTunes is offering downloadable movies, should be hanging on to loyal customers who are so engaged with the service that they use some of its special features. Lesson learned: If you decide to take away a service, don’t remove one that’s readily used by your most passionate customers. And if you do, have a replacement—or the willingness to change your mind.
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